I do a lot of eye-rolling at what Gwyneth Paltrow says on topics like detoxing and versatile lady-clothes (let's not even go into what she sings). But when she told friend Ross Mathews to "get it together" while pointing at his belly, I shuddered.
For once, it wasn't Gwyneth's actual words -- which were, let's face it, pretty harsh, particularly since they were said in front of other people and while taping "Chelsea Lately" -- that did it. It was a sudden flashback to junior year of college in the middle of Missouri. It was my 21st birthday and I was chock-full of terrible 21st birthday-ish drinks like the "Pineapple Bomb" and "Cement Mixer" and things you vow to never, ever drink again once they show you the way across the "welcome to legal hangovers" threshold. One of my very best friends chose the moment when I could barely button up my own pants in the bathroom to lecture me about some pretty-typical college weight I'd put on.
The truth was that I was pretty uncomfortable in my body at that time and I did want to feel better, maybe even lose some weight. But it was absolutely the wrong moment and the worst words she could have chosen. I stood in awe as she went on and on and on, under the guise of "friendship" and "concern". Then, as you might expect, I burst into tears, a big, blubbery, boozy mess in a bar bathroom on my birthday.
I never saw, spoke to, or heard from that fat-detective friend again. I did hear that a few months after she confronted me, she was kicked out of her college for plagiarizing a paper. I didn't feel happy about that turn of events, but I did wonder how her circle of friends reacted when that all happened.
Clearly, that woman didn't need to be in my life. The friends who are still around and the women I've become close to in the years since college have all understood how to walk the line of support, especially when it comes to body and weight issues. We confide our struggles, we have sent texts to remind each other to drink water or eat when we are stressed, we have said many times how beautiful our friends look -- and none of it has related to size or scales. One of these friends told me during my divorce that she really believed yoga would help ease my pain. Another suggested I become a runner and then ran along with me in my first race. Sometimes, we've talked each other out of doing crazy cleanses or diets, and other times we have made vows to eat healthier together. Once, when I lost a bunch of weight suddenly, my best friend said bluntly, "People will say you look skinny and great. I need to know if this is healthy or not. What's going on?" I loved her for that. I love all of them for having my back without judging the size of my booty.
I don't think it is our jobs as a friend to corner each other in that way about our body size. As Piper Weiss wrote about Gwyneth, "Look, Paltrow may have meant well, but she's got to brush up on her tact. A callous criticism like this may inspire temporary weight loss, but it can also bring out longstanding body issues. Isn't there a better way to express concern for a friend?"
Has a friend ever told you that it's time to lose weight? Have you ever been that friend? How did you handle it?
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