Look I'm not going to tell you this isn't hard because it is really bloody hard.
I want to challenge you to cut something out of your life for a week.
It's not carbs.
It's not gluten (oh how I love glorious, springy gluten, beneficent originator of the squishy inside bit of french bread).
No, what I want you to cut out is talking smack about your own body.
*pause for gasps*
Now, you might not think that you talk down your own body at all, but trust me, if you are a woman there is an almost 0% chance that you have gone the last 7 days without at some point participating in a negative conversation about bodies, fat, weight, or food. It's just so normalised at this point you don't even notice it. It's a normal part of female discourse, an everyday occurrence so routine it's hard to recall after the fact whether you actually did it or not. It's like when you sit wide-eyed at your desk asking yourself whether you turned off your straighteners before leaving the house this morning. You know deep down that you probably did, but you cannot for the life of you remember flicking that damn switch.
Like the straighteners, it's an everyday thing, but - also like those straighteners - failure to pay proper attention to it may mean that you burn your house to the ground. In this analogy your house = your own self esteem and sense of contentment. See what I mean? I'm stretching an analogy well beyond breaking point (a hobby of mine) but you catch my drift right? Women have a learned self-hatred reflex which, left unchallenged, can undermine us in ways we can only appreciate in hindsight.
To be clear I'm not talking about being bitchy here. I'm not referring to 'girl on girl hate' - a semi made up concept which places blame for women's issues very conveniently on women themselves, and which I would absolutely not dignify with its own blog post (oooooh burrrn).
No, I'm talking about those self-deprecating, self-critical, self-admonishing comments we say out loud about ourselves every day, and which constitute a particularly female kind of bonding.
'I really shouldn't eat this. I had a huge breakfast, but it's fine cause I'm having a green juice, right?'
'I can't have biscuits in the house I'm just too greedy around them'
'I do want some [birthday cake] but I'm not going to have any. I'm going to be good'
'I have terrible arms'
'I do know these jeans make me look really fat guys. I just wear them 'cause they're comfy'
'I really need to get back into running to work. I'm letting myself go and it's not even Christmas yet'
And one someone said to me personally in the lift at work this week: 'Oh no are you only having a juice for lunch?' (I wasn't. I'd also had a chocolate croissant because that was just what I felt like that day). Then, glancing at her toasty 'I feel so guilty now'.
Those are just some examples from my own friends and coworkers in the last 7 days. That's maybe about 5% of the total number of similar comments I heard in that time when you factor in women on TV, radio, and passing snippets of other people's conversations.
These kinds of comments are often referred to collectively as 'negative self talk' or 'fat talk'. They've been a part of women's lives for decades, but have become increasingly normalised since the rise of 'wellness' and 'clean eating' (that phrase legit makes me shudder ladies) has made continual striving for optimal health and intense diet scrutiny cool and trendy (thank you so very much for that hideous curve ball, diet culture). They provide a completely understandable, but nonetheless toxic, way for women to bond. If I turn to you in the lift at work and tell you just how shit I look today, I'm signalling that I'm with you, I share your struggle to feel beautiful and acceptable, that I am a 'girl's girl' and therefore not a threat. Exchanges like these are a coded way for women to express their common ground, and the vulnerability they expose gives a sense of instant intimacy.
It's totally understandable why we do this.
But we should still stop. Building intimacy on shared self-hatred is self-destructive and self-defeating. It reinforces the idea that what we look like and what we weigh is genuinely important (it isn't) - more important that how we think or what we achieve (it isn't).
So for the next week your challenge (and mine) is not to engage in, or ourselves make, any derogatory comments about our own bodies, weight, or eating choices. With reference to food particularly that includes justifying, (ie 'I had a green juice which makes it ok') bargaining, or otherwise excusing what we eat. Instead, try only discussing food choices in terms of taste and preference ('Oh is that Thai chicken soup? I love Asian flavours', 'I'm in the mood for something sweet'). We should also all try responding to negative body talk with non-body-related compliments, rather than the usual self deprecating reply, so that 'my thighs look huge' isn't met with 'mine too' but instead 'your coat is lovely, you have such a cool personal style' or 'your presentation (slash whatever) was really interesting. How did you get so good at public speaking?' Sometimes it will be a non-sequitur but damnit we're gonna take one for the team and make not much sense in the name of feminism amirite?
I told you it would be bloody hard.
But I think it's worth trying. The more we can model self acceptance and self confidence to each other, the more space we can open up for women to be unashamedly confident and unapologetically present. Let's smack talk bullsh*t beauty standards, not ourselves.