The Lie of Just the Way It Is

Dream WorldI got an e-mail today about the blogher Fat Talk survey results.  I would first like to say that I wish they would say “negative body talk” instead of fat talk so as to avoid piling more stigma onto people who are fat.  But that’s another blog.  For now, I’m just going to refer to it as negative body talk.

I wish I were more surprised by the results.  Seventy-four percent of women, across all age groups, engage in negative body talk.  When asked why women engage in fat talk, answers included:

Because most women are not happy with their bodies.

In some ways, it’s bonding over a common interest. We all have things we don’t like about our bodies.

It’s the social norm. Sadly, it’s just part of life.

That reminded me of the blogger who is supposedly a health and beauty expert who, discussing her feelings toward her body said “And I’m female so I’m never happy!”

While a case could be made that negative body talk  is currently a part of life, let me suggest something:

It doesn’t have to be a part of life.  We do not have to talk badly about our bodies.  Ever.  We can simply stop.  Maybe we’re not in a place where we love our bodies yet, maybe we aren’t interested in the concept of loving our bodies.  But our bodies push air in and out of our lungs, blink our eyes, beat our hearts, and we do not have to talk badly about them as part of some horrible social norm.  Many of the functions of our body are autonomic, but the way we talk about them is not.

We are each absolutely allowed to speak poorly of our bodies if we choose. But when we buy into the belief that negative body talk is some sort of unavoidable part of life, we are buying into a lie that has been foisted upon us and perpetuated by those who profit from it, whether it’s monetarily, socially, or emotionally.   They are asking us to hate ourselves for their benefit.  We do not have to oblige.

Of course this is easier said than done.  We have been and continue to be absolutely indoctrinated with the idea that engaging in negative body talk is natural and normal, and that sucks and it’s not fair.  But we are each the only person who can decide how we talk about our bodies.  Women have everything that we need to end negative body talk- we can simply refuse to do it.  We can refuse to talk badly about our own bodies, and we can refuse to talk badly about other people’s bodies. Nobody is obligated to do this, but it is an option that is available to all of us.

Of course it may take some, perhaps a lot, of work to kick the negative body talk habit- especially if its become ingrained.  But I submit that it may be well worth the effort.   I understand that for some people positive body talk feels like bragging so I’m not even suggesting that – that’s a blog for another day.

All I’m suggesting is we simply stop talking badly about our bodies.  I’m suggesting that we can become conscious of our thoughts and words about our bodies and interrupt and redirect them. In the beginner version you just stop yourself and start thinking or talking about something else.  In the intermediate version you might replace them with a simple thank you to your body.  In the advanced version you state your intentions and then do either the beginner or intermediate version.

Here are sample scripts to get you started:

Beginner Version:

Ugh, I just feel so ugl….how about that local and/or college sporting team?

Tell me about it Pam, my stomach..Hey I meant to ask, did you see Michelle Chamuel on The Voice last night?

God I totally hate my… hey look, bundt cake! (Points for the knowing the movie reference)

Intermediate Version

Ugh, I just feel so ugl… hey body, thanks for breathing, you are kicking ass at breathing and I really appreciate it!

Tell me about it Pam, my stomach… Wait, have you ever thought about how much our bodies do for us?  I think they deserve some love.

God I totally hate my…actually, I really appreciate my butt because if I didn’t have a butt where my butt is supposed to be, that would be very inconvenient.  So thanks body, for having a butt where my butt’s supposed to be, rock on.

Advanced Version

Ugh, I just feel so ugl… No, I’m not doing this anymore.  How about that local and/or college sporting team?

Tell me about it Pam, my stomach…actually, I’m going to interrupt myself because I’ve decided that I don’t want to talk badly about my body anymore – it deserves some love.

God I totally hate my…fuck this body hating bullshit, rock on body.

Seriously, you could make the decision, right now – right this second – that you are done with negative body talk. And then you can make it happen.

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Published in: on June 7, 2013 at 10:41 am  Comments (51)  

51 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Beautifully written. Some great baby step examples!

  2. I had a moment a few years ago (when I was still obsessed with dieting) that became the turning point that led me to HAES and eventually, this blog.
    I was at the pool, and (as usual) I was criticizing my thighs for being ‘too big’.
    In came a woman with only one leg. With complete confidence, she left her crutches at the ladder and began to swim.
    I CLEARLY remember thinking, ‘What was I complaining about? My thighs are strong and functional, and I have BOTH of them!’
    Since then, I try to ‘catch myself’ whenever I start to say (or think) negative things about my strong, functional, body.
    It surprised me to discover how ingrained this habit really was.

