My Favorite Fallacies: Losing Weight Will Make You Look Better

One in what may become an occasional series.

I work in the field of health promotion. That’s my job, to promote health. I’m a salesperson of sorts, hopefully one whose code of ethics is strong and well-defined.

I am sometimes called upon to review materials, and one thing that catches my eye and usually makes me reject something outright is if it contains the claim that any health promotion effort will “make you look better.” And this is especially true for anything that talks about the “benefits of losing weight.” If anything I read has these words in it: “Losing weight will make you look better,” I’m going to reject it as a valid source of health information

Googling before writing this entry, I came across this beautiful list of things written by Sui over at cynosure (a site new to me, I haven’t read everything there) called “25 Ways Losing Weight Will Not Change Your Life.” In that list, the idea that losing weight makes you look better is tackled numerous times.

I’m thinking about this myself because I’m looking better these days, to myself, than I was a few months ago. I have been in the sun (which is good for me, considering I live in a place where we don’t see sunshine more days than we do), my mood has improved, I have more energy. I have been trying different kinds of physical activity than usual. I’ve been having fun. I have found outlets for my creativity. I’ve been singing more. I’ve been more productive at work and at home. I’m laughing more, and more lighthearted in general. I’ve been eating more fruits and vegetables.

And I’ve gained weight.

I had lost a bit of weight when I was depressed, rather seriously, earlier in the year. And now, along with an improvement in mood, more energy, and all the changes I listed above, I have been eating more, eating more regularly, eating foods I enjoy and enjoying what I eat.

Yesterday, I saw someone who I see only occasionally — I see her more frequently during the school year — and she asked if I had lost weight. It was a hectic, quick interaction, and I said “no, my weight has been up and down lately,” she’s someone who I’ve never had a serious discussion with about weight and size, and she’s someone who I consider to be of a similar size to me, and similar in other ways, too (she has a husband who is from outside of the U.S., she has one kid, she has works full time, she seems to seek joy and spirituality and fun, she is kind, and friendly, and very busy). So, in this moment, it just wasn’t the time to go into it. But, in fact, to many people who saw me at my most depressed, and see me now (including my therapist), I actually look “better.” I don’t think anyone who cares about me thought I looked “bad” before — just that I tend to be transparent in how I feel, I’m sort of a heart-on-sleeve sort of person (there are many people I know who would consider that to be an understatement). My therapist commented on how different my voice on the phone sounded to her — so it’s not just what I look like that is apparent. If someone were to say to me, “you were looking low, and now you look happy and glowing” — I don’t mind. What I do mind is that being conflated with weight loss. And I don’t really mind, so much as seek an opportunity to explore that line of thinking with someone when the time is right. Really, if someone says to me, “you look great! Have you lost weight recently?” and it’s someone I like but who doesn’t know that thinking about all of this stuff is like a part-time job for me, I have an opportunity to say, “Thanks — I have actually gained some weight lately — I was really down earlier in the year, mostly because things at work were really lousy — but now I’m having a great summer and I’m back where my body seems most comfortable.”

I do have some cognitive dissonance to manage about “gaining weight and looking better” — it’s the metaphor of the panopticon — I’ve internalized the prison guard, and I’m fearing punishment for being both happier and fatter. (For more on the panopticon, see Lesley Kinzel’s lovely takedown of monitoring children’s school lunch consumption.)

What’s surprising and interesting to me, is that just as I feel protective of my “fatter selves” and, although I used to weigh more than I do now — I don’t reject or make fun of my larger former self — I notice a protectiveness of my “depressed self.” I notice saying things to friends like “I feel more like myself now” that I have my energy returned and feel more vital (more importantly, I’m not experiencing crushing, life-sapping depression)  — but it’s not that who I was when I was having a hard time getting out of bed in the morning wasn’t “me.” So, I’ve stopped saying “I feel like myself again” — even though it’s how I feel — because I don’t want to deny that the depressed me was also me. Falling into a temporary depression is certainly part of the human experience, and I feel extremely lucky that it didn’t last any longer than it did.

Okay, I’ve got to go, make breakfast with handpicked blueberries (pancakes and smoothies) and play with some kids and do laundry and kiss my husband and feel the sun on my face and run into friends and maybe have a better idea now what to say when they say, “hey, you look like you’ve lost weight…”

Have a lovely day, friends.

P.S. I was looking for a recent photo to include with this post, but couldn’t find a decent one. I need more pictures to be taken of me! And I’m not even camera shy!

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9 Comments

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9 responses to “My Favorite Fallacies: Losing Weight Will Make You Look Better

  1. People who haven’t seen me in awhile often ask if I’ve lost weight. Usually, the answer is “no”. I just don’t understand it. Happy, sad, busy, relaxed–it’s always the same question.

    Glad to hear that you’re feeling better!

  2. KellyK

    I found it hilarious that someone commented that I “must’ve lost at least 20 or 30 pounds” since she’d seen me. Actually, i’d probably gained that much or more since the last time she’d seen me. The gain and the looking & feeling better weren’t exactly connected. (I have thyroid issues. They were making me feel awful, but doctors didn’t think they were worth treating until I gained 50 pounds or so.) But I looked happy and *good* so she automatically interpreted that as “smaller” even when it was the opposite. Very messed up.

    • Oh, that is so annoying that the doctors wouldn’t treat the thyroid issues promptly. I don’t know if you are in the U.S., but doctors here really vary in how promptly they treat thyroid-related things.

  3. AJC

    I really enjoyed reading this post, thank you so much for writing it!
    I too have had people ask me recently if I have lost weight, when in truth I have gained weight, but am feeling so much happier than I have been for the past year or so. Whether I am currently in my “skinny” or my “fat” jeans I never feel ok with people asking about my weight. Can’t they just say I look good and leave it at that?

  4. G

    I love that list you linked to! I recognize, oh, a couple things in there…

    I’m glad you’re feeling better. No matter how we feel or what our size is, we still need to treat ourselves with compassion and respect.

  5. Thanks so much for linking to me! Yes, losing weight / dieting does NOT equal a happier, healthier anyone! It seems like a lot of your readers would also enjoy this post: Why “You Lost Weight” is NOT a Compliment.

    Sending you much love + joy, and hope you enjoy cynosure 🙂

    • That IS a great post. I will bookmark your site and visit often.
      It has been inspiring to read about your journey to where you are today. I love the non-judgement that comes through in your writing — that’s the direction I’m aiming to head in.
      Sending love and joy back to you.

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