A mate of mine recently set up and added me to a Facebook group she made, to help keep herself accountable as she embarked on a new journey in her life. Her plan is to break (in her words) her unhealthy eating and drinking habits in 30 days – in front of her family and friends, via the Facebook group.
I sent her a supportive message, and pointed out that I have started, through Health At Every Size, practising healthy habits, which are helping me feel amazing and much better in my body, even though I’m not losing tonnes of weight (well, I don’t know. I don’t own a scale). I said I hoped that her making healthy choices makes her feel awesome, and that she can PM me if she wants to chat. Which I hope was an appropriate response. I also discouraged her from weighing herself. But, that’s up to her.
My friend asked people to post on the the group’s wall if there were any habits they themselves wanted to break within 30 days. Several people posted – saying they wanted to give up smoking, kick their midnight snacking habit, drink less coffee, go to the gym every day etc. And, for solidarity, I added mine – to break my habit of negative self-talk. Negative body talk in particular.
Because? The things I still catch myself saying about my body are far more poisonous than any processed food or refined sugar I’ve ever put inside it.
This post is quite timely, as Ragen Chastain did an awesome blog just the other day about body talk amongst women. The website BlogHer.com did a survey on “fat talk”, which found that almost 75% of the women surveyed (not sure if this is US women, all worldwide…but still). across all age groups, engage in negative body talk with other women. All the usual stuff like, “my butt looks huge in these pants,” and “ugh, my thighs are massive,” and “oh my god, I look about three months pregnant” (yup. I’ve used that one). In even more disturbing news, negative body conversations are starting in girls as young as 11 years old. Which I can believe. BlogHer asked the women who contributed why they engaged in such damaging conversations, and their answers ranged from “We are afraid of sounding like we are bragging about our bodies,” to “it’s bonding over a common interest” to “it’s the social norm – just part of life.”
Yup, so true. Remember this clip from Mean Girls? Where Rachel McAdams and the other mean girls stand in front of the mirror and verbally bash their bodies (I have man shoulders! My pores are huge! My nail beds suck!), and Lindsay Lohan’s character’s chimes in with “I get really bad breath in the morning”? I laughed – somewhat ruefully. Because that scene could have been lifted straight from my own teenagerhood. And preteens before that. And adulthood after that.
I vividly remember being about 12 or 13 and going to the pool with a couple of girlfriends. We got into our swimsuits, stood in front of the changing room mirror – where we preceded to boldly point out all our flaws and imperfections, just like Rachel McAdams and co. According to us, we were fat, our thighs were massive, our stomachs stuck out too much and our butts were saggy. At the time, it didn’t seem to do us much damage – after a while, we shrugged it off and made a beeline for the water, where we clambered around on those giant inflatable dragon thingies for a couple of hours. But looking back on it, it disturbes the shit out of me – we were so young, so innocent and we already pouring scorn and disdain all over our bodies. We’d only just convinced our parents to let us go to the pool by ourselves for an afternoon, and we were already bonding, already forming this warped camaraderie over what was supposedly so wrong with our young figures. It’s…scary, really.
So, that was where it started. And it continued through my college years. And followed me to University. And stalked me well into my 20s. Time after time, my gal pals and I got together and we put our bodies through the ringer. We did it at sleepovers. We did it on coffee dates, and out for dinner. We did it while out for walks. At girlie movie nights, and while out drinking. Even at the “crafternoons” I organised – when we should have been squealing over our combined yarn stashes and swapping brownie recipes. And we were mean. Meaner than Simon Cowell and Donald Trump and that bitchy “PR maven” on America’s Next Top Model combined. Our boobs were too small, or disproportionately huge (mine). Our butts were flat and mannish. Our thighs were gross and dimply (mine). Our shoulders were too slopey (mine). Our arms were too long. Our feet were ugly (mine). We had back fat (me). We looked pregnant (me). Our skin was blotchy. Our hair was oily (me) and we had gaps in our teeth we could drive a truck through (me). Yup, we were bitches.