    • While I think it’s awesome that you’ve worked on reversing the negative thinking about your body, I just want to remind you that people with disabilities are not teaching tools… they’re human beings🙂 ! So often I see images of people with visual disabilities like missing limbs with words like “No excuses” or “If they can do it, so can you!” which is extremely ableist.

      Just as I don’t want someone looking at my fat body at the gym and thinking “Well, if that fatty can get on the treadmill, I guess I should be able to,” nor do people with physical disabilities want their disability to be a feel good tool for people without physical or visual disabilities.

      Just a little tidbit of info I wanted to share!

      • It was the woman’s confidence that I found inspiring- not her ability to swim (though the way she modified her stroke was pretty cool, too!) she seemed completely comfortable in her own skin despite her physical difference. I felt a new appreciation for my limbs (no matter what they looked like) when I realized that having limbs was a privilege that I had been taking for granted. I also felt felt ashamed that I allowed shallow appearances to keep me from appreciating what I have.
        This was an eye-opening experience for which I am grateful, and I wanted to share it… I apologize if my post was ableist.
        I did not think of this confident, inspiring woman as a ‘teaching tool’… although I DID learn from her.

      • Lauren,
        I just wanted to thank you for reminding me that folks with disabilities are human beings. This came as a revelation, as prior to your condescending reply, I believed that in order to appreciate having both my legs, I must first objectify and dehumanize those who are missing limbs.

        Ragen wrote that she appreciates having a butt where a butt should be…perhaps you should remind her that butt-less folk are not teaching tools. (you know, just in case she has forgotten)

        As a result of the enlightenment you have chosen to bestow upon me, I have decided NOT to use images of disabled people as feel good tools in my upcoming poster campaign, as was my original plan.

        Thank you for telling me what thoughts I should think when I see you on the treadmill- as I am unable to think for myself.
        I can see why the disabled community has chosen you as their spokesperson- after all, you have walked the treadmill while fat, and equated your experience to being disabled.

        Thank you for explaining my own experience to me- your pearls of wisdom are a gift to humanity.

        Just a tidbit of info I wanted to share!

        *sarcasm*

        • Well that’s more than a little uncalled for. Not sure why you felt the need to revisit your earlier response from 2 days prior (which was a pretty reasonable and thoughtful response to a sensitive subject) to add this passive-aggressive disaster.

          Perhaps you do indeed have a bit of learning to do!

        • Lauren,
          Yes, I freely admit I DO still have a lot of learning to do! One of the many things I do not know is what it is like to be disabled.
          You presented yourself as an authority on the subject and informed me that I was being ableist.
          I truly did not want the seeds of my new found body acceptance to be upon the backs of disabled people, so I apologized.
          I wanted to learn exactly what made my moment of ‘leg privilege realization’ so offensive, so I could be more sensitive in the future.
          I work one-to-one with disabled people as part of my job as a water fitness instructor, and shortly after you responded to my post, I had the opportunity to work with Vinny, a man who has lost the use of his legs due to a neurological disorder. I’ve worked with Vinny twice a week for several years, and we have solved many of the world’s problems during our time together in the pool.
          When I saw him, I asked if he could give me some honest feedback on this subject. I described my initial post, your reply, and asked his opinion- was this offensive?
          While he did not find my experience to be offensive, he found YOUR response to be offensive, condescending and presumptuous- which is what I tried to convey in my sarcastic reply to you.
          While I realize that Vinny does not speak for the entire disabled community, I think I will trust his opinion over yours on this one.
          I really should thank you (without sarcasm) for what I’ve learned, because your reply prompted a frank, informative dialogue that I would not have otherwise had.
          I somehow doubt that YOU will learn anything from this experience- as you seem to think you know everything already, and consider it your job to dispense ‘tidbits of information’ and enlightenment to the poor, uneducated people of the world.

          • Glad you could find someone to gladly affirm your gut feelings. Since as we all know, finding one person from a demographic to clear one’s behavior is all you need! Obviously all people with disabilities are monolith, along with all Black people, all immigrants, and women! As long as one person says something is not ablist/racist/xenophobic/sexist that means it cannot possibly be so!

