Compare and Contrast

just-because-shes-beautiful-doesnt-mean-youre-not

Talking about bodies, and self-image, and how we feel about how we look is EXTREMELY important. Learning to love ourselves is a lot harder when we just let those insidious internal monologues run rampant. So we bounce our ideas and emotions off of trusted friends and admired mentors, and we gain strength and wisdom through their caring input. We do this instinctively, and our instincts serve us well.

Yet sometimes these body image discussions can backfire.

It can be very hard to hear someone that you feel is prettier or thinner or sexier than yourself complain about her body. You have to grin and bear it while she laments her physical woes, all the while mentally comparing your own lot to hers.

You think, “Seriously? You’re whining about your saddlebag thighs? You’re a size 10 and I’m a size 18. I’d kill to be your size.” You think, “Broad shoulders are your biggest figure flaw? I should be so lucky, with my short legs and long torso. I just want to be proportionate.” You think, “Holy hell, if I hear you complain ONE MORE TIME about your big rack, I will go postal. I can barely fill an A-cup. Eeesh.”

And some of these women are fishing for compliments. I wish I could say that we’re all honest all the time, but that would make me deeply, deeply naive. Additionally, it’s more socially acceptable to trash-talk one’s own body than it is to laud its many glories, so some women manufacture self-loathing to avoid being ostracized. And it can be hard to gauge who’s playing you, who’s just trying to feel like one of the girls, and who’s attempting to work out a painful self-image issue.

Bottom line? Don’t take someone else’s inventory.

In my experience, the best way to deal with these situations – when you’re confronted with someone who hates a body you believe to be somehow superior to your own – is to just trust and listen.

TRUST

Don’t assume you’re dealing with a Compliment Fisherwoman. Don’t assume your conversational partner is faking a self-esteem issue for social reasons. Even if the woman you’re chatting with secretly thinks she’s a supermodel, it hurts nothing to assume positive intent and honesty. If you give the benefit of the doubt to all women who talk openly about their bodies, the only thing that will happen is you’ll establish yourself as a caring, understanding person. Trust the women you talk with.

And if you find that you can’t trust them, talk with some DIFFERENT women.

LISTEN

Protesting doesn’t help. Telling a woman who claims to hate her arms that her arms are gorgeous isn’t going to change her. Comparing doesn’t help. Telling a woman who is worried about her increasingly wrinkled complexion that you only wish you were so smooth-skinned isn’t going to change her.

Listening helps. If a friend hits you with a body-related complaint, make her explain it. Ask why. How long have you felt like this? Are you comparing yourself to someone else? What do you think would change how you feel about this? Make no judgments, offer no suggestions, just listen. Don’t concern yourself with healing the wounds of others. A woman is more likely to successfully shift her body image if she draws conclusions on her own, and you can help her get there by being a patient, trusting sounding board.

Another woman may have a body that you love, but that doesn’t mean that she’s happy with it herself. It also doesn’t mean that she’s ungrateful or blind or stupid. Body image is hard to change because it doesn’t always bend to logic. And body image NEVER changes because of envy or mistrust.

It can be frustrating as hell to listen to someone who appears to have something you want, and take that something for granted. But that is the danger of comparison. You may want it, but she doesn’t. Don’t allow yourself to judge, and don’t take her inventory. Just trust and listen. You could change her life. Not to mention your own.

Image courtesy Carlo Nicora.

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  • Meli22

    I think this is the point about yourself personally that you have been trying to get across as long as I have been reading your blog.

    I am glad you expressed this so well, I hope everyone else out there is listing! Complimenting can be really good when it is sincere, but not when done forecefully, or to throw-back that person's ill opinion about themselves.

    I wish we all were more understanding of each other.

