Women especially tend to talk about their bodies in a derogatory manner. It may seem harmless, but low body confidence is contagious, so choose your words carefully.
Apparently I’ve been living under a rock, because it was only last week when I discovered The Amy Schumer Show. A friend posted the skit “Last F***able Day” on Facebook, and because I love everything that comes out of Julia Louis-Dreyfus, I decided to watch. No joke, I actually cried from laughing so hard. When I found three seasons were available for free streaming on Amazon, I knew a proper binge was in order. That was this weekend. I’m now halfway through season two.
I appreciate the hilarity with which she points out everyday sexism that exists within our society (12 Angry Men!!). But my favorite skits happen when she points a magnifying glass inward and examines how women talk to each other. There the skit “Compliments,” where no one can accept a compliment from each other without a self deprecating remark (“Look at your cute little dress!” “Little? I’m, like, a size 100 now.”). Then there’s “I’m So Bad,” where a group of women at lunch recount times they were “so bad” for overeating, all while doing actual, morally reprehensible things (“Last week when I was cyberbullying my niece of instagram, I ate, like, 15 mini-muffins. I’m SO bad.”).
It got me thinking about the difference between how men and women usually discuss their appearance, especially weight. I know men aren’t immune to body image pressures, but in general, I think they can talk about their body in a way that isn’t so loaded. When I was out last weekend, I found myself at a table with five of my male friends as they debated if they had “dadbod” or were simply “fat, skinny or in shape.” It sounds horrible, and as someone who spends so much time focusing on body confidence, part of me wanted to speak up and say something...but it was actually kind of a hilarious. And there was no sense of shame or inadequacy behind their statements, just five guys, very neutrally discussing their bodies.
Thinking about that conversation and the Amy Shumer skits, I realized something. How we talk about our body is contagious. In a sense, low body confidence is an infectious disease. We may think of our self depreciating remarks as harmless, but the message behind them often has a hidden effect on people around us.
Perfect example: A client of mine who works in the health and fitness industry described to me how clients discussing their size affected her body image. They say things like "Ugh, my ______ is so fat!" And she'd think "Well, I didn't even know that was a thing that could be fat! But now that you say it, I think I have a fat _____."
I consider myself pretty comfortable in my skin, but even I'm not immune to it. I recently had to block an old acquaintance on Facebook because her posts were making me feel like crap. She sells nutrition supplements, and besides getting annoyed by the constant sales pitches masked by status updates, the constant chatter of getting "beach bikini ready" kept making me wonder if there was anything else I should be doing besides throwing on a bikini and going to the beach. Especially when paired with before and after pictures (ugh, don't get me started on those...)
Although I try to watch my words, especially with the blog, I can be just as guilty. This weekend someone complimented my curly hair, and instead of saying thank you, I launched into a diatribe about curly hair and South Carolina humidity. I say things like "I wish I had your sense of style. My clothes are so bleh!" instead of "You have amazing style. I love how it reflects your personality!" I complain about my skin, my nose, my propensity for under-eye circles. One of my friends who is curvier than me recently compared her body to mine, and I responded with, "Do you really want my flat chest?" Does a statement like that do anything to boost confidence?
I say this to everyone, but to women especially, be careful with your words. What you say can have unintended consequences. You don't have to be 100% confident in yourself to be a good example of positive body image. I think "fake it till you make it" applies here! Just like low body confidence is contagious, so is positive body image. Graciously accept compliments, and compliment others on merits other than their appearance. Stop publicly labeling food as good and bad. You can be patient zero in an epidemic of body confidence!