There’s a section in the New York Times called “Social Q’s” in which readers send in various questions and writers respond to them to the best of their knowledge. It’s like the Dear Debby advice column you’d find in typical girly magazines only more cosmopolitan and about issues such as racism or misogyny not the best lip gloss to get your crush to like you. My Pop Pop and I like to read the questions, guess the best response, see what the writer actually had to say and then discuss. Last week’s edition was dense. The headline question was from a father who was unsure if he should tell his daughter that she’s fat or not. This of course opened up a huge discussion about expectations, objectification of women and the unrealistic beauty norms young girls face today. However, with all this in mind, the thing that stuck out to me most was the question my Pop Pop asked.
We had moved on to the second entry about a petite sized nurse, when my Pop Pop pointed out the way my family reacts to comments on weight. He asked why he often gets in trouble when he compliments family member for their weight loss, when he means it as a friendly gesture. This struck me on a different level and brought me back to when I was 10, short and chubby.
I had been aware that I wasn’t the same size as other girls, but my weight had never been a defining factor of my life until I lost it all. I went to summer camp the year before entering middle school a little red-cheeked girl with ill-fitting clothes and came out a lanky girl with protruding bones. It was as if I had been stretched out in the laffy taffy room in Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. I was still me, just a longer leaner version of me. However, to the rest of the world it was as if I had come back a different person. The instant I saw friends and family, I was treated differently. Not better just different. It was common for an aunt or schoolmate to see me and say, “Charlotte?!” as if it were hard to believe it could be me in this new better sculpted body. It wasn’t those types of back-handed comments that stuck with me, it was the compliments.
There’s something so destructive about complimenting a girl for weight loss. It’s almost creating a reward system for unrealistic and unhealthy habits. The moment you tell her how, “good she looks after all that weight loss,” she will always be conscious of her physic trying hard not to dissapoint the people who complimented her.
I was lucky enough to come out of this weight transformation with little to no damage to my relationship with weight or food but that’s because I’m an incredibly stubborn person who doesn’t succumb to criticism like that without a fight. However, I’m one of few. I will always be the 4 foot 2, 100 pound girl with red chubby cheeks that I was 6 years ago. I will always hold the emotions that come from being my only friend in the school play not wearing a tutu and bodysuit. I will always remember the way I felt when I looked at my thighs and saw no gap. I still carry that weight, while it’s no longer in a physical sense, I still carry it.