How can a compliment be controversial?

By July 15, 2021Blog
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This might be a controversial message but I saw something recently that confused me and it might cause confusion with you, as well.

I saw an Instagram post from a well-respected fitness pro who explained that we shouldn’t be complimenting others on their weight loss progress. Should NOT compliment…

Did that last statement have you scratching your head? Yeah, me too. I was completely baffled and thought what are we coming to in this world…now we can’t compliment anyone? Nonetheless, I kept reading.

The explanation was that complimenting someone on losing weight reaffirms that being thin is preferred. In theory, it affirms that the person is worthy of compliments only if they are thinner than they were before. This potentially leads to eating disorders. Compliments based on size or appearance can backfire.

Being a fitness professional, I have first-hand knowledge that fit people sometimes have extra fat. I know plenty of fat people are significantly healthier than many thin people.

I really do want to doing the right thing, but withholding a compliment surrounding a person’s hard work and dedication feels really foreign to me.

That’s when it hit me: the compliment really should be about the hard work and dedicationWe all know that weight loss is not an easy goal to achieve but it has long term health benefits. Weight management requires going through the process of goal setting, healthy eating while maintaining a caloric deficit, and consistent physical activity.

So, okay, I won’t say, “Congrats on losing weight!” or “You’re slim & trim body is looking great!”

I will say, “Your hard work and dedication are paying off!” or “Persistence is one of your strengths, isn’t it?”

I like the idea of putting the focus on the person’s commitment, consistency, and sacrifice instead of on how thin they are or aren’t. Let’s congratulate them on making progress toward their goal.*

And, until the whole world is on board with this radical new way of handing out compliments…

Can we also agree to normalize the assumption of positive intent?

If someone says something that could be taken in a positive way or a negative way, then you can choose to assume that the speaker had a positive intention.

If you’re on the receiving end of a less-than-ideal compliment, you could respond by saying, “Thank you for your kindness. I really appreciate your intention. If I didn’t know you well, I might take that the wrong way, though, so you might try saying it like this next time….”

I think everyone would be a lot happier if we all 1) tried to improve our own behaviors [when you know better, DO better], and 2) gave speakers the benefit of the doubt by choosing to assume positive intent.

In truth, not all your interactions with others will be intentionally positive, but if you assume they are, you’ll find it easier to rise above the negativity and have less stress in your life.

Plus, it will probably piss the bullies off even more if you aren’t phased by their malice.

*Make sure you KNOW their type of goal is weight loss. There are plenty of people who lose weight but don’t want to, due to disease, disability, stress, emotional struggles or other reasons.

Join the discussion 2 Comments

  • Claudi says:

    A few things come to mind when reading this blog.
    1) whatever this fitness professional said it just an opinion. Everyone has one. It’s not based on studies or any type of research, if I understand that correctly.
    2) if an individual post a picture about losing weight, having lost weight AND posts pictures of it, then to me that means this individual is actively looking for some sort of acknowledgement.
    3) a simple compliment on someone’s success is not leading to an eating disorder. That’s what all the big cooperations do by using altered photos of mostly females that are in prestine shape in their magazines and TV commercials, setting the standars of how we “suppose” to look and feel.

    As of for me personally, i will continue to compliment people on their success because it feels the right thing to do. We all can benefit from kindness as our world is already ugly enough. To not say anything or ignore someones effort will do more damage. But that is just my humble opinion… 😉

    • Debra says:

      Agree – it was that professional’s opinion based on listening to those who felt the impact of being “complimented on their weight.” I think the main take away should be to, first and foremost, KNOW what a person’s goal is. A lot of people hand out “weight loss compliments” to people they rarely see and don’t really know. If you KNOW the person’s goal is weight loss, then that’s another issue — and it is still safer to put the focus on their consistent habits rather than the weight loss itself…especially if the compliment is directed toward an acquaintance vs. a good friend.

      And I also agree that ONE compliment does not lead to eating disorders, yet according to those who have more experience with it than I have, hearing, “Wow you look great – you’re so thin!” over and over again from multiple people did encourage unhealthy behaviors.

      I definitely encourage complimenting people on their success — just create a compliment about effort, healthy habits, perseverence, healthy mindsets, adaptability, etc, versus how skinny or lean they are becoming. If you know someone is getting prepped for an aesthetic competition, then telling them how great they look being so lean can make the after-competition body harder to accept (and believe me, it is already hard enough to accept). IYKYK

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