I recently became employed full time again, and that means I sit in a cubicle surrounded by other cubicles for a large portion of my work day. Overheard conversations often waft my way, particularly from the two rows of women who sit behind me. I’ve noticed some trends in the discussions so far: job duties, complaints, family/friends/pets, jokes, politics, health care (they are nurses), and dieting/weight loss. Because they are nurses, many of them have a pretty good idea of health in that they want people to care for their bodies, but it seems even nurses try fad diets; one nurse talked about South Beach, Atkins, Weight Watchers, and something about eating nothing but cabbage.
In all the quiet corners of office talk, I hear women talking about diets and weight loss, if only for a minute or so, but only when the men have gone. Women only seem to be comfortable talking about their bodies to each other–understandably so. Men habitually and often agressively comment on women’s bodies even when those comments are unwanted (see: street harassment), so it’s no surprise that diet talk is often a conversation women will only have with each other. In the break room during lunch, women chat about eating habits, exercise regimens, weight loss, weight gain, and diets. It seems many women bond over diet talk:
Coworker #1: “You look like you’ve lost some more weight.”
Coworker #2: “Yea, another two pounds.” [smiles]
Coworker #1: [Puts down fork in shock] “Good for you!”
Coworker #2: “Yea, look: this dress is loose on me.” [Sits up straight and pulls the fabric around her waist]
Coworker: #1 “Sweet! You can give me all your old clothes.” [laughs]
Coworker #2: “I will! Some of the stuff is brand new, tags on still and everything.”
These two women exemplify the bond between women over weight loss and gain because Coworker #2 is beyond willing to donate the clothes that no longer fit her to Coworker #1 all because Coworker #1 showed support. This a bond over bodies, and in a way, it’s excellent that women can form such bonds with each other over their bodies; I especially like how encouraging they were to one another. However, the context of the discussions women have about their bodies hinges on gains and losses (or victories and defeats) rather than the way we show our bodies kindness and respect, how we care for our bodies by responding to their needs, and how to show our bodies love and appreciation. We are always discussing our bodies as something that needs to be fixed, tweaked, lessened, or manipulated.
I’m not saying it’s wrong or bad to discuss the triumphs and challenges women share about their bodies, but wouldn’t it be a breath of fresh air to be part of discussion about women’s bodies that doesn’t dissect and measure them? Wouldn’t it be inspiring to instead share techniques for self love and acceptance? I think that the conversation could go in this direction if just one woman in each diet discussion could bring up modes of self love and acceptance.
Of course, we don’t hear those types of conversations coming from the body-hating media and advertisers; we see conversations about how to get the flattest stomach, reduce thigh size, and lose “winter weight.” Again, it’s all about “fixing” broken bodies. Because body hate is all we really see and hear from the media, family, and friends, it’s difficult to be the one voice of body love and acceptance in a world full of people having a different conversation. But starting that conversation is an act of rebellion; it is active dissent against beauty standards, fat shame, pro-anna, self hate, and girl hate. Instead of sharing trends for fixing bodies with diets, let’s share the trend of body acceptance.
If you are reading this, I hope you will consider asking your friends–especially those who engage in diet talk–how they show their bodies love, kindness, and respect. Mostly likely no one has asked them before, and it could open up an entirely new line of thinking about bodies. This kind of conversation could deepen our bonds to each other by letting others become intimate with the love and acceptance we give ourselves. They could deepen our bonds to our own bodies as we stop hating, dieting, and obsessing and start loving, valuing, and accepting. Let’s start a new conversation, right here, right now: one in which we discuss love and respect instead of loss and gain.