“You’ll never guess what I ate this weekend . . .”
Get any group of women gathered for long enough, and that sentence is bound to spew out of someone's mouth. It is usually accompanied by words like "bloated" and "carbs." In the most natural progression known to the female race, we begin to catalog our grocery lists and restaurant orders, usually followed by a detailed account of our exercise routines or lack thereof.
Doesn’t that sound like so much fun? Men, count yourselves among the lucky. Welcome to every Friday night in woman world.
Commence the Invasion of the Body Bashers—the phenomenon during which every woman in the room proceeds to throw herself under the body-image bus. You know that scene in Mean Girls when the girls in the clique known as the Plastics look at themselves in the mirror and lament over their less-than-perfect physiques? That movie scene went unnoticed—nay, mocked—in my book. "Do girls really think that way? Surely not," I would say between bites of ice cream. Followed by three Thomas’ plain white bagels. With peanut butter.
But I personally didn't know how deeply ingrained body bashing was in the feminine world until I became one of its principle perpetrators.
Because I was an athlete, I looked at my body as a vehicle to perform my sport. I simply needed my body to do what I want to do, rather than meet some physical-appearance checklist. However, due to a long string of circumstances post-athletics, I became increasingly aware (read: critical) of my body. And I wasn’t alone. Research shows that at some point most women are dissatisfied with the way their bodies look.
Once this heightened sense of how I looked crept to the forefront of my mind, it was almost as consuming as the amount of food I did or did not eat. Around my friends I would talk about my weight in a joking and self-deprecating manner. Accounts of my food sins spewed from my mouth like I was in a culinary confessional. “I ate this” or “I’ve gained this much weight” or “Oh my gosh I’m such a pig.” I was a full-fledged body basher.
At first it started off as jovial, just a point of conversation I knew everyone else in the room could connect with. My friends would then rattle off how many Oreos they consumed, the amount of half-eaten Ben & Jerry’s were in the freezer. But then it turned dark. Suddenly a joking source of connection became a deep source of pain and shame in my life. I would lash out against myself and disguise it under the banner of humor or conversation. "Fat talk” is detrimental to both the relationships around us and our relationships with ourselves. Studies show it’s been linked to depression, further weight gain, and low self-esteem.
Yet for some reason we women love to throw ourselves under the proverbial bus of shame, guilt, and embarrassment. We want to brag about our culinary conquests to make ourselves feel a little less embarrassed that our appetites are out of control.
But guess what? We love to snack. Get a hungry group of women around some guacamole, hummus, or dark chocolate anything and you might think a pack of locusts have descended upon your kitchen.
Hide your kids, hide your pita chips, definitely hide your wine.
And there’s nothing wrong with wanting more, with being hungry, with desiring to be full. But there is something wrong when guilty conversations about our diets become the main topic of conversation. If I learned anything from my journey, it's that body bashing is a topic of conversation, not connection.
There’s the saying “you are what you eat.” I’m just not sure if I agree with that. When have we ever learned more about someone by knowing what they eat?
The truth is body bashing is a cheap imitation of intimacy. Just because the room is full of words doesn’t mean that people have left feeling more enriched, more in touch with themselves, or more engaged with others. Instead, you're left with a room full of people feeling really insecure. Rather than bringing the best parts of us to the table, we’re quick to show up with our faults.
I’m now learning I’ve missed a lot of opportunities to get to know people by hiding behind food and exercise regimens. There’s so much more to the people I’m dying to connect with than diet and exercise, and there’s so much more about myself that’s actually worth discussing. We’re dreamers, romantic hopefuls, wounded warriors, and accomplished individuals. Diet and exercise pale in comparison to the complexities of who we truly are.
I've also found that, quite often, we body bash because we’re hiding. At least I did. We might as well be talking about the weather when we put down our looks. It’s not fostering community or allowing people to actually get to know each other. It’s fig leaves, smoke and mirrors, pick your metaphor—it's an easy disguise to get away from the deep and genuine parts about us.
I know it won’t happen overnight, but I want to try really hard to stop the Invasion of the Body Bashers in my community and our culture. I want to know who a friend went to dinner with, not what she ate. I want to celebrate the ideas she had over that bowl of spaghetti rather than feeling guilty about it. I want to know if that ice cream date was indeed a date and how she’s feeling about it, not how much her froyo cup weighed.
We’re more than what we eat, and it’s time to start living like it. Hearts—rather than mouths—wide open.
Photo Credit: Britt Rene Photography