I’ve recently transitioned to vegetarianism (not as a weight loss diet but for ethical purposes), and as a result I’ve lost a bit of weight. I consider myself extremely body positive and anti-diet culture but I’m going home for the holidays where there is extreme perpetuation of diet culture. How do I respond to the inevitable 'you look great!' weight-related thin privilege comments from my family without unleashing fury at the dinner table?
Is there anything more guaranteed in our culture than people praising when there's less of you than there was the last time they saw you? It comes as naturally as saying hello and often takes the place of 'how are you' (duh, you must be great because you're thinner).
We've been conditioned by diet culture to always see weight loss as a positive thing, and most people are oblivious to how damaging that can be. I can barely remember the number of compliments I got on my 'will power' and looking 'so gorgeous and skinny!' while I was spiralling into my eating disorder. There are a million different reasons that someone might end up losing weight, and you never know what kind of behaviours got them there that you might be encouraging with your praise.
When it comes to unintentional weight loss, even if that praise doesn't reinforce harmful behaviours, it still draws a person's attention away from whatever they were doing, and onto their own bodies. One minute you're engaged in a conversation, not thinking about how you look at all, the next you're hyper-focused on how everyone else is seeing you. Not good. And even if losing weight was a neutral by-product of your ethical choices, the praise is still loaded with thinner = better mind-fuckery, which puts your own neutrality about it in jeopardy.
You have every right to want to avoid that and enjoy some diet culture free family time. My first thought is having a pin made that says 'DO NOT MAKE UNSOLICITED COMMENTS ON OTHER PEOPLE'S BODIES', but it's probably a bit short notice for that. So here are a few options, ranked by amount of emotional labour required, that you can use to disrupt the weight-loss-is-always-praise-worthy diet culture narrative:
Them: You've lost so much weight, you look great!
You: Why do we always see weight loss as a positive thing? Don't you think it's messed up to send people the message that they're better/more beautiful/more valuable when there's less of them? I think I was just as great before.
(Warning: make sure you've got the energy stored up for this one, because it opens up the entire diet culture can of worms. Potentially productive and eye-opening, potentially draining and emotionally debilitating, and you're allowed to prioritise your mental health over trying to convince people of something their minds are not open to).
Them: Have you lost weight, how did you do it?!
You: Yeah, but you know I've also *insert achievement here e.g. been studying a new topic/created something I'm really proud of/found a new passion/been on a trip/met some amazing people lately* and I think that's way more interesting than my body changing size!
...or how about:
Them: Look how skinny you are, I wish I could drop the pounds like that.
You: If I've lost weight it hasn't been intentional, and I don't think it's a positive or a negative thing.
...or perhaps even this:
Them: Blah blah blah weight loss blah diet culture blah blah:
You: *Ignore their statement entirely and carry on talking about whatever you were talking about before*
And whichever you go with, remember you are under no obligation to say thank you. Even though that's the response they're expecting. You are not rude for not saying thank you to a comment about your body that you didn't want in the first place.
Love & bopo,