A Female Bonding Ritual We Can Do Without

I don’t know many women who are truly happy with their bodies–at least, not many women who will admit to it.  Maybe it’s because it’s swimsuit season, maybe it’s because of the culture we live in, maybe it’s the way we were raised.  But it’s the truth.

I was talking with some girlfriends recently when the conversation predictably turned to how hard it is to shop:  to find jeans that don’t give us muffin top, or a dress that adequately hides our big hips.  I had plenty to say on this topic and jumped right in, identifying my biggest trouble spot and why it makes shopping so hard.

That night I got an email from my friend:

I have something to say and I hope I don’t offend you by it.  While as your friend I want to hear your “stuff” it makes me feel like a fat slob in front of you when you grab a 1/4 inch piece of skin (not fat) and say you’re flabby!  You look great, and that piece of skin around your middle shouldn’t even be on your radar, girl!

I was surprised to get that email, but I respected my friend for having the guts to send it.  I’m not one of the 8 women in the world who look like a supermodel, but really, I’ve got nothing to complain about–and she called me on it.  We all need friends like this who will open our eyes to our own stupid attitudes when we need it.

Women can be far too eager to affirm the viewpoints and actions of others, even when they’re way off base.  So when a friend complains about her body, too many of us are likely to empathize by trash-talking our own bodies, too.  It’s a hard cycle to break:  if everyone else is so unhappy with the way their bodies look, then what right do we have to be happy with our own bodies?  Are we really so much better than everybody else?

The problem is that in today’s culture, self-loathing is more socially acceptable than self-acceptance.  The problem isn’t our bodies; it’s our body image.  Regardless of what your body looks like, beating yourself up about it helps no one, and perpetuates the vicious cycle.  It takes guts to actually like your body–and to admit it to other women!  But decide to pursue self-acceptance anyway.  It’s better for women everywhere, and it’s way better for you.

So find yourself a friend who will tell it to you straight.  Perhaps you need to give your friends permission to call you out when you’re wrong, instead of sincerely–but misguidedly–agreeing with everything you say about your body.

Better yet, be that kind of friend.  Don’t let other women off the hook when they trash-talk their own bodies–call them out on it.

Next week I’ll tell you about the paradigm shift I made that made it easier for me to accept my own body.  In the meantime, I highly recommend Sally’s post on how to be a body image role model.

Ladies, what do you think? Do you struggle with having a positive body image?  Do your friends commiserate about their “problem areas” like mine do?  Do you tell it like it is, or do you have friends that do?

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  1. Amber @ neuronmommy.com says:

    Overall I agree with your friend and the theme of the post…we spend way too much time focusing on all of the “flaws”. And I completely agree that self-acceptance is so very important (especially for traits you really can’t change). But, where I tend to disagree is that you do have a right to (occasionally) feel unhappy about the 1/4 inch of fat. That is your perspective, your experience. I am pretty thin as well and 1/4 inch would bother me too (currently it is more like 1 inch…stubborn post baby weight). So while I think it is great to have friends that will call you out when needed, I don’t think your perspective on your own body needs to be completely trivialized simply because you don’t have as much weight to lose as someone else. But, contentment with one’s beauty, body, life, marriage, and so on is really important.

  2. DFrazzled says:

    I was just talking about this yesterday! I had an a-ha moment when I was feeling insufficient in this area a few weeks ago–I was out with my family and venting to my husband, who vehemently disagreed with my self-prescribed need to improve my body. We were headed to do some shopping, so we decided to count the number of times we saw the word sexy or some derivitive thereof. In our one-hour excursion we counted over 20 occurances of the word–at WALMART. I decided right then that I had allowed myself and self-image to be victimized by our culture, but no longer. Cheers for a great post.

  3. Hannah says:

    Wonder what Eleanor Roosevelt would have thought about this…successful, intelligent, articulate, not a supermodel. It is definitely more the norm right now to be discontent with self.

    I really am intrigued by Nigella Lawson. She has an interesting and grounded take on body image. She’s a gorgeous plus size woman comfortable in her own skin, but not bawdy like so many. Her Mom struggled with body image her whole life and was an acclaimed beauty! I’ve always admired her ability to feel good enough the way she is…and you know, she IS incredibly beautiful!

  4. Stacy says:

    This happens so often when I get together with my girlfriends, too. I feel like I’m not allowed to voice any body issues, because I’m on the skinnier side of the friend group. I usually don’t say much, but that doesn’t mean I am comfortable with my body. I think everyone has something they don’t like about themselves.

    Usually, when they start complaining about their bodies (the “I really need to lose the baby weight” speach), I usually start talking about exercise and trying to get the kids to eat healthy meals and trying to balance taking care of ourselves with taking care of the kids. I’m mostly trying to engage them to move beyond what they “wish they could do” and show them that they can do it. Perhaps a bit passive aggressive, but I have a hard time sitting there listening to people complain if they don’t do anything about it. I can only commisserate with them bashing their bodies for so long.

  5. Jacquelie says:

    This is a great post. I think every woman has struggled with her body in some point(s) of her life. Woman are either too thin, too thick, too tall, too short… Everyone is set to think that there is only one kind of pretty out there but that is not true. Everyone was born different and born to look different. Women need to start embracing their bodies more!!
    Thanks so much for posting this :).

