I bark a lot about women being overly obsessed with how they look, and in particular with their weight. I’ve written here that I have reached the age at which I don’t care how I look in a bikini. I have a body, and I have a bikini, and therefore I have a bikini body. Got it?
But the truth: I do care. I care how I look in a bikini, and I care about how you think I look. I don’t want to care. But a lifetime of caring is a hard habit to break, so I remain sensitive about it. I’ve made great strides in other areas – I don’t care what you think about my new short pixie haircut (SHORT HAIR, DON’T CARE). I don’t care what you think about me never wearing mascara again, or the fact that Birkenstocks are my dressiest shoes and I will never wear underwire bras again. I don’t care if you dislike my tattoos.
But the weight thing. GAH. Even though I’ve recently lost some weight and am feeling pretty good, it slays me when it’s the first thing people notice about me. Hey, have you lost weight? How much weight have you lost? Wow, you’ve lost a lot of weight! Good god, you used to look like a heifer and now you look more like a sturdy workhorse.
No one actually says that last part, but it’s implied. It’s a form of body-shaming, really, not unlike before-and-after pictures. Look at me fat, now look at me less fat. See how much better I am? See my new improved packaging, which should make you find me more attractive even though I’m the same person inside? Pro tip: The only comment to make to a woman who has lost weight is this: You look great! How are you? Really. That’s all. Because the real value in having lost weight – assuming the weight loss was intentional – is the newfound focus on health and well-being. A woman who has dropped some pounds usually has made the decision to prioritize herself, and that’s the cause for celebration – not some phony measure of waistlines.
Nevertheless, we as a society continue to obsess about our weight and we pass those worries to our children regardless of our intentions. My own 11-year-old daughter told me recently that she’s “thick,” and that she accepts it. I was horrified; I work so hard to make sure she loves herself inside and out. But in recent weeks, have I perhaps chastised myself aloud for eating a cookie or two? Have I tried on some shorts and turned in the mirror to see if my butt passed muster? Probably.
I love this essay by Sarah Koppelkam, which appeared a few years ago in the Huffington Post. You should read it. But here are the first few sentences:
How to talk to your daughter about her body, step one: Don’t talk to your daughter about her body, except to teach her how it works.
Don’t say anything if she’s lost weight. Don’t say anything if she’s gained weight.
If you think your daughter’s body looks amazing, don’t say that. Here are some things you can say instead:
“You look so healthy!” is a great one.
The essay also warns against discussing other women’s bodies, too. My friend Woody Winfree, author of the awesome I Am Beautiful books of photo essays, once told me she stopped being so critical of other women as soon as she became less critical of herself. I’ve never forgotten that, and I’ve found it to be true.
My new goal is be more aware of how often I let my weight or body image drag down my mood, and how often I unintentionally allow my children to see that. It’s a fake-it-til-you-make-it kind of plan. And oh – in case I haven’t said so lately – you look fabulous.