Having spent the past weekend with seven of my dearest girlfriends, I began thinking this week about the often underestimated power of our dialogue with one another. Amidst the loud chatter, the warm laughter, and clinking beverage glasses (of course), I observed the familiar remarks about weight and bodies that comprise every female gathering: You look so wonderful! Wow, you’re so tiny! Ugh, I wish I could manage to stay on track. Fortunately for me, I have very healthy (physically and emotionally) friends who support and build one another up, rather than tear one another down.
Unfortunately, however, not all women are as cognizant of their commentary. We as women are constantly noting our observations about other women’s bodies. And, sadly, we often fail to recognize the potential impact that our words can have, even when we perceive our words as “positive.”
Take for example when someone says, “Holy cow! You’re so skinny! You need to eat something!” A friend of mine notes that she wishes she could say in response, “And you need to lay off the donuts!” While we all know that this response would be extremely socially inappropriate and hurtful, it is understandable that a person at the receiving end of such comments would be a bit peeved. The initial comments may derive from feelings of jealousy or curiosity or frustration with one’s own weight; however, they are insulting to the recipient and contribute to an unhealthy culture of body-bashing. As we all know, everyone’s body is unique and we need to recognize the beauty in our world’s wide spectrum of curves (or lack thereof). Next time you want to comment on someone’s “bird legs” or “needing some meat on her bones,” remember that beauty and health come in all sizes and that everyone deserves to be treated with respect.
To take it a step further, I would challenge us to try to reverse our cultural obsession with body ideals by deciding to stop making body-focused comments altogether. This is an admittedly challenging endeavor, but I think that we’re up to the task. Instead of pointing out how teeny someone’s waist looks in her new dress, mention how confident and happy she appears. Or instead of noting that your friend has dropped her baby weight quickly, observe how great she must feel to have so much energy. Maybe we can create, however small, a shift in focus.
Ultimately it’s about helping each other. While I’ll refrain from delving into a feminist diatribe, I mention that I feel it is imperative that women are each other’s biggest advocates. We need all the support we can get to become a stronger and more powerful force. And focusing on each other’s jean’s sizes does nothing but keep us stuck in a small box. So do something different. Vow to be body-talk free this week and take note of how this small change also impacts the way you talk about yourself.