August 2, 2009

The other day my doctor entered the room, looked me over and said, "So, don't take this the wrong way…" Before he continued, I cut him off. "It's too late," I said. No good can come from beginning a sentence that way.

It's the same when someone prefaces with "Don't be offended, but," Why open with that? If you're warning someone ahead of time not to take offence, chances are, what follows will be insulting. Don't try to manage how I receive the insult, just say it - and let me be upset. Most likely I won't be upset - since I don't get offended that easily, But after you alert me to it, expectations are high.

After a few seconds of reconsidering, my doctor went on. "What I was going to say," he paused, looking worried, "was that it seems like you've put on a little weight." Then he quickly added: "But in a good way! You were too skinny before. Now you look healthy."

There were just so many things wrong with that, I didn't know where to begin. First of all, is there ever a right way to tell someone they've gained weight? Most people will have this information already. What good does pointing it out do?

"We're trained to make assessments based on first impressions," He said. I could tell he was wishing he hadn't said anything. "And my impression is, you look healthy."

Unless you have the metabolism of a German supermodel, no woman is eager to hear she's put on weight. There's no reason for this. And dressing it up as "healthy" or "fit" doesn't help.

But gaining the weight was the least of it. The fact that I looked healthy was far more disturbing.

This was exactly the wrong impression I wanted him to have. I don't feel healthy, which is why I was at his office in the first place. So now I was in a position of having to disprove my looks.

What this meant was: things were going in precisely the wrong direction. The more lethargic and unwell I felt, the healthier I appeared? How frustrating is that. Not only does it lessen the concern from people when I tell them how I really feel, but then they assume I must be lying when I say I don't feel well. Why? Because I look so healthy! It makes me seem a lot more vibrant than I am.

I left his office and called my friend Tamara. "Well, you're at that age now," she said. What age is that? The age when self-esteem no longer matters?

I told her I didn't care about the few pounds I put on, but was more concerned that I was giving off a false impression - impersonating someone who is feeling fit and on top of the world.

"What's worse," she asked, "Being told you look tired when you feel rested, or being told you look healthy when you feel like crap?"

Apparently I'm at that age where those were the choices.

Here's what I've learned. When telling a woman she's gained weight, referring to how she was 'too' skinny before doesn't help make it seem like it's a compliment. That's like telling someone they were 'too' rich - it's a good thing they're now broke.