Phillip Galanes’ “Social Q’s” column in the Sunday Times had what I thought was a strange complaint. A woman who had a long history of yo-yo weight loss said that when she was losing weight, she found the typical compliments she received from friends and co-workers offensive:
“You look so great!” “I hardly recognized you!” I hate these remarks. I’d like to respond: “Thank God I’m not so fat and ugly and gross anymore, right?” Or: “My body is none of your business.”
She said that she was currently in a weight-losing phase and responding to the well-intentioned comments with a simple “thanks,” but asked for advice from Gallanes regarding a better response. I was astounded to find that he sympathized:
Better to ignore the comments, or change the subject, than endorse them with gratitude.
I don’t think a reasonable person would be offended, though, if you said: “I know you mean well, but your comments about my body and weight bother me. I wish you wouldn’t make them.” Or even more directly: “Let’s skip my body as a subject for conversation. It makes me uncomfortable.” You’re allowed to be straight with people, Heather. And your feelings are justified.
Now, to the scores of letter writers who will complain that my ridiculous political correctness is getting in the way of giving simple compliments: Dudes, your “compliments” are hurting people’s feelings! So, maybe, back off your impulse and consider the unintended consequences of your so-called flattering remarks.
Dude! I would write exactly that kind of letter.
I have read dozens of consultants and advisors for those whose loved ones and friends are trying to make healthy life-style changes, and they all say, “Encourage them! Tell them how good they look, and how impressed you are with their progress!” Now a Times advice columnist is saying that complimenting someone on losing weight might be offensive, so we must add one more segment of the social balm that makes life bearable to the category of “potential political correctness minefield.”
I would tell Yo-Yo that the flatterers are being kind and ethical, and she’s being neurotic. I would suggest that she seek some counseling for her insecurities that cause her to react to “You look great!” the same way she would react to “You’re a pig!” I would tell her that hype-active offense alarms are making everyone afraid to speak about anything, and that she is part of the problem.
I would tell her that at minimum, “thank-you” is an appropriate response, because the compliments are sincere and reasonable attempts to be kind and supportive, and such conduct should be encouraged and rewarded, not treated as one more opportunity for a “gotcha!”
And don’t call me “Dude.”