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.
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.
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.