This is a post topic I've had on my to-do list for close to a year. Today the catalyst to sit down and write it came in the form of one too many comments on how my pregnant body looks. And while this post may have finally been written out of rage over the number of times I've heard comments about my body in the past few months, this message is for anyone at any stage of life, whether it's a mom talking to her daughter, a group of teen girls, University students, adults in a gym, co-workers in boardroom, or girlfriends out for dinner.
Can we please STOP telling each other how we look, and instead ask what's going on in each other's lives?
I know, I know, that sounds like a statement coming from an overly sensitive pregnant chick, but here's the thing. I'm sick of it, and it's not just pregnancy. It's been going on forever, and it happens all around, all the time.
Why do we continue to do this to each other?
Tell me if you've heard this from one woman to another, "you've lost weight, you look so great!" or "did you see so-and-so? She's totally ballooned." We are missing 99% of the story here. Weight loss does not necessarily equal happiness. Weight gain does not mean someone has given up and is miserable. And what is perceived as being in great shape does not equate to, "she's so lucky".
I've been going to the same massage therapist for about 8 years now, she's seen my body through all sorts of changes - some positive, some negative. On one occasion about 6 1/2 years ago I walked in and the first thing she said was, "you've lost weight - is this a healthy thing or an unhealthy thing?" Truth was, I was going through an incredibly tough time - she was bang on to assume it may be negative, and I was surprised but relieved when she asked that question. I didn't need to pretend that I felt great, because she didn't assume I was great simply because I'd lost weight. I wasn't looking leaner because I was super happy and eating all the kale and working out with athlete level energy levels. I was leaner because I was exhausted, stressed, constantly anxious, likely not eating enough, and definitely not taking any down time to recover or sit still and acknowledge everything that was going on. Skinny does not equal happy. Small does not equal better. We need to shift how we equate body shape to someone's mental health. What can you tell of someone's self love, happiness, or healthy, just by looking at the size and shape of their body?
We need to stop telling each other how we look. And we need to start asking each other how we're doing.
I'm not saying we can't tell each other "you look great!", or "but the assumption that someone is one thing based solely on how they look, is such a shallow and useless way to go about building relationships, whether it's with your best friend or a co-worker or your regular Starbucks barista. I'm also not saying that if you genuinely have a concern over your friend's health because of their appearance to keep it zipped up - I have one client for example who I've been training for two years, and his catalyst was a friend saying, "buddy, I'm worried about your health. I want you around for a long time, but you aren't taking care of yourself." That's a whole different story.
The pregnant protruding belly seems to be some sort of free pass for all the body comments to fly. I've heard it all from "You're so tiny!" to "Wow, you exploded!" or "You don't even look pregnant!" and the one I received today, "How many have you got in there!??" I continue to smile politely and laugh each time one of these statements come around, but secretly I want to throw inanimate objects or say incredibly cruel things back. I would never have the balls to say what usually comes to mind, and today my seething response that I carried with me silently as I left the gym was incredibly cruel and an attack on the other woman's appearance. I was disappointed in myself for what I wanted my retort to be, because I had fallen to the same level of fighting body talk with more body talk.
But seriously, why is it okay for this lady to talk about the size and shape of my body? It is absolutely none of her business how I am carrying this baby, and it tells none of the story. Is my baby healthy? Am I healthy? Am I in pain? Am I nervous about childbirth? I've worked really hard these past few years to NOT care what my body looks like so much, but instead focus on what it can do, how it can perform, how it can learn and grow stronger and do amazing things. But one stupid comment, and I'm spiralling into "omg, maybe she's right, my baby is too big, I'm too big, I've gained too much, this baby is going to be too big to deliver naturally, I'm going to have to work so hard to get this weight off after my baby is born..." Pregnant or not pregnant, I should NOT be letting another woman's comment about my body make or break my day. And nor should you.
So how do we get out of this cycle? Well, for one, we can stop commenting on each other's body shapes and sizes, and instead ask how the other woman is doing, what's going on in her life, and ask non-assuming questions with some sensitivity. This is also why I'm such a firm believer in self-compassion and self-love, and the never ending quest to continue to better this. Because the stupid comments are still going to come, and the insensitive jokes will still fly. But if we can go home and know what our self-care rituals are to calm our blood pressure (walking the dog, working out, sitting quietly with a book, yoga, whatever yours is), and talk ourselves back to a place of reasonability and self-love, it'll be a whole lot easier to block these comments and move on when they strike.
Okay, and how fitting is this - I took a mini editing break and saw that Girls Gone Strong just posted this article: "My Body, My Business". It's always nice to know I'm not alone with these thoughts when I feel the rage come on;) I'm also going to guess at least one or two of you reading this would have liked to be asked on occasion, "how are you doing?" rather than being told how you look that day. Amiright?