Please Stop Complimenting Me On My Body

Photo: Cindy Ord/Getty Images.
These past couple of weeks have been the most meaningful of my life. Not only do I get to continue to live my dream every single night on Broadway with the most talented, radiant company, but I'm also lucky enough to be in Lady Bird, Greta Gerwig’s deeply human, hysterical, heart wrenching, magical film. And yet, with all of these insanely wonderful, once-in-a-lifetime experiences happening, I have been a little confused lately. You see, people seem to have a lot to say to me. That alone is not that surprising; I’m a dreamy conversationalist! It is the topic of conversation that is puzzling. Everyone keeps commenting on something that I haven’t thought about in years: my body.
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Recently, I have heard a lot of: “Beanie, you look amazing. You’re half your size!” “Bean, you’re tiny! No seriously, you are tiny!” Friends, family… everyone is talking about it. Even my therapist chimed in: “I would never have known it was you! You’re disappearing!”
Now as I write this, I am trying not to get vegan chocolate chip cookie crumbs on the page, so it is safe to say that I did not see this coming. Also, I will say it is not a drastic change, maybe one or two dress sizes. Most importantly, losing weight is not something I was even trying to do.
Throughout my childhood and adolescence, I really struggled with my weight. My family, doctors, and society at large were constantly telling me that I was too heavy, that I needed to exercise more, that I should be smaller. I was pushed into trying Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig… and I absolutely hated it. It affected me deeply. I despised trying to lose weight and I resented everyone that made me feel like I had to. Finally after years of turmoil (just thinking about shopping for my bat mitzvah dress still gives me hives), something started to change. As I approached the end of high school, I felt the expectations fall away. I stopped trying to eat and look the way everyone else wanted me to. It took time and it happened gradually, but by the time I started college I felt truly comfortable with my body.
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I was chubby, and it was chill!
During my college years at Wesleyan University, I studied Sociology. And now, looking back, I can see that my study of society has helped me frame this shift. I realized that once I stopped trying to get closer to what our society deems ideal, I felt free. I was so far from the norm that I felt no pressure to get anywhere close to it. Honestly, my body image was something I barely ever thought about. My friends, all of whom are thin, would really feel plagued that their bodies didn’t fit the unattainable ideal our society has crafted, and I would sit back, genuinely comfortable with my unwavering chubbiness.

After years of finally not feeling judged by myself or others, all of a sudden I felt so seen.

As a result of this new attitude, over time people stopped saying anything about my body — because there was nothing to say! When your weight is changing, there is something for the outside world to track. But my chubbiness was constant and therefore predictable. I always looked the same. And it was absolutely wonderful. Not only did I stop surveying and judging my body, but the rest of the world wasn’t interested in evaluating it either. And this blissful arrangement continued, well — until about a month ago.
Last month, I went back to Los Angeles to visit my family during my week vacation from Hello, Dolly! and the comments on my thinner body started pouring in. During that week, I felt like my body was the only topic of conversation. And I have to be honest: It really messed with my head. After years of pain, I had finally found such a beautiful peace, one that most people, no matter what size they are, don’t have. And all of those “compliments” took that away from me. After years of finally not feeling judged by myself or others, all of a sudden I felt so seen.
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I imagine those that have been telling me that I look thin think they are being kind. This is because our society has determined that being smaller is better. And the act of change, in this case losing weight, is a social signal to those around you that they are allowed to comment on your body. The act of getting smaller is considered an achievement, and therefore they feel subliminal permission to comment on it. But here’s the issue: when everyone started telling me I looked smaller, I lost my beautiful mindset that took decades to find. The only reason I am smaller is because I get the joy of dancing my tooshie off eight times a week. I am not thinner because I was trying to be, or because I felt the need to be. Just because my body changed, doesn’t mean I wanted it to.
Now, please don’t get me wrong: If you want to lose weight that's up to you. And I completely support you. All I am saying is I don't want anyone to feel that a change in appearance is an open invitation to comment on someone’s body — even if they believe they are being kind.
And so here’s my simple request: Please stop complimenting me! A person's body changing is simply not clearance for you to talk about it. I know that nothing will truly change until we as a society are able to unravel the ingrained notion that thinness is ideal. However, I do hope that on a more interpersonal level, we can attempt to stop commenting on each other's bodies. Because sadly, I am here to tell you that even well-intentioned compliments can be upsetting. In my case, that brought to the surface feelings about my body that had taken years to work through. And it is not how I want to continue.
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I am determined to find my way back to the peace I used to feel and I could use your help. If you to be loving and supportive, stop talking to me about my body. Because honestly, it would just really help a girl out if you'd stop telling me I look skinnier!
Now, back to my vegan chocolate chip cookie.
67% of U.S. women are plus-size. Join as Refinery29 gives these women their own megaphone, doubling down on our commitment as allies, and partnering with them to catapult their powerful conversations into a true historic movement. #WeAreThe67
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produced by Brianna Donnelly; edited by Christina Dun.
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