This time the victim wasn't me, but rather my husband. This past weekend, unfortunately, we had to take a trip to his home town in Pennsylvania to see a sick relative in the hospital (thankfully he's doing at least a little better and was moved out of the ICU into a regular room). While there, of course, we had to see a lot of people- he has a very large family and we had a very busy weekend! While I didn't have to really put up with any weight talk directed at me- he did. It wasn't what you would consider negative.. most people would consider it positive: praise for losing weight.
Now.. he didn't actually lose weight.. at least not as far as we know- his clothes still fit.. at least mostly since he's a bit in between sizes- 36 is too big and 34 is too small. Last time we saw them he either wore a 38 or a 36- I can't quite remember. But either way the difference was either none or very little.. but they couldn't help but tell him how good he looked since he lost weight. His grandmother made sure to assure him that he didn't look bad before, but we all know the implication- thinner is better so losing weight is good. Praising someone for losing weight automatically makes them feel obligated to maintain that weight or lose more (we want to do what gets us praise- we're just wired that way) and it plants a more sinister message that gaining weight is bad bad bad. I didn't lose weight.. so of course no one told me how great I looked.
Praise. Everyone wants it.. that little reward center of our brain that just lights up with praise makes us addicted to it. No matter what the behavior, idea, belief, or accomplishment- if someone is praised for it often enough they start to crave it and repeat the behavior in order to get it. Gee, no wonder people are obsessed with losing weight- we're addicted! Psychologists recognize that when this goes too far and we diet too excessively (excessive calorie restriction like anorexia for example) or exercise too much (compulsive exercise disorder) that it's a problem. But it's addiction nonetheless. It's one reason of many that we can't trust human beings to inherently know and do what is right- we're such complex creatures- our brains are impossibly complicated in such a beautiful way and yeah, we're trained animals. It takes a lot to overcome this training which his why so many FA activists talk about what a journey it is to get towards a place of acceptance. It's also why education is so important.
Luckily, even though my hubby isn't big on confrontation and he didn't really tell them why they were wrong to offer praise, he did steer the subject towards something different or outright deny any weight loss. He never said thank you- there was nothing to thank them for... because thinner isn't better.