            My, looks like *I’m* the one who truly learned something today!

            • I stated that a confident, admirable amputee helped me appreciate having legs, their size was not important.
              What behavior did I need to ‘clear’, exactly?

            • ‘Since as we all know, finding one person from a demographic to clear one’s behavior is all you need! Obviously all people with disabilities are monolith, along with all Black people, all immigrants, and women! As long as one person says something is not ablist/racist/xenophobic/sexist that means it cannot possibly be so!’

              Lauren, You’re right. It was silly of me to approach an actual member of the group I was trying to be sensitive to, and ask how they would like to be treated, since they are just one individual within a demographic.
              I realize now It would be easier to just ask YOU, since you speak for all people in all these marginalized groups.

              Heaven help us.

              • Lauren and Sandra, at this point I’m going to ask you to take this conversation offline. If you have any questions about this you can e-mail me at ragen@danceswithfatorg.

                Thank you,

                ~Ragen

                • Understood.
                  I apologize if my engagement in this dispute has made anyone uncomfortable.

  3. This is something that I’ve been working on for a long time, not only personal negative body talk but stopping my negative body talk about other women. In our society, it’s like women are pitted against women and this cattiness feels like it’s encouraged. I personally decided that I was not going to be part of that. So, every time I go to start thinking negatively about another woman’s appearance, I find something about her beautiful about her. Now, I’m not likely to say anything out loud because that would be awkward going up to a person I don’t know and saying “Hey, nice dress!”. I feel like this positive body talk has certainly helped as it has switched my mode of thinking, in regards to other people’s bodies and to mine. Thankfully most of my current negative self talk is about the aches and pains. As wonderful as the mechanics of my legs and feet and how they get me around whether it’s walking or dancing, the plantar fasciitis is a bummer and this random knee pain is also rather annoying. I try to at least keep a good sense of humor about though and refer to in a silly mode (oh look…my hand is being dumb – when I’ve woken up with it being all carpal tunnelly).

    This is actually something that I even strive for when I speak with other women. I work in retail and so often I hear “I look like a blob!!” “I’m too fat for this dress!” etc. I often tell women that it’s actually the dress that is not cut to their body type and blame it on design rather than rather than their bodies. I’ve been able to find dresses, just as an example, that are often cut in a different manner that is much more flattering. Often they may love a dress on the hangar and then they get frustrated once it’s on their body without realizing that a different cut will make them happier. This is just my experience from working in clothing stores (don’t even get me started about the general lack of sizing), and this is one of the places that I try to encourage positive self body talk. I work in a store selling clothes, so I might as well try to push more positivity rather than negativity.

  4. this essay is perfect. For women, it needs a slight tweak for girls/boys. You don’t mind…?

  5. Being summertime, it’s a lot easier to fall into the Body Hating Mobius Strip of Self-Flagellation, what with all the little teeny tiny clothing in the stores, the pictures of whippet-thin females in the magazines and advertisements just having the TIME of their LIVES, and the adverts for a “better bikini body”. I admit I do have days where the self-hatred is so profound that I can barely function, and all I want to do is scream, “How can you find ANYTHING beautiful about me when I look like a busted can of biscuits?!” to my husband’s bewildered face.

    I’m still on the beginner level with this…will be a long time till I’m solidly advanced. If I haven’t gone too far, I flip through the photo album and remind myself of all the things I’ve done, like climbing Ben Nevis, hiking all over Europe, climbing every single castle, cathedral, and monument I could find (I have this wild urge to be as high as I can at any given point), and having my kids, surely the ultimate endurance test. And aside from a few genetic shortcomings that can be fixed by medication, there’s not a thing wrong with me, that if I wanted to, I could take this large body of mine anywhere and do just about anything. On top of that, it houses my voice and my brain, two things which are far greater than the sum of their parts.

    Take that, evil Mobius loop.

    • Yorkie, I just wanted to say that “Body Hating Mobius Strip of Self-Flagellation” is my new favorite phrase.

      Your body houses a bloody marvelous brain!

