Sometimes I feel quite fortunate to be losing weight in relative isolation. In fact, aside from my husband and those who read this blog, I never receive any unsolicited advice or input on what I'm doing. That's in no way some oblique way of saying I don't want commentary from those who are kind enough to read what I write, but rather that I often read from others how unwanted or unhelpful input often makes things that much harder for them and this got me thinking about how this hasn't been an issue for me.
For me, I live in a situation where people would not involve themselves in my business in this regard. I could talk about it with them if I chose to (though I don't), and they'd nod and smile and express that they were happy for me, but they would never comment on my progress or offer advice. It's just not what is done here. Luckily, I am insulated from even the busiest of bodies in this regard.
Lately, I've been pondering the forces that motivate people to involve themselves in the dietary habits and weight loss processes of others and think it is useful to keep such things in mind when receiving input from others. Here are the general (and broad) reasons I think people care about the weight loss of others:
1. genuine concern
This is the type of thing which is rare and comes from those who are close to you like your family members. They are emotionally invested in a deep and meaningful way in your life and health and want you to be well, fit and happy. However, such concern is not always unconditional.
Mainly this comes from those who also have struggled with weight and understand the difficulties that you are going through. They know your suffering because they have experienced similar feelings. Many people who read blogs and comment on them are motivated by empathy.
3. vested interest
These are people who have something to gain by your efforts. This is perhaps one of the more complex motivations because what a particular person has to gain is very personal, and can be highly abstract. This is the motivation I'll be discussing in greater detail later.
Some people simply want to know what others are doing and how effective or ineffective various approaches are considering the variables involved in a person's life.
No person who is interested in the weight loss of others fits discretely into any one category. Most people will belong to several, if not all of them. The main thing that tends to define whether their interest in your weight loss is a force for ill or good in terms of your life lies in their "vested interest". The truth is that most people are far less interested in you than in how your actions impact them. At all times, even when you seem to be the focus of their scrutiny, support, or attacks, it is not about you; it is about them.
When I talk about how your actions affect others, I don't mean merely the direct effects. One thing that is important to keep in mind is that people are just as troubled by that which challenges their thinking than that which directly changes their experiences or lives. This thought crystallized for me when I was pondering the oft-cited motivation for bitter responses to weight loss as being jealousy. I don't think people are jealous, but rather that they are threatened because your actions challenge their perspective about weight and lifestyle.
When I consider all of the facets of "vested interest", I come up with a lot of sub-categories of motivation for involving oneself in the outcome of another person's weight loss efforts:
1. schaudenfreude (shameful joy)
Some people like to watch others fail because it elevates them for their meager successes in life.
People want you to succeed because it helps them feel that it is possible for them as well.
These are people who feel that your appearance reflects their value. More often than not, this is a spouse or partner who thinks other people will think they are a better catch because he or she has an attractive significant other. However, it can also be about someone who is thinner than you feeling that your change in appearance to one which is socially more acceptable will reflect on them by making them look less attractive by comparison. People want you to stay as you are so they're better by comparison.
People who follow the same plan as you and want to see success so that they can feel they are on the right track and have a good chance of succeeding as well. Validation can also be about education or information gathering.
People who are following different plans want to see you struggle or fail in order to make them feel their plan is a better choice. This is slightly different than schaudenfreude because this motivation is based in a somewhat different insecurity, though they are related. Invalidation, like validation, is sometimes about education or information gathering.
6. involvement/need for community
Some people, quite frankly, have too little going on in their real lives or lack a sufficient support network and add meaning by involving themselves in the lives of others. They want to help, and they believe that they are motivated by a desire to assist others, but the bottom line is that they need to talk about weight loss and fitness and are seeking an audience which is likely to appreciate their input. That is not to say that there is no genuine desire to be helpful, but rather that most people who get involved act first on their own need, and second to meet your needs.
I am by no means immune to acting on vested interests in this regard. I comment on other people's blogs for reasons "4", "5" and "6" on vested interest list as well as reasons "2", "3", and "4" on the general list.
I think that most negative responses to weight loss blogs are motivated by the need for validation/invalidation. That is, most people need to believe you will succeed or crash and burn in your efforts for various reasons. In regards to wanting to see your failure, often, that need is simply so that they can quiet their own cognitive dissonance about the status quo with their bodies. People believe they can't lose weight, and that you can't either. They think you're just fooling yourself and that you'll succeed for awhile and then regain, become dysfunctional, or live a very stressful and unbalanced life as a slave to your weight. The fact that, more often than not, they are correct, makes following the weight loss efforts of others a very good way of finding information to validate ones views and invalidate those of others.
"Jealousy" is not one of the reasons I think most people write scathing comments on weight loss blogs, though I think that there is an element of feeling like a failure while watching others succeed at something you desperately would like to succeed at, too. This element can often manifest in a what sounds like jealousy, but I think that it really is anger at ones own sense of "failure" turned outward. It really isn't about coveting your success. It's about their failure.
One thing I realize is that I'm very unfortunate to have to deal with a fairly oppressive climate which points out my weight and makes me feel like a freak at every turn. On the other hand, on a personal level, I don't have to deal with people involving themselves in my weight loss because none of them have a vested interest in the outcome either way. The only one who cares, and who I discuss it with in real life, is my husband and his interest is unconditionally about concern for my well-being and nothing more. He has no vested interests, aside from hoping I'll be healthier, stronger, and will spend more time with him.