So, I’m sat in a bar with two women. Bee is slight and curvy with a smile you could use as an emergency power generator. Her boyfriend is wrapped around her, hands resting comfortably on her tawny stomach. He can’t wipe the adoration off his face.
Her friend, Tara has eyes like a prairie dawn — all space and light — and legs a racehorse would kill for. Her boyfriend has been wearing a Cheshire grin for their entire relationship.
Apropos nothing Tara starts talking about dieting. Bea points out that Tara is perfectly shaped.
“It’s easy for you to say, you’re so tiny,” Tara responds. “I just feel better lighter.”
“But you have curves and hips and…”
I’ve heard the same conversation a thousand times. I’ve had the same conversation a thousand times. It never gets anywhere because it’s not a real conversation. It’s a social ritual. Women’s self-criticism is a performance. Body-bashing ourselves is the female equivalent of talking about the ball game. Only unlike idle male chitchat it actively reinforces the notion that women are a little bit crazy, therefore not to be trusted.
When was the last time you heard a handsome man say to his mates in a bar, “Oh, but I really hate my thighs. If I could just lose five pounds…” For that matter, when was the last time you heard any man — even one who looked like a deformed pregnant penguin — utter a single self-critical syllable about his body?
It’s been a while, right? Maybe never.
Granted, men are not judged on appearance the way women are. That is precisely the reason why women must stop body-bashing. A shitty double standard exists. We can’t do anything about that. But we can refuse to reinforce it.
That means thinking before we speak. We don’t tell our friends they would look better if they lost a couple kilos. Let’s show ourselves the same respect.
I’m as guilty as any woman of saying “Oh, I shouldn’t” when the dessert menu arrives, or deflecting a compliment with self-criticism, or obsessing over the size of my arse, but all of these are learned behaviours. We can, and must, learn different behaviours.
Here are a few ways to start:
1. Stop making moral judgements about food. If it makes you happy, healthy and strong it is good; if it makes you feel like shit, it’s bad. There’s no morality to it.
2. Stop justifying what you eat. If you really think you shouldn’t have ice cream, don’t; but don’t make a song and dance about it. If you want ice cream, just fucking eat it — no apologies.
3. Stop taking part in body-bashing conversations. The next time a woman, be she friend or stranger, starts to criticise her body say kindly, “I think you’re gorgeous” and refuse to discuss it further.
4. Talk about something interesting instead. We live in a big, crazy, exciting world full of events and ideas. It does not revolve around the circumference of (y)our hips.
5. Work your body. Part of the reason we get so hung up on our bodies is we spend too much time looking at them and not enough using them. Run. Dance. Fuck. Do a headstand.
What are your tips for stopping body-shaming talk? Share in the comments.