    • I’m so frustrated with Macy’s right now because of their advertising. Every model on the page looks very thin, with no exceptions. I might like to see how that dress looks on a size 14 than on a size 0 (nothing wrong with being size 0, just want to see how something looks on another body type). I felt horrible about my body with the first few ads from them, and then I reminded myself that my body is beautiful and it does more for me than how it looks. Keep on truckin’, as they say where I’m from. Let’s remember that all of our bodies are “bikini ready”!

  6. I love this blog post, and it really hits home for the way I used to be. Even just 9 months ago or so I was still hateful toward my own body. It has taken a lot of work to get here (years in fact), but today I can honestly say that it’s been months since I have spoken bad things about my body – Outloud OR Silently to myself. That was the hardest part. Even months after I stopped body hate talk out loud, it took quite a bit longer to change the negative thoughts inside. But I am So Much Happier in ALL areas of my life since I replaced the negative body talk with positive talk and thoughts.

    It is amazing the difference in how I feel about, not just myself, but other people too. I’ve never been one to put others down based on their looks, but since stopping my self body hate and lookist thoughts about myself, I’ve become less conscious of other people’s bodies too. And though I never thought negatively about other people based on there bodies, it is also nice to not really pay much attention to others’ bodies. Comparing yourself to others is a fast track to misery.

  7. God bless you and your straight talk…after a life changing crisis and a couple of birthdays, I decided I was not going to buy in to the BS I’d been fed all my life (I’ve always been a big girl) and I was working on stopping the tapes in my head. Then I found your blog and other size acceptance sites. The pointer on my happy meter has sure gone up. Our bodies ARE amazing! (And I got points for the source of the quote.) I may never be “wiry” but I’m happy that way.

  8. I love how you put this. I am working diligently to quit self body-shaming and to try to impress on others that I do not like it. And any reference to bundt cake is always fun. Oh, a cake!

  9. Thank you for talking about this. One of the things I’ve noticed is how often the thinking behind the talking goes through my brain. So using your tactics for stopping the talking can be just as helpful with the thinking! I noticed recently that a ton of “like this site” crap is on my FB news feed. More than half of it is about dieting and changing your body to make it look “better”. I’d submit to these advertisers, “what makes you think my body isn’t exactly perfect the way it is?”. And if anyone knows how to make that stuff stop on FB, I’d love to hear about it. Sometimes, I admit, those ads lead to negative body thinking. And those thoughts will now be interrupted by, “hey body, thanks for making me the most lovable, squishy aunt/RN that the kids love to hug and snuggle with!”, because that’s what brings me the most joy about my body!

    • Something that improves my self image when confronted with these ads is to “hide” them and when they ask “why” either mark misleading or other–with other you can then leave a narrative of why you chose to hide that item. 🙂 I feel better after I rid myself of the ads.
      They can come back from time to time, but actively hiding them and providing them with the “why” is empowering to me.

      • Thank you! I will hide ’em for sure!

  10. I may not know the reference, but I would like to note for the record that bundt cake – or, indeed, any cake… or pie… or pastry… or hearty stew – is infinitely preferable to body hate.

  11. It infuriates me that these messages are being absorbed from infancy. As a Teaching Artist I was working with a Youth Drama group and they were creating an original piece, and I work from a very improv based structure, when one of the girls said to another in one of the scenes–“beauty is pain”. It was a good delivery and got a laugh, but it was a laugh coming from a place of an accepted truth from learned social behavior and norms. The fact that this young girl of 12 already absorbed that message as did the other youths around her, is just rage-making.

    Since then I’ve done a few Youth Theatre programs dealing with Body Image and it’s disheartening the messages that are already deeply entrenched in such young people. Also, thin-privilege and male-privilege sometimes gets in the way as another Teaching Artist who was a young, hetero cis-gendered white man, working on a similar topic came over to ask me what “yo-yo dieting” was. He was 22yrs old and his life had no knowledge of the lived experience of the many women his age and what gendered coding they live through every day. When I explained it to him he looked confused and horrified, I expect he learned a lot during the creating of that program. So yes, it is a lie of “that’s just the way it is”… said by people who are comfortable with the status quo and afraid of the change of empowerment of marginalized groups of people.

