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I go to the gym twice a week. I like the people there, I love what I do, my trainer is great.

The only issue I have, is that, well, I'm fat. I'm tall and fat, and people constantly assume that no matter what I am working on (mostly powerlifting and other strength stuff - I want to build muscle, I don't care if I lose weight), that openly commenting on my weight is okay.

I get a lot of the sort of compliments like "oh I can tell you've lost so much, you look great", "those pants fit you well, you can see how you've lost inches" etc. and I understand people mean well, and they're trying to be supportive.

The thing is, though, those statements are proveably false. I weigh more now than I did before (yay muscle mass), and my pants etc are the same size they were before I started this journey. I know people are trying to keep me positive because they think I'm there for different reasons than I am, but I don't need that sort of help. I'd rather celebrate my strength.

I've tried telling people the honest truth, that I am there to be strong not skinny, that I haven't lost weight, etc, and either they tell me that can't be true (I've even had people insinuate my scale was wrong!), and that I look "too good to be that size still" etc.

I appreciate they're trying to be nice, but I just can't stand it - it's hard enough being a fat person in a mostly skinny world, but I hate that I have to seemingly take these "compliments" graciously when they are just weirdly trying to push me to a thinner mold than I will ever fit.

How can I express to people that this sort of stuff isn't welcome, or otherwise avoid the trap of "accepting" compliments that kinda make me feel awkward and uncomfortable? I'm not super close to these people, I just see them 2x a week in passing at the gym.

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    Please don’t write answers in comments. It bypasses our quality measures by not having voting (both up and down) available on comments, as well as having other problems detailed on meta. Comments are for clarifying and improving the question; please don’t use them for other purposes. (cc @MikeP) – user58 Mar 17 '18 at 22:35
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You could try turning their positive comment into a different positive response.

So

"You've obviously lost weight"

doesn't become

"No, I haven't, I'm not trying to"

Instead try ...

"You think so?"/"A lot of people think that"

... then

"Actually it's just my posture has improved from the weight training so I'm standing taller."

Then you have a positive platform on which to tell them about how you're trying to bulk up etc.

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    Nice response for OP to create a positive platform, but please consider whether it addresses this part of OP's goal: "How can I express to people that this sort of stuff isn't welcome, or otherwise avoid the trap of "accepting" compliments that kinda make me feel awkward and uncomfortable" -- Yes, OP is indirectly contradicting them in a nice way, but I wonder whether your suggested reply would clearly convey to the person that such untrue compliments are unwelcome so that they can avoid in future? – English Student Mar 19 '18 at 14:13
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The thing with compliments is, they are not about you. Compliments are a friendly tool for social bonding. See my answer to Termatinator's question for details.

In my 38 years experience of social life, compliments are the "currency" of friendly social interaction and the truth of such statements is not considered relevant by most people. Only persons on the autism spectrum and a very few other "sticklers for honesty" might take exception to untrue compliments and everyone else simply accepts the compliments as a social routine. It is a cultural thing to tell people something that will make them feel good, even if it is not strictly the truth. And the gym is all about mutual encouragement anyway. So the easy option (though not the least annoying, in your case) is to ignore those compliments, as succintly advised in the earlier answer.

But if you don't mind taking the risk of disheartening a well-meaning user by "rejecting a compliment" then "thanks, but" is a potent tool and contradicting them politely whenever they utter a "friendly untruth" is very much an option, as in:

Gym friend say, "you are looking so slim!"

You say: "thanks, but I am not."

Friend: oh yes you have lost 5 pounds!

You: nice of you to say so, but I haven't. Nor is it my goal here.

Friend: those pants are literally hanging loose on you.

You: thanks, but they aren't.

Friend: I was just trying to encourage you...

You: I appreciate it but that is not the type of encouragement I need. I am trying to build strength here.

Remember this is socially disruptive and some people will get annoyed with your replies, but they will quickly learn not to give you these compliments you are categorically rejecting as untrue. Try it out next week and give us your feedback for sure!

  • The first part is pretty good, though the example turns out in a lengthy conversation between OP and the random-guy-at-the-gym. Though this might reach the goal the OP is seeking for, it'll probably stop all compliments/interaction. Perhaps better to turn the second reply in the example already into a positive of what your goal actually is. "Nor is it my goal here." -> "I am trying to build strength and my results have been.. xyz" – Caroline Aug 7 at 9:27
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"they're trying to be nice"

Since you are already aware of this, my answer should in fact be really easy.

They are trying to be nice but they unknowingly went about it the wrong way and it has had the opposite effect desired. All you have to do is show them how to be nice in a way that you would appreciate. People latch onto your weight as a topic they can nice about because its a common and easily understood reason for people to be at the gym. New people will likely still start off by trying to be nice about your weight but that should quickly be solved if to each of those people you say:

Ahah, I am actually trying to gain muscle, not lose weight. Don't worry though, a lot of people make that mistake.

