"Oh my goodness! Hannah! You look amazing! so skinny!"
Yep. She said it. I was looking skinny. Just smile and say thanks!
I knew what she meant. I knew she didn't mean anything bad by using the word skinny. She has a heart of gold and wanted to congratulate me on taking charge of my health and reaping the benefits of it. But still, I lost my breath for a moment when she said it. My stomach lurched into anxiety and I felt like crying. Internally I was saying "I don't want to be skinny!!!"
But what's the big deal? Isn't being skinny a good thing?
Being skinny really isn't a big deal, especially if it's a healthy skinny and not a sick, emaciated skinny. Being skinny can be a good thing, personally I just don't like the word!
Aside from not liking the word, I reacted the way I did was because I felt that I had lost too much weight. I wasn't happy about losing as much as I did and I was desperate to put some back on as quickly as possible. I was working with a naturopath on a few minor health things that I wanted to address, and unfortunately one of the supplements I was prescribed had a mild reaction to my body in the form of a fever. This was in the peak of our Australian summer, and it took a couple of days for my body to recover from the fever (don't worry, it was sorted out very easily and I was back to my normal self in no time). I didn't realise I had lost as much weight as I did until I wore one particular bra one day. It dug into my lower chest, I just couldn't get comfortable. That night as I was getting ready for my shower I realised why it was so uncomfortable. I had lost enough weight to make my solar plexus more prominent.
That was a really scary, upsetting moment for me. I immediately felt anxious. What can I eat that will make me gain the weight back now? Please don't look at me and comment on my size! I had to consciously make myself stay calm. I had to coach myself, like I do for my team members! I had to tell myself - I know how to change bodies. I have the knowledge, I just need to do the right thing and my body will take care of it all for me.
Deep. Calming. Breaths.
And, my body has taken care of it all for me, just like I told myself. I focused on eating well, giving my body the good quality food it needed. I made sure I had plenty to eat. I didn't snack constantly throughout the day, but I made sure that I had enough at each meal to last me until it was time to eat again. I have gone from 59.9kg back up to 62.3kg over a healthy period of time. Because of the way I have been eating, there hasn't been a lot of fat gain. My body has replaced the fluid it lost during the feverish sweats on 36 degree Summer days, it's replaced some of the fat it lost, and it's building muscle. It's doing exactly what I want it to be doing.
Do I want to be called skinny now that I'm recovered? No. There are more words in the dictionary to describe my body than that word alone.
what's the point?
The point of all this, is that a compliment to you may not be a compliment to me. Or, whoever you're talking to at the time. My goals are not specifically weight loss goals. While it is a bit of a novelty for me to lose weight according to the scale, it's not something I'm desperately trying to pursue. I believe there's more to life than getting smaller. I'd rather spend my time getting stronger, fitter, and figuring out what I can hang upside down from next time I'm at a local park.
We need to be mindful about what others could be going through (or have been through in the past), and what may be a trigger for them. I know that this kind of mindfulness risks getting taken way too far where we feel like there is nothing we can say without getting into trouble, but we don't always know if someone has struggled with an eating disorder, or if they've had compulsive exercise or other lifestyle behaviours before that have really impacted their lives negatively. Excitedly telling these people that they look great because they look skinny, could be the thing that triggers them into a negative behaviour pattern again, or at least causes them some level of emotional stress like it did for me.
And it's the same when we've noticed someone has gained weight. Commenting that someone looks bulky isn't necessarily a bad thing. But if someone isn't familiar with what "bulky" means in a fitness context, they could get really confused and upset because they think you're calling them fat.
So, what can I say then?
Remember - this post isn't about what you can or can't say. There's no Word Police out to get you if you say the wrong thing! This post is simply about making you more aware of the word choices you make. So let's have a brainstorm about what could be better words to use!
Instead of saying that some one is skinny or bulky, try these instead:
When we engage this way, we still get to share our excitement with our friends and family, but we don't focus on the potentially triggering words we've been discussing throughout this blog post. We recognise the change, and we enter into a healthy dialogue which allows the other person to give you insight into what's going on, good or bad.
Be mindful and considerate. It's not too hard once you know how ;)