These days? Actually, I’ve noticed the bitchy body conversations dwindling a bit between my mates and I. I dunno – could be that we’re getting older. I have some really close girl friends I can talk to if I’m feeling truly shite about my self image, but, with most people, I try not to incite body bashing conversations, especially not in a group situation. However, when it’s just me and my husband, that’s when the slurs start coming thick and fast. “I’m disgusting,” I’ll tell him over breakfast. “Look how massive my stomach’s gotten,” I’ll pipe up, grabbing fistfuls of my midriff so he can’t possibly miss it. “Ugh, I’m a fat pig,” I’ll yelp over dinner, having cleaned my plate, which is a Bad Thing at my size. “Ugh, look at my double chin,” I’ll implore him while we’re having a romantic moment in the bathroom, brushing our teeth. “I look like shit, eh, babe?” I’ll chirp, over and over again, as I’m about to climb into my bed, in my adorable pyjamas, into his waiting arms.
Yes, I have ruined many a schmoopy and cutesy couple moment with all my body hating bullshit. He’s my husband – I’m only telling him all this because, in his presence, I feel comfortable enough to divulge how truly filthy I’m feeling at any one moment. But, it’s bad. Cos it hurts him. It breaks his heart to see the woman he adores heap such hatred and vitriol upon herself – and it breaks my heart to see him do the same. He thinks I’m crazy, he thinks I’m cruel, and he wishes I could see what he sees. And in my dark moments, I wish I could too.
So…yeah. While I know I’m getting better in the area of body bashing, there is still room for improvement. So, I decided it would be my 30-day challenge to ditch the shitty self talk. But, I knew it wouldn’t be easy. Because…talking smack about oneself is familiar. Its comfortable. It’s something I’ve done since primary school (saying everything from my art projects to my pigtails looked “dumb”), so it sure as shit is easy. It’s weirdly self-preserving as well: in the culture I was raised and schooled in, bragging about one’s achievements and/or appearance was a cardinal sin. Oh sure, you could be proud of the aforementioned achievements and/or appearance, as long as you didn’t shout it from the rooftops. In fact, being self-depreciating and critical was preferable to being immodest and “up yourself”. So, even now, to say that I’m pretty/smart/talented/cute/sexy feels odd and uncomfortable. Down-playing my achievements and being cruel and bullying to myself, however, comes perfectly naturally.
And actually? Like a lot of habit-forming behaviours, body bashing can become oddly addictive. Margaret Cho said it the the best:“It is a good life, if I watch myself. Kind of like when I used to diet, but now instead of limiting calories, I will not allow negative self talk. I cut out insults like I cut out carbs and it is hard as hell because I crave self abuse like hot, fresh sourdough bread, but you know you have to be nice to you if you are going to live together.” Very, very true. And it’s weird, because I crave compliments from others in the same way I crave New York Pizza and Whittakers Peanut Butter Chocolate. Yet, when the compliments do come, I don’t believe them. And so, the cycle begins again.
But, Margaret is absolutely right. You and your bod are pretty much stuck together for life – so you may as well be kind to it. Think about it – would you tell your bestie she’s hideous and repulsive and looks like shit? Hell no. And if you did, you’d tell her you were really fucking sorry, and buy her coffee and a new pair of shoes every day for a month. So…what if we saw our bodies as our best friends? They do some pretty amazing shit for us – they breathe, they blink, they pump blood, they hug, high five, smile, laugh, the works. What if they were our mates, our chums, our soul-mates and allies? Not our adversaries. And…best friends don’t talk shit to each other.
So, this is my challenge. Treating my body as a friend. Not a frenemy. And, basically, as Margaret says, cutting out self-abuse. I am not cutting out hot sour dough bread (or any bread, for that matter), but I want to cut the bullshit. No I-look-like-shits, no I-hate-my-stomachs, no My-thighs-are-huges, no I’m a fat, disgusting pigs, no I’m uglys. None of that. Because it hurts. It hurts me, it hurts my husband, it hurts my mates and I’m sick of hurting. I can’t always muster up nice things to say about myself in the place of all the abuse…but not giving in to body bashing is a good place to begin. If I ain’t got nothing nice to say about me, then I’m saying nothing at all. I’ve been a Mean Girl all my life, but I can stop any time I want. And…I’m stopping now.