“Terrible compliment” should be an oxymoron. It’s not. I’ve had some absolute corkers. I recently attended a party in a fancy jumpsuit and heels. Someone, with all the kindness in the world, said to me: “You look ever so comfy.” COMFY? I’m grinning through burning arches of agony, bunched toes smooshed into pointed tip-ends. Shoulders stretched back and torso pulled long. I can’t rub my itchy eyes for fear of smearing the slap I’ve caked on. And to top it all off, it’s a jumpsuit with under-Spanx, so I’m holding in about three pints of wee because every trip to the loo is as exhausting as putting up and taking down a family-size tent. Comfy? FML.
The same night I overheard someone’s weightlifting described as “heartwarming”. That’s what you say about a cup of tea or a video of a tiger nuzzling a chick. Not to a woman who can deadlift 120kg. That’s heavier than an off-season Arnold Schwarzenegger. Or two and a half Keira Knightleys. What’s made you all fuzzy about that?
Why is it so hard to get this right? I wondered if we could blame the recent lockdowns for this social-skill atrophy but I worry it’s always been confusing. I’ve spent a lifetime computing all the ways my body weight and type have been noticed. “Hench” I managed to delight in, eventually, and I even relished a recent “jacked”. I’m still working on a neutral response to “solid”, “sturdy”, “heavy”, “hefty” etc. But know that, even if your heart is full of love when you mention someone’s weight change, your comment is implicitly fatphobic at worst and unhelpful at best. And surely we’re past that now.
Elton John once taught us that sorry seems to be the hardest word. But these days I’m afraid it’s been usurped by the absolute hellscape that is any variation of: “You look nice.”