This week Gabourey Sidibe spoke to Refinery29 about how she handles being subject to body commentary all the time as a celebrity. When the actress first stepped into the limelight, people constantly said she should lose weight. And now that Gabourey has dropped pounds via gastric bypass surgery, she's still not interested in people commenting on her weight loss success. She told the site:
"Since I’ve been losing weight over the past year, people have been saying, ‘Congratulations on your weight loss!’ It doesn’t rock me. It just annoys me because I’m just like, don’t congratulate me on that. If you’re going to congratulate me on my weight loss, also congratulate me every time I pee. Congratulate me every time I’m burping. Because my body actually has nothing to do with you, and I don’t really need your support for it. It seems ill-placed. I don’t need your support. That’s weird to me because my body will always be my body and always had been, and you have nothing to do with it and you’re kind of a stranger. But the way it works is that this is just my body. In the same way that this is just my face, this is just mine."
I get what Gabourey is saying, but I can't fully get with her on this. I fully support losing weight by whatever means is best for you, but I think her philosophy has something to do with the fact that she had gastric bypass surgery in response to a health issue -- being diagnosed with diabetes -- versus proactively getting healthier. I would never call gastric bypass surgery taking the easy way out, especially after talking to my cousin about her experience and all of the prep work that she had to do; however the process is different. And, perhaps, where Gabby is in her journey she doesn't feel like she's earned her body just yet, whereas someone who's been in the gym day in and day out is most likely going to want you to recognize that 7/8 of an inch they lost off of their bicep because no one and nothing else is responsible for that loss but them.
Still, when you lose weight and someone makes a remark along the lines of "You look so good!" it can be a bit of a double-edged sword. On one hand, you appreciate the compliment -- because who doesn't like compliments -- but on the other hand, you feel there's an implication that you didn't "look so good" before. The way our society is set up in terms of beauty standards, that may very well be the case sometimes, but not all weight loss compliments are weighted in before and after comparisons.
Sometimes, a compliment on one's weight loss is rooted in admiration for the hard work that was put in. It's acknowledgement of a level of discipline many people don't have and respect for someone saying I'm going to lose weight and improve my health and actually doing it. Gabourey may not need that support, but I do. And nothing about being congratulated on achieving a weight loss goal makes my body any less mine. If you're coming from the perspective that it's no one's place to tell you what size you should be, then I can see how a weight loss compliment can come across as more of a conviction that smaller is better aesthetically, but the thing about weight loss compliments is it's all in what you say.
I'll be honest, I loved when people congratulated me on my weight loss before. (And I love all the support you all give me now that I'm back at it). What I hated were the remarks about how big I used to be in the midst of the compliments about how small I'd gotten. It was as if people really saw me as a new person and that big girl they were talking about wasn't even in the room. But the only thing new about me was my waistline, so talking about who I was a mere year prior -- and practically my whole life -- didn't feel all that good and even made me start unnecessarily questioning whether people had been judging me for how I looked all along. (Eventually, I realized that shit was neither here nor there at that point so I had to let it go.)
Some of the best compliments when I dropped weight before came from people who'd known me for 10-15 years and said they were proud of me, not because I was smaller, but because they could see the difference in my confidence. People who said they always thought I was beautiful but found joy in how much happier I seemed while on my journey. And while having men who've known me since size 24 suddenly come sniffing around does make me feel a way, in the words of Rae Sremmurd, "They like what they like." I don't have one of those hardcore, if you can't accept me at Precious, you don't deserve me at Paula Patton rules, but I know who's checking for me because I have a smaller booty versus my whole being. So I take the compliments in superficial stride and keep it moving.
As with anything else, a compliment on weight loss is all about intention. Is the person really trying to build you up by drawing attention to your smaller body and the work done to achieve it, or keep you down by constantly referencing the body you used to have and the poor habits that went along with it? If it's the latter, fuck 'em, that's extra weight you don't need either. But as the recipient of those compliments, you also have to be careful you're not coloring compliments with your own hangups about your body and how you believe it is or was perceived by others. At the end of the day, how you feel about your body is what matters most; once you live in that truth it won't matter what people compliment you on or not.