There’s a woman sitting near you in a restaurant, on a train, in a school meeting, at your kids’ sport, on a nearby desk at work, or walking past you in the street, feeling lousy about herself. A really ‘I don’t want to be here. I feel so uncomfortable. I am so fat.’ kind of lousy. Truthfully, there’s probably more than one woman feeling like that.
In fact, there’s a strong possibility you are that woman.
Having almost 38 years of ‘femaleness’ under my belt, having had female friends all of my life; and working in the health and wellbeing industry specifically with females, I’m starting to see a big, fat, bold, scary pattern.
We hate on ourselves.
All. The. Time.
If we’re not doing it publicly (“Oh my god, you should see what I ate on the weekend.”), we’re doing it privately (“F**k it! I’m not going, nothing looks good on me. I’m such a fat cow.”) If we don’t beat ourselves up about it enough, we beat our loved ones up about it (“Honey how does this look?”…. “What do you mean by ‘OK’? Do you even want to be married to me?!?!”).
This downtrodden attitude towards ourselves is dictating our conversations. When was the last time you had dinner with the girls and no-one brought up what diet they were on, what new weight loss technique they were trying, how heavy they were feeling, how many kilograms they’d gained or how much weight so-and-so had lost?
Minute-to-minute (sadly, I’m not even exaggerating) it is affecting our moods, our social lives, our relationships, our careers and our professional or personal aspirations.
I’ve met women who are tiptoeing on the verge of agoraphobia as a result of how they look in the mirror; dozens tell me they can’t come to an exercise class until they have lost some weight; and friends that tell me that they rarely enjoy social occasions because they never feel comfortable with how they look.
Gah. It’s got to stop.
Women. Stop it!
But I know these women. I’ve been this woman. And I know it isn’t as easy as just saying, “Oh ok, I rock, let’s go disco dancing!”
I don’t know where this venom entered our blood stream. We consistently blame advertising and all of their lighting and airbrush trickery. We blame our mothers for switching to low fat milk and flora margarine in 80s. We blame clothing manufacturers for inconsistent sizing and the designers who insist on using waif like models to sell them.
But while we are turning down another social occasion, having another low-self-esteem fuelled argument with our nearest and dearest and-or internally abusing ourselves again with a grimaced face in the mirror; another airbrushed ad is being produced, another diet-related food product is being pumped off the production line, another size 14 clothing tag is being sewn onto a size 10 jacket and another model is being employed for next year’s biggest fashion show.
The industries that could shoulder some of the blame for our self-hate are not going to stop doing what they do in time for you to go to go to the ball, apply for that job, buy that dress, check out that dance class or have that raunchy lights-on-completely-starkers night with your hubster.
It’s up to us to stop listening. Stop listening to those voices that tell us we’re too fat to go out, that our partner couldn’t possibly love us, that the spin class is only for skinny people or that we can’t change our career path until we’ve lost 10kgs.
It’s up to us to stop the weight-related conversations with friends and start talking about something other than body size and body parts.
It’s up to us to stop thinking that achieving a certain body shape or size is the sole purpose of our existence on earth.
Seriously, this obsessive negative body image epidemic needs an antidote – and it lies within us.
Obviously, I don’t discourage an enthusiastic attitude toward better health, but I suspect that the incessant focus on our appearance is in fact, plaguing our bodies way more than the desperate 3p.m chocolate bar.
By all means, continue to work on your fitness; continue to explore better nutrition, but synergise it with a loving and appreciative acceptance of your body, and all bodies.
My top five tips for breaking the hate-on-ourselves pattern are:
1) Reduce self-criticism: Challenge yourself to 2 days a week (more if you can) where you don’t criticise your any aspect of your reflection.
2) See internal characteristics in others: Practice describing (either to yourself or in friendly discussions with your peers) other women using only non-physical characteristics. “You know Kate, the one that is really friendly? She’s friends with Lucy, who is always willing to help out at soccer…”
3) Change the conversation: When you meet up with your girlfriends, have a zero-tolerance approach to body-related conversations. If someone raises how heavy they are feeling, how their clothes aren’t fitting anymore or how skinny they were at their damn wedding 15 years ago, don’t fuel the discussion by adding in your two cents about their weight, or yours. Next.
4) Ignore clothing sizes: Image if you cut off the tags on every piece of clothing in your wardrobe. Eventually, you wouldn’t remember what was a size 10 and what was a size 16. You’d just wear whatever was comfortable on that day. Adopt the same attitude when you shop. Don’t worry about the size you need, just grab the one that will be the most comfortable.
5) Letting go is different to letting yourself go. I saw this quote at some stage on the socials and wish I could credit it appropriately. It perfectly represents the synergy of body acceptance with health awareness. Being more accepting of your body does not mean that you should throw out the runners and schedule in a nightly date with the pizza delivery driver. Likewise, continuing to work on your diet and fitness does not have to be all in the name of external body changes. Gosh darn it, it can be just for the benefit of feeling good and, hold-the-damn-phone, a long and healthy life.
Regardless of where the responsibility lies for this venomous culture of self-hate, if we start to change the way we think about ourselves, talk about ourselves and what we notice in others, that woman in the restaurant, whether it’s you or not, might order a dessert and not feel self-conscious about it; the woman on the train might apply for that promotion and the fellow mother at the school meeting might feel confident enough to introduce herself and come to the next social night out.