“Rachel!” a voice said.
“Marion! Hello! Sorry, June’s having a rough morning.”
“No worries, I totally understand! I won’t keep you. I can see that you’re busy, but it’s good to see you! We’ve missed you at book club!”
“Thanks! I’ve missed you guys, too! Just a little overwhelmed right now,” Rachel smiled weakly.
“I know how it is. The newborn days are tough. Hang in there! You look fantastic, by the way! Sooo thin! I’m jealous!” Marion flashed a smile before waving and continuing down the hallway.
Rachel thought of all the meals she had started and never finished since June’s birth, partly because she and James traded off holding June during the “witching hour” at dinner time, and partly because she had so little appetite lately. It was hard to relax and eat when June was screaming and crying for hours at a time. She thought of hour after lonely hour of breastfeeding June to soothe her in the evenings when she was so fussy that nothing else worked. She thought of all the foods she could no longer eat since she had cut dairy, soy, red meat, and gas-producing vegetables from her diet in response to June’s probable food allergies. It was unintentional, but the pounds had dropped rapidly after giving birth, and her weight was now well below what it had been before pregnancy.
The above text is an excerpt from my book-in-progress. Though it is fictional, it is based on real experiences, thoughts, and feelings. During every one of the hardest seasons of my life, I have lost a significant amount of weight unintentionally due to anxiety and/or physical health problems. Every time, people notice. As I’m muddling through whatever crisis is happening at the time, people who see me at church, in the neighborhood, at the grocery store, or on vacation comment on my weight.
When this happens, I never know how to respond. If I give a real response, (“Thanks! It’s because I’ve had a chronic illness for six months and haven’t been able to eat.”), it feels inappropriate because I know the comment was meant as small talk. The thing is, though, my weight should not be the subject of small talk. Small talk is for things that are impersonal and relatively inconsequential, like commenting on the weather or what you had for lunch that day. In a society where women’s sense of self-worth is so closely related to their appearance, when did it become ok to talk about my weight as though it were of no more consequence than the oatmeal I had for breakfast?
On the other hand, if I respond to the comment as though it were the small talk the speaker intended it to be, I am perpetuating the problem. Thanking someone for noticing my body when all I want to do is hide doesn’t seem helpful to me or to other women. Perpetuating the idea that weight loss is automatically a sign of health and the result of hard work feels disingenuous because that has not been my experience. At all. Because weight loss is so inextricably linked to deteriorating mental and physical health for me, when someone compliments my weight, I immediately begin to wonder what they will think of me when I get healthier and gain weight again. I can’t pretend anymore that no one notices, so if I’m “good” when I’m thinner, what are people saying and thinking when I’m healthier but heavier
I know that the people who compliment my weight have no ill intentions, and they are simply responding to the same system of cultural norms that plague us all. I don’t want to shame anyone. However, I do think this is a conversation worth having, so I thought maybe we could have it here, divorced from any particular incident.
Ladies, we need to talk. If we are going to keep talking about our bodies in casual conversation, let’s do the conversation justice. Let’s talk about a few of the things our bodies actually are.
Our bodies are couriers
Our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit
Our bodies are
Our bodies are unparalleled wisdom
Our bodies are gifts.
For some people, losing weight is an indicator of health and well-being, but for others, it is quite the opposite. Dear sisters, could we make an agreement? Unless we know each other well enough to know how the other is
My sisters, our amazing bodies are many, many things, but a conversation piece—the subject of small talk—should not be one of them.
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