  12. Love the scripts!

  13. Reblogged this on PhiloPsycho and commented:
    How timely! I don’t engage in this kind of talk. It just goes on in my head😦

  14. I’m new to your blog. This was so right on that I am anxiously awaiting more of your pearls of wisdom. Thank you!

    • Jan, you’re gonna LOVE it here.🙂

    • Hey, Jan. Welcome! I agree with, Helena, if you like this post you’re going to love this blog. Ragen is quite an inspiration and she really tells it like it is. You’ll be hard pressed to find another blogger who gives more “food for thought” when it comes to the “war against obesity” (actually war against fat people. Argh!) and the many topics and issues that are present and relevant for fat people (and anyone who wants a good dose of sanity).

      I definitely recommend reading some of her past posts as well.🙂

  15. I was looking through that tumblr tummy project thing the other day and the more tummies I looked at, the more they just looked like tummies — nothing right or wrong about them. They were all sizes and shapes and colors and textures, but they were all just tummies.

    It was just so apparent how the dearth of various body types in pop culture and the media has conditioned us to look at anything other than a certain shape to be seen as wrong.

    I love my fat thighs and big butt. They’ve taken me on plenty of great adventures. My fiance loves them too so why should I make him wrong? 🙂

  16. I still have bad days with my body, but we’re getting better. The things I would normally say to myself to remind myself that there’s nothing wrong with my body I’m having a hard time doing since I’ve been sick. I feel more like my body, and I are failing each other, which is a very frustrating feeling. I’m still working on it though, I don’t let myself say the negative things out loud, and I do try to silence my inner voice.

    One thing I have made myself stop doing is saying or thinking negative about other women’s bodies and to remind myself that every woman, regardless of her size (fat, thin or somewhere in between) can wear whatever she finds comfortable, that I wouldn’t appreciate it if someone told me I was too big or too curvy or too whatever to wear what I was wearing. I’ve started looking at things differently. when I see someone wearing something I wouldn’t wear I ask myself why I wouldn’t wear it and most of the time it’s because I feel I’m too big, then I think how confident that woman is for wearing what she wants and going out in public and owning it.

    The more women who learn how to stop the negative body talk the more supportive we will learn to be to one another and that can never be a bad thing.

  17. I absolutely love this. My mom is naturally “under”weight, and still engages in this sort of talk. People stop her on the street legitimately thinking she’s Katie Holmes at least twice a month, but she thinks she’s frumpy and “old” looking. People never even believe she’s my mother… everyone thinks I’m the OLDER sister.

    I think that’s what helped me get fed up with being on diets since 1st grade. I realized that they were trying to make me “perfect”, but even though they already were, they weren’t happy… so why should I bother pretending to be someone else just for the benefit of others? It is still difficult being the only Amazon in my family, but I’m pretty sure I’m the happiest, so I think it’s okay.

  18. Would graduate level be:”I LOVE EVERYTHING about my body ESPECIALLY the jiggly bits!”

    • There is no graduate level – didn’t you know that fat people don’t have enough discipline to get PhD’s (sarcasm and joke!!!)

      Yes, I think that is the perfect graduate level🙂

      ~Ragen

      ________________________________

  19. Can I toot my own horn here for just a second? I’ve been on the HAES/Size Acceptance train for 5 years now, and while I’ve accepted my body, I’ve always had trouble with the loving it and finding it beautiful and attractive part. The other day I caught a glimpse of myself on videoconference, the angle was emphasizing the line from my waist down to my hips, definitely highlighting some fat roll. Instead of reacting with revulsion, I thought “That looks majestic actually. F**cking regal.” I really meant it too. I was SO HAPPY that I had not a neutral but positive thought about my fat.

    • WOOOOOOOOOOOT!!! I’m kinda living for that day.😀

    • hahah That makes me laugh with joy! I love it! Good golly, I have made peace with my body (at least at this point in my life – and hopefully forever more!) but I still have yet to get to the point of looking at myself and going “that’s majestic” heheh! I’ll sometimes find myself thinking “I’m ok looking” or “I’m kinda pretty” but I would LOVE to get to the point where I really ADORE how I look! That’s a great goal that I would love to get to!😀

      I found your comment pretty awesome!🙂

  20. I grew up with a mom who really disliked her looks. She would complain about being fat and really had nothing positive to say about herself.

    This ALWAYS bothered me.

    When I was little, I was criticized for being so skinny and not eating enough. When I hit puberty, I was not exactly criticized for being fat, but my mom regularly pointed out how she was skinnier than I was at that age.

    Needless to say, I’ve always had self-image problems.

