Sunday, May 6, 2012

Complimentary Confusion

Recently, while having lunch with some friends, I found myself irritated by a fellow diner’s remark that I should eat up. ‘You’re too skinny! We’re going to fatten you up.’ What am I, I thought, a Christmas turkey?

It occurred to me that if – by their judgment – I was too plump, then they would not have been so outspoken with their opinion. I can’t imagine someone saying in the same cheerful way, “You’re too fat. We’re going to skinny you up!” If such a remark was made, there would probably be red-faced embarrassment all round: the person the remark was directed at would no doubt feel they’d been insulted, the other lunch guests would probably rise to their defense, and the one who had made the remark would probably be ordered to apologize. 

You’re too fat! You’re too thin! What’s the difference? Overweight and underweight are both health problems and equally serious, yet by society’s standards one is an insult and one is a compliment. This is ridiculous. Slowly, I’ve started to understand why I felt so irritated. What was offered as a compliment was actually a double whammy insult. Essentially, I was told that I look like I’m in an unhealthy weight range and then, confusingly, made to feel that I should be flattered to be told so. 

I’m always small-boned, narrow and apple-shaped since I was young. I have always had difficulty building my arms and shoulders. Despite leading an active lifestyle by indulging in various exercises like swimming, badminton, jogging, etc., my little arms have stayed little. It’s not an asset; it just means that I need help getting the lid off the jam jar. And unbeknownst to the person who made the comment, at the time I was feeling particularly proud of my arms. After a long time of push-ups, sit-ups and dumbbells, a miracle had occurred: I had biceps now! Yes, they were small, but I was proud of them. In fact, I was wearing s tank top to show them off. So, you can see why the cheery ‘eat up, you’re too skinny’ remark stung
I read an article about body images which wrote about there were two films ‘The Devil Wears Prada’ and ‘Lost in Translation’ have scenes in which a woman was told that she looked too thin. In both movies, the woman replies with a gushing and heartfelt “Thank you!” These scenes were played for laughs. It’s funny because it’s so stupid, but under all that laughter is the true sentiment of what society thinks about body image – and it’s anything but funny. 

“You look fit!”
“You look healthy!”
“You’re positively glowing with well-being!”
These are compliments. “You look malnourished!” is not. So, the next time we compliment a friend, be sure that what we’re telling them are actually a compliment.