  • Clare

    Sal, this is beautifully written. I think we as women so often forget to do these two crucial things when we talk to each other about ourselves. One of the things that this makes me think of is my own sense of body-consciousness. I've often felt like I don't have the right to complain about my body to someone who I know has a worse self-esteem than myself. I anticipate the "but you're a size 2!"-"I'd kill to have small breasts!"-"How could you say that; you're so tiny!" responses and then don't express my self-doubts. And while I recognize that I am a size 2, with small breasts, I still have very real self-doubts. And when I'm not able to voice them they get bigger. So I very much appreciate this post because it reminds me that the next person I might talk to about this stuff might really listen. So it's worth a shot to voice it. Anyway, sorry this was so long. Probably shoulda just sent you an email! 🙂

  • K.Line

    I really try not to complain about my perceived flaws (I prefer to ruminate about them! :-)). Seriously, though, when I get all hyped and self-critical, I tell myself that I can either take steps to change, or I can accept that I am the way I am because of the lifestyle choices (and genetics, natch) I'm making. When I realize the price of wine and cheese is a little tummy, I can deal. So then I try to focus on finding the tummy cute.

  • Laura.

    "don't take someone else's inventory". those are great words.

  • WendyB

    Very nice post. And LOL @ K-Line ruminating — me too!

  • Sal

    Laura: That's actually an AA thing, an axiom used in many 12-step programs. Pretty good advice, eh?

  • The Girl in the Orange Background

    I like the theme of these blog, because no matter how we look; us women usually have something we want to change about our physical aspect. Very good post; and it made me reflect more on the subject because if I hear someone complaint, I would probably attempt to tell them they look good.
    In my case, when I find myself complaining about a certain feature, I tell myself "Marcela, there are people out there with much worse problems than freckles/moles, small calves, or thin hair. And just as K.Line said, if it has to do with eating, I can always find something positive in the things I like… desserts, all kinds of food, coffee, etc!
    Lovely blog.

  • Courtney L.

    A perfect example of skewed body perception can usually be found in one's own history. The last time I felt "thin" and happy about my body size for any significant length of time was when I was a freshman in high school. I developed early, so all through middle school, I felt dumpy and awkward and tried to hide my shape. I came out the other side of that with a size 6-8 hourglass shape that I started to learn to dress and appreciate in my first two years of high school. The stress and poor nutrition of high school led me to gain weight, and I was a size 10 when I graduated. I thought I was fat. I gained some more weight in college and spent those years as a size 12, thinking I was huge.

    I look back at those pictures and see a healthy, lovely girl with a proportional hourglass who was hiding in bulky clothes that made her look 50 lbs heavier. (Bulky sweaters, broomstick skirts & pleated pants are NOT your friend when you have ample curves!)

    These days, I'm between a size 16 & 18, and I'm trying to figure out how to get into better shape without undermining the fragile peace I've made with my body. I have a general size goal in mind, but I'm staying flexible. I am in search of my "happy" weight–the weight/size at which I feel healthy and comfortable in my skin but that I don't have to kill myself to maintain. The irony is that I suspect that weight is around a size 12.

  • FashionAddict

    Great post! Listening to a super "skinny" girl complain about how fat she was is the reason I have tried to accept my body size. I was spending way too much time and energy bashing myself…it was exhausting.

  • Christina Lee

    nicely written -great pearls of wisdom–I have these thoughts all the time!

  • Mary

    It's so incredibly easy to forget these things– I think it was time I got a reminder 🙂 As always, a wonderful post!

  • Queen Michelle

    Genius post and so very true. Generally speaking I try and keep my own perceived physical flaws to myself as I don't want to draw attention to them!
    I just learn to live with them and accept them as I'm pretty much stuck with mine (they can't be changed)

  • Amelia M

    What an astute post. I find that too many women's magazines fall into that pattern of pointing out another (beautiful) woman's insecurities, in order to make them seem more human. "Supermodel X is just like the rest of us – she thinks her calves are too muscly and that she has man hands." All of this time us normal folk are picking apart our own flaws, and then these role models open us up to something new to be insecure about! All women should be encouraged to love their bodies, flaws and all.

  • Audi

    Wonderful post, Sal. Yet another reason we should compliment our girlfriends regularly! By the way, you're gorgeous!

  • Make Do Style

    I'm slim but due to a back injury haven't been able to run for a year and I have to say although I'm a UK 8/10 I have to work really hard to not pile on the pounds by walking, swimming and watching what I eat. I've got a small frame and I'm 10lbs over weight and I feel every pound.

    Size isn't the issue it is the correct body weight/fat ratio for build and height.

    Breast size is pointless as well because a smaller back requires a bigger cup size and a larger back a smaller cup size.