    With lots of work, I have gradually accepted that my mom is probably depressed, even though she hides it.

    I’m finally (in my forties!) learning to like the way I look, which isn’t easy.

    I look a lot like my mom, so when she negative talks herself, it also ends up reflecting on me. The latest was the other weekend when I and my parents were out to breakfast and got to talking about whether I am getting gray hairs.

    At one point my mom pointed at her face and said something to the effect of ‘eventually you will look like this – hit by a mac truck.’

    I was really upset by this. Not only does she look fine, I didn’t like the suggestion that I would like like crap when I was her age.

    I dug out a picture of her from a couple years ago (the only one I had handy at that moment) and spent some time looking at her face, and looking at my face.

    I concluded that if I saw her on the street or whatever, I would not think she was in any way unattractive. Certainly my dad tells her she’s pretty or beautiful and never says negative things about her.

    I think it has finally sunk into my brain that even if she doesn’t like the way she looks, I don’t have to go along with her opinion of either herself, or (by association) me.

    I hope you all have people in your life who are not negative. Treasure them.

  21. Great post Ragen, so depressing that women are like this and they really are still the worst with the negative body talk. I know I’ve posted in recent months about watching QVC shopping TV when they do clothes as I like some of their ranges and they do larger sizes. But I just can’t tolerate the brand person bringing the clothes and the presenter, usually both female, constantly going on about “covering up the bulges”, parts you don’t want seen” and worse.

    Recently I tuned in to 2 shows, one was footwear and one was jewellery, so I stupidly thought I would be free of the negative body comments and boy, was I wrong! They were all women again, with the shoes, the brand guest, who was quite large&frumpy herself(compared to who QVC usually has on, I don’t care!))actaully said that one pair of sandals made the “legs look slimmer” and elongated the foot/leg”. With regard to the jewellery show, the female presenter is one I don’t usually see and is one of the more down to earth ones&less “annoying” and she said that one of the longer chain pieces was “slimming&pulled the eye downwards”!!!

    On a different place, but again proving it’s mostly other women who come out with endless negative body talk, I was watching a newspaper review programme on Sky News and the age 30-40 ish blonde, average-slim presenter showed a picture of a singer called, Alison Moyet, who back in the 1980’s used to be fairly large and wore big billowing dresses/coats. In more recent years she seemed to lose a lot of weight(I don’t know or care about the reasons)but didn’t look well to me. It seemed she had lost yet more weight and lookes even worse, but this presenter said to the man&woman reviewing the papers, that she thought Alison looked wonderful now and they both agreed! I turned the TV off and went to bed as it’s on at 10.30 pm All you can do is not take part/

    lsstrout, thankfully, I do have people in my life who are not at all negative about this & have 1 special person and in fact since we’ve known each other(28 years)my weight has gone up quite a bit. He has even “defended” me when a male relativ eof mine used to make disparaging comments about my weight to me on visits! That relative doesn’t visit me any longer, I made sure of that!!

    Marion, UK

  22. I think it might be tempting to assume that it’s women’s fault for all this “negative body talk” or that it’s “mostly other women who come out with endless negative body talk” because of it’s more apparent and “in your face”. But if you frequent any of the sites and forums dedicated to men, you’ll also see a lot of “negative body talk” directed AT women BY MEN. Our culture teaches people that women’s bodies are there for the public consumption (“eye candy”) and that it’s totally ok to view women’s body’s as objects to be picked apart, talked about, and judged. It’s not just women who engage in the native body talk about their bodies, but men do it too …about women’s bodies. They may not be as public and open about it, but it’s insidious and it’s definitely prevalent.

    Until we can change the cultural thinking that women’s bodies are not really our own or that we are here as eye candy or for the enjoyment of other people, we can’t just label this a “woman’s issue” and point fingers there. This isn’t just a woman’s issue, this is a deep seeded societal issue. It affects all genders and all ages. It’s not giving the issue the scrutiny it needs to label it a “woman’s issue”. Body policing, disgusted stares at “unattractive” women, pointed comments about “frumpy” women, commenting on women’s body sizes, pointing out when someone happens to have lost weight or gained weight, it’s all part of the current cultural phenomenon that it’s ok to objectify women’s bodies and to treat them as something to be judged.

