I spent a recent summer Saturday at Wanderlust, a yoga and music festival. Two friends joined me and we spent the day doing vinyasa, working on our alignment and hanging out -- a precious opportunity for some girlfriend time. And it was wonderful. Except ... except for this: "My legs are too big for skinny jeans." And, "I like these yoga pants because my butt doesn't look big." And, "I resent my mother for not passing on to me her breasts. Mine are so small." And, "My stomach's not flat enough." And ... well you get the picture. I haven't even mentioned the agita over what to eat and the riveting discussion of how many calories are in our typical lunch.
How much of my life has been spent in these sorts of discussions? What a waste, truly. The only beneficiaries are entrepreneurs like Sara Blakely, building the empire of Spanx on the foundations of our over-obsessions.
In a room of 50 women at an event I was speaking at, I conducted a quick straw poll. I asked, "How many women here feel good about their bodies?" Only two hands went up, and they were wobbly and tentative at that. That's 4 percent of the women in the room. Only 12 percent of women think they look good in a swimsuit. I guess that's three times better, but come on, both of those numbers are ridiculously low. Is this really how we want to live -- in a state of perpetual discomfort about our bodies? Of course not.
Too much about the issue (aka obsessing) which I have discovered, and some wise insights I have self-tested, suggest to me that a critical piece of the issue is contained in that 8 percent disconnect between the hesitant hand-raisers and the beach-bound, bikini set. The 12 percent of women who felt good in their swimsuits didn't proclaim that sentiment with pride in a room full of women. Oh no, they were answering questions on an anonymous poll for a study on women and body image.
I wouldn't raise my hand in a room full of women, even if I felt good about my body that day. Why? Because I'd be fearful that all the other women in the room would be raising their mental eyebrows and telepathically communicating with each other, "That girl feels good about herself? With that flat chest? Honey, it's time for a reality check."
You know what I'm talking about, don't you? That bad fairy critic (I think of her as the BFC) inside you who spends all her time sizing up all the other women she sees.
We women aren't doing each other, or ourselves, any favors. We are caught up in a vicious cycle which we perpetuate every time we see a friend and say, "You look great, have you lost weight?" Or we say to an acquaintance, "You're so slim." Or we say, "I just need to lose however-many pounds." Take time to notice for a few days how utterly common it is in the course of a conversation for women to comment on their own, and each other's, bodies. As if this is an acceptable, interesting or worthy topic for us to expend our energy on.
Guess what, for the most part, the topic is not worth the breath we're wasting on it. When someone tells us we look slim, we feel good ... for a nanosecond, until it settles in that someone is noticing how we look, and then we start to worry about whether we'll measure up the next time. Because we know, we know, we know, that we're doing the very same thing right back at other women. In the end, that BFC is really just our own insecurities, projected on others, isn't it? A vicious cycle, that goes round and round and round.
The good news is, like any carousel, we can get off anytime and step away from the topic. Breathe some fresh air, pure and clean, unpolluted by the noxious gas of body talk. Put in our special BFC-proof earplugs. Be like the three wise monkeys -- see nobody talk, hear nobody talk, speak nobody talk.
I recently set myself on the task of committing no body talk for ... well, for some unspecified period of time -- in other words, for however long I could do it for. Four hours. I lasted a paltry four hours, and I was by myself for a few of those hours. I forget the topic that derailed my grand intention, something electrifying like whether my friend's arms looked better in a particular dress than mine did. I was way off the wagon by the time the Wanderlust day I mentioned came around.
I need to re-resolve -- as the saying goes, baby steps. My new task is to notice, just notice, how often body talk comes up in conversations with friends, acquaintances and colleagues. And in that noticing, I hope that I'll get better at quieting the BFC.
Will you try with me?