The cashier at Target smiled at me as she scanned our items and placed them into bags. Having worked at Target for years, she has seen my boys grow from the time they were infants. She is friendly and kind, and I’d searched for her in the rows of check out lines just so we could stand in her line. We were shopping for back to school supplies. All three of my boys helped pile the assortment of notebooks, folders, and glue sticks onto the conveyor belt as it slowly turned. As she rang up post-it notes and hand sanitizer, she asked how the boys were doing. We chit-chatted about the end of summer approaching. There was a small pause in the conversation. “You’ve lost weight.” she smiled as we made eye contact. Without even taking a breath I replied, “No! I haven’t.“
It Caught Me Off Guard…
Did my voice shake or had I just imagined it? A million thoughts raced through my head. “Yes, yes you have,” she continued confidently. “I can tell. You have lost weight.” And then I said, “Thank you.” Perhaps a little too cheerfully.
Not Knowing How To Feel…
You see, I have been in recovery from anorexia and bulimia for over three and a half years. I‘m farther into recovery than I have ever been, after struggling with an eating disorder for more than two decades of my life. Also I am at the heaviest weight I have ever been. I know I am recovering. That I am doing well. And that I am healthier and feel better than I have in decades.
I’m living free of daily obsessions, disordered behaviors, and the constant and torturous battles that go on inside someone’s head when they are living with an eating disorder.
And yet, three days after this exchange with my favorite cashier at Target, I am still thinking about her comment. It rolls around inside of my head, bouncing off the walls of my skull. Within minutes I question everything. Maybe she’s right… maybe I have lost weight? (I no longer own a scale.) What if she is right? And why do I feel this sudden jolt of exhilaration at the possibility? No, there is NO way she is right. Maybe she is lying, because I clearly have GAINED weight. Perhaps she feels badly for me.
Maybe I am crazy. Or maybe she is crazy. Likely she needs new glasses. I don’t think I have lost weight. But maybe, just maybe, I have? I feel a sense of excitement building inside that is immediately followed by panic. I catch my reflection as I walk by a mirror, and I pause a little longer, hearing her words.
Have I lost weight?
My heart beats quicker. Wait…. I am not “supposed to” want to lose weight. Haven’t I learned anything in recovery???? And why on earth did “Thank you” come out of my mouth so quickly in response? As if losing weight was the goal for all people. Like it was the most important thing a person could achieve. As if saying “you have lost weight” was a compliment.
Fact Check Time:
I don’t know if I have lost weight or not. I don’t know if my friend at Target really believes I have lost weight. And I don’t know why part of me still really really wants her to be right. I don’t know if we, as a society, will ever reach the point where we break free of the lies of diet culture that tell us thinner is better.
But I DO understand you can never know exactly what is going on deep within another person.
I know a comment such as, “You have lost weight” is based solely on outward appearance and has no way of taking into account a person’s inner experiences.
Or physiological ones. And I obviously know that these “compliments” can actually be very harmful to someone in recovery for an eating disorder. I know she meant no harm. She has no way of knowing my experiences. And I DO hope to someday be completely recovered. Perhaps one day I can hear a comment about my weight without it triggering an onslaught of obsessive thoughts.
But until that day, I really hope no one else comments on my weight.
I dream of a time we all learn not to judge people by their color or size. Because in my perfect world, instead commenting, “You have lost weight,” my friendly cashier would exclaim, “You seem happy today. I am glad to see you.” Because I know that would be a compliment.