  23. I spoke to a cousin on the phone today whom I rarely get to talk to. We usually enjoy sharing things in common when we speak and/or get together, but this evening her main topic was her upcoming high school reunion, specifically photos she’s seen on Facebook of her former classmates and how bad their appearance has gotten.

    Interestingly, she was referring mostly to the men, and only used the word “fat” once, but nevertheless, it really turned me off. I just can’t figure out what to respond anymore when people go on and on about others’–or their own–looks, in a negative, or even a positive, way. For instance, she talked about how hot some of the guys used to look in high school, and then mentioned a real geeky guy she couldn’t stand and–gasp!–almost had to kiss in the school play before she and the other kids who sympathized with her helped figure out how to persuade the geeky guy to take on the job of director instead of leading man. Then she laughed telling me how she showed her teenage daughter the yearbook photo of the geeky guy, and the girl made a retching noise. It really made me sad to listen to this. (And, as I remember, my cousin was far from being considered one of the cool kids herself!)

    Over the years of integrating body acceptance into my outlook, I’ve come to find it not only boring but offensive to listen to this stuff, and I really don’t want to participate in it, even passively. On the other hand, I don’t want to scold or shame people when they start in on this type of thing.

    In order not to be too abrupt about wrapping things up and changing the subject, can anyone suggest a smooth transition out of discussions like this, some nice platitude about accepting people as they are that I can say before attempting to turn the focus onto something else?

    • Hi Nina,

      I’m sorry that you had to deal with this, I also find this kind of thing really frustrating. I have found it helpful when people start talking like this to say something like “You know, I wonder – what would it be like to live in a world where looks don’t matter (or a world where we can see the beauty in every person) It’s a global question and therefore not shaming, and hopefully gives the opportunity for honest dialog around it. Hope that helps,

      ~Ragen

      • I remember loving that phrase when you mentioned it before, Ragen, so I tried it with my mom one time, and it started her going on and on about how important looks ARE, how she’s a professional artist and esthetics are the most important thing in her life, how people in the world judge you by your appearance, how all men are looks-conscious and you can’t change that, blah blah blah. In other words, she played the “lie-of-just-the-way-it-is” card that you’re talking about in this blog, and I had managed, by asking a challenging hypothetical question, to prolong the agony of the conversation. When I was young I would have gotten into a screaming fight with her about this, but now it just quietly makes me sad that this perspective of hers (and society’s) had such a profound effect on me that I became borderline anorexic as a teen.

        The cousin I spoke of above is the daughter of my mom’s sister, so it’s no wonder this outlook pervades her attitudes, too. The funny thing is that my mom and her sister are intellectual, bohemian women who grew up children of poor immigrants in New York City during WWII. They never wore makeup or had their hair or nails done or knew how to get dressed up or anything like that; in fact, they tended to scorn women who appeared to spend too much time and energy on trying to be beautiful. And they think of themselves as progressive and open-minded. Yet here they are judging others’ by the looks they were given at birth.

        However, I still might try that line on someone less narrow-focused and set in their ways.

  24. The Pyramid Collection is currently charging 35 bucks (plus shipping) for a “Magickal Weight Loss Necklace” that supposedly confers the “associative benefits” of a bunch of semi-precious stones awkwardly held together by some silver-plated wire and (apparently) glue. There’s a double lump of amethyst “to counter food addiction.” It’s topped by smaller chunks of other stones, also assigned powers normally associated with diet ads: reducing cravings, providing energy, regulating metabolism. Right on top of this cluster of guilt and self-hatred is a tiny chip of clear quartz “to promote positives, dispel negatives.”

    It’s like, “Believe that you are addicted to something that preserves life, that your body’s urgent signals to provide more life-preserving food are bad, that your lack of energy is a separate issue from your lack of the energy-providing substance, and that your body just plain works wrong. Oh, and :D”

    Just right there in the catalog, between the sexy corset tops and the vibrators. Because desperately wanting to replace your own body is empowering and fulfilling and healthy and normal!

  25. Could someone PLEASE help me to unwatch this thread? I don’t know how to tell it to stop sending comments to my email inbox from THIS thread (the other threads are fine). I just can’t handle the arguments anymore. Any help would be much appreciated!🙂

    • Hi Lauren, I’m not sure how to remove yourself from the thread, I’ve put in a help request to find out. In the meantime I have asked the two people who are arguing to take their conversation offline.

      ~Ragen


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