Let me tell you about something odd that has happened since I became comfortable with my body: people constantly assume I want to change it.
First of all I want to say that of course I don't think my body is perfect. Unfortunately I still have my days where I'm hard on myself, or think I should be further along in my journey, or nitpick my flaws. I'm often torn between the "I want to be leaner but I also want bigger muscles, too" dilemma (which I think is relatively normal once you start weight lifting). However, for the most part, I'm largely comfortable with my body. In fact, I can go through a whole work day (even a few in a row!) without having a single negative thought about my weight. When I'm getting ready in the morning, I don't stare myself down in the mirror and think negative thoughts. I don't avoid mirrors either. For the most part, I see myself, I give myself a "go on with your bad self" nod of approval and I'm off to take on the world (or whatever).
So imagine how odd it feels for me to have somebody make small, seemingly meaningless comments to me about weight or body types, with the implication that I'm unhappy with mine. Here are some examples:
- The other day at work I was walking down the hallway and a coworker approached me and said "You'd think with all this running around we'd be skinny by now!"
- Another day I walked into my office and saw an off the wall 3 day diet laying on my desk. I later saw a coworker (not the same as in example one) who said "Did you see that diet I put on your desk? I thought you may want to try it."
- I stopped at the Limited after work one day to try on a dress I had been eyeing up, and when I asked the girl working there for a small she looked at me and said "Oh, you're DEFINITELY going to need a medium"
- A friend said in conversation "it's good that you're comfortable with your body, but doesn't it bother you that THAT's what all guys like?" (referring to an attractive, slender blonde nearby)
I could give WAY more examples like these, and most of the time I let them roll off my shoulders. But the examples from above all happened relatively close to one another, which made me stop for a second and think "am I missing something?!" When I look at myself I see a healthy 26 year old - am I way off?
So I've reflected on this quite a bit, and I have some guesses as to where these comments come from (because believe me, I don't think they are malicious in intent).
1. Women making negative comments about our bodies is, unfortunately, the norm - Do I think the lady who said “you’d think with all this running around we’d be skinny now!” was trying to imply that she thought I was the opposite of skinny? I don’t know, I guess it’s possible lol. But more than likely she was making a joke about herself and grouped me into it. It’s more than likely she makes those comments about herself often because, as women, we constantly put ourselves down. It reminds me of the scene in Mean Girls when all of the girls are critiquing their bodies and they all stare at Lindsay Lohan’s character because she’s not contributing. It’s normal to make negative statements about our bodies. It’s not normal to love our bodies.
2. Assuming that because I eat relatively healthy, my goal is weight loss – Do I think the other coworker who recommended an unsolicited diet to me was implying that I needed to go on a diet? Probably not. I think she may just see me eating healthy on a regular basis and ASSUME that I’m “dieting” with a goal of weight loss, because that’s what all women want, right? To be skinny?
3. As for the last two – I get it. I don’t have the “ideal” body type according to mainstream society’s standards. When I look at myself, the words “slender”, “thin”, and “skinny” don’t come to mind. I consider myself an average height for a female, but I’m certainly not tall. And guess what, that’s not changing any time soon. I don’t have long, lean legs… I have short, thick, muscular ones. I have a relatively short torso. I have boobs and a butt, which can make me look bigger than I actually am if I don’t have form fitting clothes on (which is the case 90% of the time, because …work). I don’t have super skinny looking arms; they are pretty thick, but is that because they’re fat? No, it’s because they are muscular. And guess what: I am okay with all of those things. Do I think women like the ones I just described (tall and slender) are still gorgeous as heck? Sure do! But that doesn’t mean I have to like my build any less. Here’s the thing... I can’t change my genetics. Sure, I can alter my body fat and gain more muscle with hard work but it’s not going to give me longer legs and it’s certainly not going to make me any taller. And I hope like hell it doesn’t make my butt any smaller! So why would I spend precious time and energy wishing I could change things about myself that I simply cannot?
Here's what I wanted to say in response to all those situations:
Coworker - You'd think with all this running around we'd be skinny by now!
Me - Wow, I thought I was doing okay, but thanks I guess?
*Instead I chuckled and said "yeah, you'd think so..."
Coworker #2 - Did you see that diet I put on your desk? I thought you may want to try it.
Me - I'm sorry but... what on earth would make you think that?
*Instead I said "to be honest I will probably never do it, but you'll have to let me know how it goes"
Girl at the Limited - Oh you DEFINITELY need a medium
Me - I'm pretty sure I know what size I wear, considering I dress my body every day. I know I'm wearing a loose shirt so you probably can't tell, but I'm going to need a small. So please just get it off the mannequin.
*Instead I put the dress on and walked out to show her how ridiculous I looked, to which she replied "ohhhh your waist is tiny.. you dooooo need a small". No shit, Sherlock.
I held off on writing this blog post because I thought to myself, am I just being overly sensitive? Do I sound whiney? But here's the thing: while these comments may seem harmless, they are quite the opposite - they are harmful. People don't realize these are loaded comments that reinforce stereotypes about how women should look and contribute to body image issues that have been around forever. And unless we address the vicious cycles of body shaming, self-criticizing and media perceptions of what we should look like - it will never change. Not only that, but it takes the focus completely away from health and places emphasis solely on aesthetics and appearance.
I like to believe that I am at a place where I have a relatively healthy mindset about my body image. I understand my goals and I understand what I'm trying to accomplish, even if others don't - but there was a time in my life when these comments would have hurt me deeply. Clearly they still bother me enough to blog about them, because I have been the person who heard them in the past and took them to heart. Imagine how it feels to hear those comments when you are somebody who is struggling with their body image. Imagine how it feels to hear those comments when you are someone who believes their self-worth is tied to their appearance, which they aren’t happy with at the moment. When I was at my highest weight and people made comments like this, I took them to heart but they didn’t upset me because I agreed with the comments. I believed I should look different. I believed I should be skinnier. I didn’t care about being healthy; I didn’t care about being strong; I cared about being thin. But here's what I know now.. these comments should upset me - because they are total bullshit.
I hope this post can resonate with at least one person. I hope there are a few takeaways: Your self-worth is not tied to your image. You don’t need to look like the women on the magazines. If you’re striving to be the healthiest version of yourself, you’re doing great (and you’re going to have a much better time with it if you learn to love yourself in the process). Finally, let’s be more mindful of the comments we make to one another, and to ourselves. Let’s work to end the cycle of stereotypes, body shaming, and negative self-talk.
And so, because I'm such a fan of radical vanity (read my blog post on it here) -- here's a picture of me.. perfectly imperfect, yet comfortable and confident, regardless of how society tells me I should feel.