They have tried to be nice, they want to be nice and you have politely shown them that the way they went about it was a mistake without blaming them and providing a new alternative way that they can be nice to you (complimenting your strength).

In a situation like this where everyone has good intentions but someone has made a mistake, honest and polite explanations are of mutual benefit to everyone involved.

5

I'm in a similar situation most days. I've been powerlifting for quite a while, and I'm still tall and pretty big.

What I usually do is take the focus of the conversation off me and put it back on them.

Ask them questions - what are you working on? You look like you've gained a lot of strength, etc.

And when you get enough traction in talking about what they're working on and accomplishing, use any similarities to your situation to inform them of your true workout intentions:

"Yeah, I've make a lot of progress in building quad strength lately too. It has been a lot of fun to feel stronger".

If people take the bait, there are usually places to politely place what your true goals are. If they don't, or if they want to keep it about you and your weight loss, then you can politely move to end the conversation

"well, I'm going to finish my last few sets now - good talking to you".

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Dang that's really frustrating that people keep trying to fit you into their preconceived molds.

You ask:

How can I express to people that this sort of stuff isn't welcome, or otherwise avoid the trap of "accepting" compliments that kinda make me feel awkward and uncomfortable?

1) avoid accusations

2) Make it about you not them.

3) be honest

4) keep it simple

5) provide empiracle evidence.

For example next time you might say:

Actually I've gained 50 pounds and I feel really good.

If some one still doesn't get the hint and continues giving you these hurtful compliments. You could say something like:

I would rather people didn't comment on my weight. I will never fit the skinny mold. I'm just here to make myself healthier.

If some one wants to argue with you after that, well I would say just walk away. That should effectively communicate that you don't want to hear any more about it.

Good luck!

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This might come across as a little rude, but have you considered just indicating that their comments are unwanted?

I'd rather you didn't comment on my weight.

You could follow this up with discussing why you are there and how you're progressing and asking them the same (and just generally letting the conversation continue), to counter-act the potential rudeness of the above:

I'm actually mostly here to build muscle. It's been going fairly well... What brings you to the gym?

If you follow up with the above instantly without giving them time to respond to the first statement, that should significantly reduce the negative impact of the first statement, while still clearly sending the message that you don't appreciate such comments.


This would probably be the best way to:

  • Quickly change topics
  • Avoid similar comments in the future
  • Still potentially allow you to have a friendly conversation with them

A positive potentially-deflective response, or ignoring it and simply changing topics (which can also be seen as a positive response), may lead to similar comments in future.

Rejecting the complement would likely lead to them insisting and continuing an uncomfortable back and forth (as rejecting a complement is a fairly common response, generally taken to mean you're trying to be humble or complements make you slightly uncomfortable, but you still appreciate it), as this answer demonstrates, and it could, in the worst case, turn it into a running joke that gets brought up pretty much every time you see each other.

1

Turn the compliment into the one you wanted

Firstly, as noted by other answers, it's important to realise that the compliments are more for bonding, than to actually convey a fact they thought you didn't know. As such, people are looking for ways to make you feel good about yourself and in doing so - build a rapport with you.

The key thing to realise, is people are wanting you to take away the idea that "I think positively about you, and want you to feel good". What exact words get to that result, does not matter in their mind.

The issue is, when they compliment you on an aspect they think will give a positive reaction - your negative reaction comes across as modesty, or disbelief. Because of this, they are likely to stick to their guns or even double-down on it. The impression they get, is that you didn't believe the compliment and not that the compliment missed the mark itself.

Solution

To help "celebrate your strength" instead of non-existent weight loss, as you mentioned, I suggest the following approach:

Take their compliment, and accept it as the one you actually wanted.

The idea here is that you do not deny the sentiment of somebody complimenting you, but you alter the item they are complimenting you on; so that you truly feel happy to have received it.

A: Those pants fit you well, you can see how you've lost inches

OP: Thanks very much! I'm definitely getting a lot bigger and stronger; I'm aiming to bench amount by goal date - it's really good feeling like my arms have got so much bigger already!

The key thing is you are accepting the notion of "I want you to feel good" and not the specific item they (misguidedly) complimented you with. You are keeping the sentiment of their compliment, but changing the words to give you something you are genuinely pleased with.

Importantly, you do not disagree with what they said directly. This isn't because you accept the details they said, but because doing so will come across as disbelief or modesty - both of which are likely to have the original compliment repeated to you more explicitly.

Taking this approach allows you to feel good and build rapport with the other gym members, but still avoids you disingenuously taking a compliment you disagree with.

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