Reader Laura wrote recently about HER experiences with body-based trash talking. In this case, a bit more self-focused.
… it can be difficult to maintain [a] healthy mentality when I am constantly bombarded by others commenting on their own/my/other people’s bodies. I have a group of several co-workers that I regularly spend time with. For various reasons the topic of conversation regularly turns to our bodies. It usually takes one of two forms, someone bashing their own body, or complimenting another on a certain aspect of another’s, often along the lines of “you lost weight and therefore look good.” Both of these make me uncomfortable, as the aspects that they are bashing of their own body are often in better shape than mine, and because I feel that commenting on anyone’s body is inappropriate when done to the extent that my co-workers do.
I am at a loss of how to deal with this, both in how it affects me, and wishing that my co-workers would also adopt a more body-positive mentality. Short of lecturing them, or constantly sending them links to your blog and others of a similar vein, do you have any tips for dealing with these situations? Strategies that you use?
So Laura is immersed in a microculture of trash talk and body bashing. Not fun. And not easy to deal with, since direct confrontation may be both awkward and ineffective. Here’s what I suggested to her:
- If you feel closer to any one woman, consider taking her aside and telling her how you feel. I know that may seem like ganging up or espionage or something, but hear me out: You need an ally. Tackling this alone may make you seem judgmental or haughty to the group. If you can get one member to hear you out – even if she sympathizes more than agrees – you’re in a better position.
- Whether you’re addressing that single friend or the entire group, talk in terms of “I feel” statements. It’s a classic conflict management strategy for a reason. If you say, “You guys need to stop glorifying weight loss and harping on your body flaws. It’s wrong and damaging,” that will make your coworkers feel defensive. If you say, “When you guys glorify weight loss and dwell on your body flaws, it makes me feel crummy about MY body,” it’s much more diplomatic. And, hopefully, effective. If these women are your friends, they should want you to feel gorgeous, not crummy.
- Find ways to defuse situations with humor. If you feel like the conversation is devolving into body bashing and trash talk, say, “Girls, do we REALLY need to have this conversation again? I could recite it in my sleep! Let me tell you about the movie I saw last night …” That may not work ongoing – or at all, depending on the social climate – but you get the picture. You can subtly express your discomfort with these conversations by making a quick quip and changing the subject.
- Start complimenting these friends on things that don’t have to do with weight. Glowing skin, gorgeous new makeup, fabulous shoes, even things like great posture and a dazzling smile are good options. Hand out these compliments with regularity to get everyone thinking about themselves in more positive terms overall. It may not stop the body bashing, but it could slowly erode the self-doubt that is CAUSING that body bashing.
- See if bringing up body image-related topics that aren’t so personal can get the conversation on a higher level. Ask them about the movement to diversify model bodies. Bring up eating disorders or the Fat Acceptance movement, and make the discussion more theoretical. Under these circumstances, I’m hoping you can voice a contrary opinion without seeming like an outsider. You can inject your ideas about beauty being more than just flat abs into such discussions, and just plant those seeds.
As I said in Part I, trash talk is considered socially acceptable behavior in many circles, and that SUCKS. There’s not much we can do to curb this behavior in strangers, but I hope you all feel comfortable attempting to reroute or discourage it in acquaintances and friends. My suggestions above – gaining an ally among body bashers, keeping the conversation to more theoretical topics, defusing and rerouting – may work in some circumstances for you readers and your peers.
Image courtesy Whatsername?