This started as a comment on Chrissy’s post “Compliments and Good Intentions.”
I began my experiment with non-restrictive “normal” eating about two years ago, and since then I’ve moved up to about the size I was before I started restrictive eating (a size 24, which I wore when I was 15 y/o. I’m 25 y/o, now). When I was moving down in sizes, you couldn’t dam the flood of compliments I got. No one asked *how* I did it, of course, and if they did, would they have liked the answer? (“I haven’t eaten anything since yesterday morning, and that was a fat-free Fig Newton. Oh yes, and I’m also taking diet pills with ephedrine, whee!” )
I’ve noticed that my experiment has generated, rather than insults, a great sucking void with respect to my appearance. When I was starving in high school I used to get all sorts of proud compliments from my father, my stepmother (and worried remarks from my mom — she’s the only one who had her head screwed on straight), my friends, my grandmother, my extended family…and do you know I haven’t gotten a single body-referential remark since I gained back the weight? It must be because they’re so happy I’m not longer eating-disordered and are now respectful of my humanity and unmindful of what I look like, right?
Maybe not. My dad speaks with pride that my four year-old little sister is skinny as a rail, and treats her chubbier little sister (two years old) with far less respect. Weird? Should I mention he considers, “Hey, have you lost weight?” the biggest compliment of his own self in the book? Yes, he’s a self-loather. Does that mean I have to be, too?
It’s hard escaping the personal values and expectations of your parents, but I think the most important part of the journey is to realize that their personal emphasis on thin(ner)ness = success is just that — their personal emphasis. I frankly pity my Dad, because I know how unhappy he is, loathing his naturally fat body, fighting against it, coveting the rail-thin body of my stepmother and his adopted daughter. That’s really, really sad, and once I realized the issue was not with me but with him, I was free to let melt away the anger, indignation, confusion, and disappointment I felt in his estimation of my body. It was never really me he was seeing, you know. It was himself.