    I had a client the other day who thought she was a 34 A and in fact she was a 30 D. It is all about proportions and dressing for you shape.
    I don't care about my figure in anyway except having a healthy body and mind. The rest one can dress up!
    We all have body discipline things to factor in and I don't mention having to lose pounds as no one tales me seriously – only the doctor and the oesteopath!

  • Nadine

    Amazing post, Sal. Love your work.

  • LynnieBee

    You have a real gift, Sal, I've been trying to put words to the sentiments you expressed in this blog for years, and it was so wonderful to see it in print and in such an eloquent, relevant way, thank you!

  • lisa

    Great advice on a tricky conversational minefield with other women.

  • Laura

    Just stopping in to say how much I enjoy your blog. Thank you for the great post!

  • Drea

    Thank you for this. wonderfully written.

  • enc

    This is all close to my heart. Good job handling it.

  • Amber

    A powerful reminder for all of us. Thank you for writing this!

  • LynnieBee

    Sal, I just wanted to tell you that I enjoyed this post so much that I linked it to my FB page, several of my friends read it and really enjoyed it. With the inspiration of this blog post, my friend Theresa had the idea to post a Facebook note with 5 things she loved about herself, and many others, myself included, followed suit. As of last night, 8 more people, including several men, had posted "Self-Love" notes, and we'll see where it goes from there. I just wanted to say thank you for inspiring us, you are awesome 🙂

  • Londyn

    Thanks for the message. Comparing ourselves to others is a never ending battle with no win possible.

    I really appreciate when I hear strong women talk about the importance of understanding / listening / and acceptance of ourselves and those around us.

    Thanks again for the post.

  • Iheartfashion

    I've got as many body issues as the next woman, but another reason not to engage in this kind of self-defeating body talk is that it's just BORING. We all have things we'd like to change, so either get to work changing them or talk about something more interesting: books, movies, fashion, politics, cats…imagine all the fascinating conversations woman could have if they weren't always talking about their perceived flaws and weight.

  • Rachael

    Brilliant post. You are one switched one woman, ever considered counselling? 🙂

  • E and O

    A brilliant, insightful post. Thank you so much for writing about this, truly. I think this is one of those issues that women never discuss. The dynamic is so complex in layered, in my experience.

    Due to the reasons you've mentioned, there have been very, very, very few women in my lifetime with whom I can have a healthy discussion with on this topic (whether I'm the the speaker or the listener).

    These *could* be positive encounters, where those people we view as blessed or perfect become more accessible to us, offering a channel for us to connect on a closer level. (I'm reminded of the excellent book, "Lies My Teacher Told Me".) Or on the flip side, where we are the ones revealing ourselves to be ordinary humans, looking to become closer with those who think we're perfect.

    These encounters could also allow us to feel less critical about our own "flaws" by realizing that nearly everyone feels this way, including that friend *we* think is perfect. If everyone has insecurities then it connects us, it removes the illusion that there is some "perfect" out there we're supposed to achieve. It can allow us to set the bar in reality instead of Fashion/Hollywood fantasy. And it lets us comfort and encourage one another.

    Sadly, my experience is that these kinds of discussions rarely go that route and instead end up with one or both people feeling worse after. I hope with more people like yourself speaking about it, that will change.

  • E and O

    oh, another thought on the subject…

    "Don't diminish her feelings about her own self-image just because her feelings don't align with your perceptions of her body."
    — wonderful advice we need to be reminded of.

    Along those lines I'd like to add:
    when friends complain about their body I think we need to keep in mind that our external view is often nothing like their practical up-close-and-personal view, in the literal sense.

    So, when a friend is complaining about her stretch marks or her belly bulge or whatever — and you're thinking she doth protest to much — keep in mind that when you're looking at your friend fully clothed in a flattering outfit you don't have the same experience she does she's naked, examining everything under a bright light in the bathroom. Or the same experience she fears her husband/lover/partner may have when they're intimate.

    If we negate her feelings we may make her feel even more isolated or vulnerable. Also, if we are quick to tune her out we may miss important signs of underlying emotional problems. (I regret that when I was in college my limited life experience at the time didn't allow me to recognize one friend's continual body-berating as signs of her dangerous eating disorder.)

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