“Wow! You’ve lost so much weight and you look amazing!” is still considered one of the most flattering compliments a woman can receive by some. In addition to perpetuating the misconception that weight loss and success are one and the same, this well-intentioned comment can inadvertently be extremely harmful. That’s why writer Ijeoma Oluo posted a powerful message on Facebook explaining why she won’t congratulate weight loss.
Oluo won’t discuss diets or congratulate people on their weight loss because she refuses to perpetuate the harmful notion that a thin body is a moral victory — and this is something she knows firsthand.
Oluo has been on the receiving end of these compliments. She’d been overweight for most of her life, but decided to “fix” this perceived flaw once and for all after she was sexually assaulted by an ex-boyfriend at age 22. Oluo, who had survived childhood sexual abuse and an abusive marriage, decided the blame for these attacks lay on her shoulders.
“I had decided that this had happened because I had settled, once again, for someone who had never once pretended to value me,” she wrote in the Facebook post. “And when I tried to figure out why — why someone who so many people had repeatedly said had so much going for her would be hurt so often, I settled on my weight. I decided that as long as I was fat, nobody who wasn't abusive was going to want to be with me.”
Like many eating disorder survivors and sufferers, Oluo believed that a low weight would allow her to stop hating herself, and therefore she’d finally feel worthy of being treated with kindness, dignity, and respect.
Her weight plummeted, and Oluo writes that society reinforced what she already believed — men showered her with compliments, women suddenly wanted to be friends, and she began to receive better customer service at restaurants.
“For five years, I got to be treated like a human being,” Oluo wrote. “And it pissed me the fuck off.”
Society sent her a loud and clear message that being thin was a requirement for the right to exist in a public space — and she resented every moment of it. Oluo gained back half the weight when she became pregnant with her first child and has now returned to her natural weight. In the years since, Oluo writes that she’s “packed my life with more accomplishments than I had ever before imagined.”
“[W]hat I am fighting for is a world where people are treated with respect and dignity and kindness because they are human beings,” Oluo’s post concludes.
She refuses to engage in conversations that perpetuate the notion body sizes should be put on a value scale. Speaking to Refinery29, Oluo said, "The response has been wonderful. A lot of people have commented that the post is helping them see the impact of diet and weight loss culture in a new way. But I've been really blown away by the amount of people who really felt heard and represented and uplifted by the post. I wrote it feeling, honestly, very frustrated and sad. I wrote it because I needed to let people know exactly why I was not going to let that issue go, but it was very painful to write it all down. So to see that pain that normally just sits in the back of my brain and torments me whenever I look in the mirror actually help others has been amazing. I hope that more people are able to share their stories and know that they are not alone."
Let’s focus on complimenting each other for the reasons that matter — kindness, compassion, work ethic, and loyalty to our loved ones. Those are the qualities that make us valuable human beings, regardless of the number on the scale.