Don’t fat shame me with your compliments.

I was overweight for most of my adult life. I was a feminist who didn’t believe in the corrosive powers of diets, and thought that relenting in any way to controlling my food was giving into the patriarchy. Extreme, I know, but it was a comforting bubble, and eating cookies felt like an anarchic political act. I hit my thirties and a whole heap of different changes happened in my life all at once; I broke up with a long term partner, started looking closely at my mental health, took up yoga to help with anxiety, and began hanging out with people who wanted to go for walks rather than all night beer binges. I made these decisions to turn around my life. Three years later I am around 60-70 lbs lighter, and have become a different person, the difference is most notable on the inside, the outside transformation is a side effect of relentless work I did on my internal baggage.

I have been given a whole new perspective on life, and it’s not one that I like. I’m treated very differently. I’m shocked that both men and women are nicer to me-baffled, hurt, and angry that my external appearance which is now deemed to be more attractive than before warrants positive attention. I’m insulted to my face on a near daily basis. Insulted in the form of compliments. Of how fantastic I look, now, always with that caveat ‘now’. I’m told that I must be so happy now that I’ve ‘lost all that weight’ or that I ‘look like a new woman’, or that I’m ‘barely recognisable’. All said in frenzied chipper tones that are unaware of their own mania. We are a society drugged on the infatuation with transformation stories, tatty magazine that prostitute someone’s journey for 10 seconds of fame, and we choke it all down with vapid, guilt free fervor. It seems pedantic to balk at this appraisal, crass of me to complain. I can’t help how it makes me feel when I’m bombarded with a blow by blow assessment of my appearance, whether I’m at work, out with friends, walking down the street minding my own business-it’s exhausting deflecting the hurt that rides on the back of their curiosity. I feel so cheated by this truth that has been revealed by these ‘compliments’, like all of my worst suspicions were true. That people were just being kind with a tilted head before when they called me beautiful. What it has ultimately taught me is that I want to be valued for the things I think, say, and do, I’m bored by the incessant evaluation of my size, it’s not who I am, it never was, I don’t want to become attached to the external. I don’t want to place my worth in my face, or my smaller ass, but in my words. It’s dull and insulting to think of myself as a collection of features that are pleasing to others. I have always been an intelligent strong minded woman, that is the most beautiful thing about me, and that will never change as I get older and frumpier.

We don’t call people fat anymore, they’re heavy or curvy. We don’t say we’re on a diet, we  are ‘moving towards a healthier lifestyle’. We’ve reprogrammed our language because we’ve all read the Elephant Journal articles that tell us how corrosive negative self hate speech is. We’ve rebranded self flagellation under a new title so we don’t need to feel ashamed when we admit to other women that we don’t like ourselves. I’m calling bullshit on this. It’s the same charade, with a new mask, and I’m not willing to play along anymore.

Nothing has changed from my Mother’s generation, a woman who has been on a diet her whole life. I grew up in a house where eating was an occupation divided into being ‘bold’ or ‘behaving yourself’. In a country so conflicted with guilt and the fetish of misbehaving, it’s no wonder the thrill of being ‘bold’ won out so much.  Food wasn’t about taste, it was about cheating a diet, breaking the rules, eating to a point of fatigued un-tasting gluttony, and afterwards suffering through penance of self sacrifice. It was never as simple as ‘I’m hungry, I’ll eat what’s there’. Now when I hear the conversations of the women around me it sounds no different than the world I grew up it. They’re different words, but just as loaded with self hate. This constant inner monitoring hides under a mask of healthy living-but all I hear are phrases like ‘I mustn’t, I can’t, I shouldn’t, I don’t deserve’, and it breaks my heart because I know they’re listening to a constant internal chatter of dissent. I can’t help but feel that this new mask is even unhealthier than that of my Mother’s generation, at least she could admit to being vulnerable, at least she didn’t expect complete perfection of herself. Now under this new veil it feels like we can’t even be honest about the bad things we say to ourselves.

Body positivity has become a mainstream concept, everyone from my Aunt to the woman next to me on the bus loves the Dove campaignthat encourages women to love themselves the way they are. I feel like I’m being sold another disingenuous slogan to gag me while I swallow down the an incessant message that tells me I’m not enough . Dove aren’t to blame, I really love what they’re trying to do, but this drop in the ocean is a placebo to the onslaught of  impossible beauty standards in the media.

The dots aren’t joining up, it’s not a war that we’re winning. So how do we turn it around? It’s too easy, and too big a problem to blame the media, they will always try to sell you misery, so we have to stop looking to them for role models. Part of my journey was opening my eyes to the women around me, to see them as beautiful, layered, happy vibrant beings, and to tell them that, often. To not let it slide when out with friends and they use language like ‘It’s Monday, I couldn’t possibly order desert.’ I’ve become a feminist pain in everyone’s ass, not aggressively, but joyfully, I’ll eat cake, not because I’ve earned it, but because it tastes good, I’ll also eat quinoa, because it’s really yummy too. I’ll pick someone up on their chatter about starving themselves to go to the beach, not to pander to them with compliments but because maybe they don’t have anyone in their lives that tells them it’s ok not to partake in the Summer body shame ritual. Our daughters and nieces need to be told that they’re funny and talented, not that they’re pretty, let’s stop teaching girls that their value is in their appearance and not their interactions. Let’s stop the charade, the silence, and the incessant internal dialogue, it’s sapping us of our energy to live vibrantly. We win this fight one conversation at a time. We win it by being kinder to ourselves.

I’m tired of being called beautiful, fuck that, I’m a warrior.



This article has been posted on The Violet Butterfly with full permission, and much delight, from Alex Hawthorne.

Alex Hawthorne has been writing for several years, but she wasted far too many of those words being a polite good girl, far too eager to please, with no idea of her real voice.  She now writes about being a bi, poly, feminist, and hopes to be the example that she never had growing up in repressed Catholic Ireland. She is a chameleon entrepreneur, an extrovert in love with her fluffy blanket and sofa, and outspoken advocate for self care, body positivity, and sexual wellbeing. She is violently allergic to dishonesty, oranges, and cats, and lives quietly and happily with her partner and his collection of wigs. She is currently working of her first novel, and you can also find her writing on her blog.

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