  6. Mandi says:

    Although I used to have a lot of body image problems, I have felt much more positive the past few years about my body. Now my complains come from not feeling healthy as opposed to not looking good.

    Talking about our bodies often doesn’t bring out the best in women! I have a dear friend that is constantly complaining about her body to me and it is very uncomfortable because then she turns to saying things like “But YOU don’t have to worry about that”, “YOU have no idea what I’m talking about”, “You’re so lucky, your body’s perfect”, etc. and in turn it makes me feel terrible for NOT being overweight. She is the most kind and considerate person in every other way, but when it comes to “body talk”, I feel she takes out her aggression on me because I’m thinner than her. But I couldn’t care about her weight (except that I want her to be healthy) – I never compare myself to her physically, I don’t make it into a contest. I would love to be able to talk to her about her body in a way that I can comfort her and help her, but it seems that I can’t. I think women do need to think more about how they discuss their bodies in front of one another because most women are very fragile when it comes to body image.

  7. Audrey says:

    Love this post! I’m definitely someone who struggles with poor body image. It’s kind of crazy how when with other females we sometimes try to outdo one another in body put-downs! I can definitely relate to that situation. I look forward to your upcoming posts on the subject!

  8. Absolutely. We need to affirm one another and point each other to Christ. When we complain, when we self-deprecate, we are being ungrateful and are not honoring Him. And we’re definitely not helping out our sisters. Great post.

  9. Pingback: Seven Quick Takes Friday (Vol. 6) | Caffeinated Catholic Mama
  10. Lauren says:

    Guilty as charged. :/ I recently attended a summer camp, where I met a truly stunning girl in both body and personality. Within a few minutes I was complaining about my tiny breasts and large (in comparison) bottom, to which this girl replied, “Oh, don’t worry, I have no boobs and no butt.” In reality, this girl has very nice, flattering curves, which I noticed very quickly most of the boys around us were quite aware of, as well as her wild blonde curls and big earnest very sincere blue eyes. When I got back to my dorm I looked in the mirror and did some serious thinking. Was my body really so bad? Was it anything to complain about, anymore than her’s? Or was I seeing something that wasn’t reality, in the same way this girl saw herself? I weigh about 130 lbs, and have been told that I look thinner. My breasts are fairly small, compared to others’, but what does that matter? Why do they need to be big? Why can’t I just be happy with them the way they are? They’re perfectly functional breast. They don’t get in my way when I exercise, never attract any unwanted attention, can look quite nice when I wear the right shirts or dresses, and best of all, are cancer-free. My bottom and thighs are the same way. They’re large in comparison to my breasts (I have a pair body-shape), but not so that anyone but me would notice, especially with my personal clothing style. Even if my butt IS a little out-of-balance, it’s quite a nice butt, and my legs are killer: My larger thighs and slim ankles give me a really nice taper. So what if I don’t look like the models in InStyle magazine? So what if I don’t have a natural hourglass figure? I look like me and that ought to be good enough for anyone, especially me. I think my body deserves better than my hatred. It deserves my love. It does pretty well for me.

  11. Yan says:

    Right on!

    I have found that in “mixed” company (I know a few of the women well, but not all of them), when I don’t want to get into why body bashing is harmful, I can usually turn the conversation to how hard it is to find good, stylish, affordable clothing that FITS. Every woman, size 2-42, has this issue. I read somewhere that when you try a garment on and it doesn’t fit or looks awful, it’s not your body’s fault. Which is so true!!

    I love that most of the women I spend time with have so much more going on in their heads and lives than body hatred. They continually remind me how much better life is without the self-hate.

  12. Dominique says:

    What an awesome post. It reminded me immediately of that scene in Mean Girls where Cady is starting to hang with the clique and they’re all complaining about their bodies, and then they stop and look at her until she says something negative about herself.
    Until I was 20 something I was honestly completely blissfully unaware of any body image issues. I struggled with Hair Loss (Alopecia Areata) – but size wise – I had nothing to complain about.
    It is only now in my mid 20s that I realise what freedom that gave me. My own negative thoughts that have come into existence regarding my body shape more recently are daily little tear downs of my self esteem. Letting them get the best of me, even if it’s only for a day or two, results it at least twice as much time making myself feel better.
    Thanks for this great reminder that there are better things to do with our time that telling others and ourselves that we hate our body.

  13. Amy says:

    So true! I’ve been in situations where friends and I have the kind of talks you describe, and they always leave me feeling more “down” than I felt before. We’re definitely NOT lifting each other up as we should be.

    I’m visiting from WLW linkup, by the way.


  14. Sheri says:

    I dunno. I think every woman there is likely has some sort of body image issue. Maybe group grousing isn’t the way to go, but neither is telling someone they aren’t allowed to grouse. Guess I’m on the fence (or I need to re-read the post and see if I missed something)

  15. I’ve been pretty comfortable in and thankful for the body God gave me. When I do say negative things about the way I look (usually my hair), my husband jumps right on it and tells me how beautiful I am. He would know. 🙂 And I know he means it. What I can’t figure out is why he thinks I look beautiful with BED-HEAD… 😀

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