Body Talk

Thanks for this little gem, Kate Moss. PS. Cheesecake tastes WAY better.

Oh my God, you look so skinny. Is there any better compliment than that?”

I stare at my companion, the words “I can think of several” perched on my lips. But I don’t say them. There are better compliments, yes, but saying it implies that I don’t crave that one, that elusive you look SO good” spoken in hushed tones colored with awe, or, better yet, jealousy. 

I am not above the desire to be thin. I am not immune to the appearance-obsessed culture I live in, and I think it would be ignorant to pretend that I am.

I work with a lot of women. Everyday conversations are peppered – nay, saturated – with references to our appearance:

“Those jeans look great on you.”

“I like that top.”

“I can’t eat that, my fat ass can’t take it.”

“Good morning, gorgeous.”

And yes:

“You look amazing! Have you lost weight?”

Sometimes, I think that we are not even aware of how we sound. We do not talk aout our job performance or each other’s intelligence, achievements, or hobbies when we want to compliment one another. It is always our physical presence, regardless of who we are or what we look like. I don’t see men doing this. For sure they talk about their bodies and their weight, but not nearly as often as the women in the office, and not in the same way. They make jokes and pat their beer bellies and then carry on. Us women? We agonize.

King of Queens screencap

I don’t mean to generalize here. Not all women agonize over their bodies and looks. Not all men are so blaise about it either. Our culture is obsessed with appearances across the board, and that certainly applies to both males and females. However, I think the distinct difference here is that men are not taught from a very young age that they are their bodies, that their self-worth and worth to others is contingent on how they look. I think a great example of this is the well-cited sitcom paradigm of having an overweight, schlubby guy paired with a beautiful, skinny woman. Of course this can happen in real life. Of course being overweight does not preclude you from being attractive to other people. The disconnect here is that no network would ever show a show about an overweight woman and her studmuffin husband. Why, as a society, do we perpetuate this double standard?

Though I do not pretend I am above it, that doesn’t mean that I don’t want to change it. I think that it’s total crap and I wish that things were different. I do my best to divert it when I can. Recently, I inserted myself into a conversation about needing to lose 20 pounds with a plea for a bit more self-love and a bit less body hate.

I was completely shot down. I was told, in no uncertain and not-so-kindly terms, that I had no idea what I was talking about because I am young. That my opinion didn’t matter because I clearly couldn’t know anything about it.

Beg to differ. I, like many girls (and boys), have struggled with my self-image since pre-adolescence. In seventh grade, a “friend” hacked into the email of the boy I liked and sent me a message telling me I was fat and ugly and he could never like me. In university, a guy who was perfectly happy to fool around with me told me that he’d never date me because he “only dates girls who look like models.” I watched my brother and one of my best friends suffer than an eating disorder, and I have had my ten year old sister tell me, in that earnest way that only ten year olds have, that she hopes she is never fat.

I think I have some experience in the matter, thanks.

We are in constant competition with each other to see who feels the worst, who is furthest from the cultural idea of beauty, who has the most weight to lose. And, vice versa, who looks the best, who looks younger than they are, who is the skinniest and fittest.

Actively trying to combat this is HARD. It is everywhere, in the little things that we take for granted every day, such as the way that we talk, and in big, scary things like the proliferation of pro-ana websites (don’t even Google it, it’s just too much). The urge to join in is strong, deeply embedded in my psyche. Sometimes, too strong for me to fight.

Some swell Seattle grafiti // Creative Commons © 2012 sea turtle on Flickr

But sometimes, I tell others to cut it out. I tell myself to cut it out. I look at myself and appreciate the strength of my body, the fact that it can run 7 km, that it can keep me healthy and carry me around a festival for three hours in the sun. And I eat ice cream cake, and workout, and fight with it every day. I win some, I lose some, but I always try to remember that I love myself, and that I am lucky to even be alive.

I keep fighting. And if I die tomorrow, at least I won’t be thinking, “Damn, I should have had that ice cream cake.”

Share your thoughts, experiences and stories in the comments. I would love to hear your perspective on the issue! 

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Jessica can most often be found with her nose in a book, or writing her newest short story/screenplay/novel, but she also has a passion for travel, child-care & development, psychology, feminism (and other forms of equality), and making the world a better place in general. Email Me