Thursday, August 27, 2009

"You've lost weight!"

That's what a colleague said to me yesterday, a woman I haven't seen for six months. A woman who is tall and broad and neither thin nor fat.

I haven't lost weight; if anything, I've probably gained a pound or two. Which is irrelevant, really, because I've had people say this to me whether I've lost or gained or stayed exactly the same.

And it's a comment I never know how to respond to, because there are so many assumptions wrapped up with those three little words: The assumption that I'm trying to lose weight, or at least wishing to. The assumption that losing weight will make me look better. That assumption that losing weight, or trying to, is a positive thing. The assumption that it's OK for someone I don't know well to comment on my appearance.

I've considered a variety of responses to this comment, everything from "Please don't comment on my appearance" to "Thanks." What I said yesterday was a simple, "Actually, I haven't."

My colleague persisted. "No, you really have," she said. "You look--" She gestured toward my body. "Maybe it's the shirt," she said.

"Maybe," I said. I walked away feeling ungracious. Should I have said thank you? In our culture, telling a woman she's lost weight--especially a woman who is not thin--is a compliment and a social offering. I like this colleague a lot; I know she meant well. Yet I'm very uncomfortable at this point with comments like this. They are also teachable moments. But, you know, sometimes I get really tired of teaching.

I'm not sure I said the right thing. I'm not sure what the right thing is. Any thoughts?