Reader Alison e-mailed me this request:
As a slender woman, I always feel extremely uncomfortable when friends tell me that a) I am so skinny and b) they really need to lose weight. I hear this from beautiful women of every shape and size, who in my mind do not need to change a thing to be healthy and lovely the way they are. Also I do nothing to be slender, so it is not a compliment on anything I have personally worked for. I want to encourage friends that are trying to improve their health, but want them to remove from their heads an ideal of themselves that is just 10 pounds skinnier. A simple “you are beautiful the way you are, but if you want to feel healthier, then great,” does not seem to work to get women to stop calling themselves fat! Any suggestions are appreciated!
I sent her a few links to older posts, which I’ll round up below, but felt that this topic was well worth addressing again.
There are a million different reasons why these cyclical weight and comparison conversations occur, and although I could guess at a few of those reasons here’s what I’ll suggest instead: Ask questions. If someone in your life comments constantly on YOUR weight or laments her own weight, I believe that the most helpful thing you can do is ask her about her thoughts and feelings. Tease out what is hurting or worrying her. Create space for discussion. Here are some possible responses:
I’m so fat.
– Has something changed recently that makes you worried about your weight?
– What makes you say that?
– You’ve mentioned that a lot. Can we talk about why weight stuff is on your mind these days?
You’re so skinny.
– Can you tell me why that worries you so much?
– You’ve mentioned that before. Can we talk about why this keeps coming up?
– It’s true! Is there something about that we should be discussing?
“I’m so fat,” and “You’re so skinny,” are the two main comments Alison has dealt with, but the gentle question response works for many other uncomfortable body size/shape discussions, too. “What makes you say that?” or “Can you tell me why that worries you so much?” are both possible responses to any number of statements about body size, weight, and shape. Each person will likely have her own reasons for bringing up these topics, and she may not even realize she’s doing so repeatedly. Body bashing is socially sanctioned in much of Western culture, so these conversations often feel as commonplace and innocuous as discussions of the weather. Pausing that cycle and requesting more information – even forcing participants to examine their own feelings and motivations – can help change the roadmap. It will likely feel more comfortable asking these questions one-on-one, but since these conversations may be taking place in a group setting you can try putting them out there while multiple people are present. It might be awkward, but it might also get more than one person to consider why these topics have become recurring.
I also think that a dose of honesty, carefully doled-out, can be beneficial. Specifically, if there’s a person in your life who repeatedly talks about your or her body size, you are well within your rights to take her aside and say, “You know, these conversations make me feel really uncomfortable. Can we talk about why they come up so often?” Again, many people see weight talk as ordinary. Give your friends the benefit of the doubt that they’re not trying to make you feel weird, but also be communicative and tell them how these conversations make you feel.
Of course, some folks who engage in weight talk are fishing for compliments or trying to get a rise. But even in those cases, requesting further information in a gentle, caring way can re-route the conversation and potentially put a stop to attention- or praise-seeking behaviors.
- Dealing with Trash Talk, Part 1
- Dealing with Trash Talk, Part 2
- Compliments, Stewardship, and Control
- How to be a Body Image Role Model
- You’ve Lost Weight! You Look Great!
Originally posted 2013-06-13 06:49:47.