It’s probably not news to anyone reading this blog that negative body image is a problem in our culture, especially for adolescent girls. To address this issue, Esteem offers a training geared toward middle and high school girls called Healthy Minds, Healthy Bodies.
This blog is the first of a three-part series on our findings in body image workshops and some insight for readers about how they can avoid the traps of negative body talk, also referred to as “fat talk,” research about which is documented here and here.
Our seminar starts with the facilitator asking the girls to partner up and designate a “Partner A” and “Partner B. ” Partner A is instructed to share one thing that she doesn’t like about her own body with Partner B. There is rarely a moment’s hesitation before the critiques are verbalized – “My butt is too big”; “My hair is too frizzy”; “My stomach is too fat.”
These complaints are fairly common and are probably not surprising to anyone. Partner B is not given any specific instruction on how to respond to Partner A’s initial declaration, but the responses are similarly not surprising to anyone who has ever heard women talk to one another about their bodies. Invariably, the response falls into one of four categories. Partner B will:
- Share concern about that same part of her own body: “Oh, I know! I hate mine too!”
- One up her partner: “Oh, that’s nothing compared to my hips”
- Refute the claim: “Oh, you are not fat!”
- Offer a remedy: “I have a cover-up that works great for acne!”
The first two responses are the most common. Most girls (and adult women) respond to self-deprecation in kind by talking negatively about their own bodies. Sadly, we are all too comfortable with discussions in which we disparage our bodies.
Our words are powerful. What we say and what we don’t say have an impact on not just others, but ourselves. My challenge to you this week is two-fold:
- Refrain from saying disparaging things about your body.
- If you hear another woman talking negatively about her body, say something to educate her about the conversation about negative body image. Better than complimenting her, offer her information about this culture’s pernicious claims on women’s conversation topics. At the very least, if you don’t feel up to educating others, don’t participate. Change the topic of conversation, and model for other women what it is like to be engaged in interesting conversations!
Next week, Esteem’s blog will beyond body bashing to explore the perils of giving and receiving compliments.
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