Ladies, We Need to Stop Talking About Weight ASAP (Here's Why + How)
Weight is perceived differently across cultures. Skinny in one culture might mean beauty, but in another it might mean weakness or poverty. Big in one culture might mean ugly, but in another it might mean femininity, or wealth. Above all weight is a personal matter that is nobody’s business but our own. For many women, including myself, weight doesn’t matter until people tell us it matters. Paying excessive attention to our weight, and other women’s weight is a trait we are taught to care about. It dissuades and distracts us from exerting more energy on caring about other aspects of our lives like: our creative endeavors, relationships, education, careers, psychological development, and holistic wellness.
I have received countless unsolicited comments on my weight. People saying everything from “you’re chubby” to “you’re shrinking” to “you’re too skinny, I liked you better before.” These people were my family, co-workers, and friends which made it all the more troublesome. I have heard other women close to me receive comments like “maybe you should only eat 500 calories a day to lose weight” and “you can afford to eat more, you’re as small as a twig.” I have taken part in numerous negative conversations around weight with other women. Conversations that go something like this: “ugh, I hate you you’re so skinny” “I’m not skinny, have you seen my arms?” “at least you don’t have a muffin top like me” “don’t worry, you can pull of the ‘curvy’ look” “I really need to stop eating so much” “maybe we should do a cleanse” “yeah, I’m in, it’s almost summer so I really need to lose weight.”
These conversations, and comments happen all the time among women. Somehow, they are so magnetizing, and it feels momentarily relieving to communally self-sabotage or judge another woman’s weight. But they only hurt us, and continue a negative societal belief that a woman’s worth is determined by her weight. The worst part is, 90% of these comments come from fellow women. And ladies, I am here to say, we have to stop this bullshit once and for all. We are better than this. We are intelligent, magical beings, full of depth, complex inner landscapes, and inherent creativity. Our bodies are biologically designed to fluctuate, ebb and flow with the moon, and create and give life. Our bodies are miracles. Not a single number on the scale can encompass our worth, intelligence, or power.
I propose that we change how we talk to ourselves, and each other about weight. By this I mean let’s hardly talk about it at all, if ever. I know it’s a strong position, but I stand by it.
See, a woman’s weight is not just about whether she’s skinny, fat, chubby, or curvy. Her body is a vessel that carries her life story, and physically displays her emotions. For each woman, this manifests differently. Some women gain weight when they are happiest, some lose it. Other women lose weight when they are going through tough times, others gain it. What is personally positive for one woman, is not always personally positive for another. For instance, I have friends who have gotten extremely ill, or had bad break ups and lost a ton of weight. Everyone usually comments on how wonderful they look, and are amazed at how easily they lost weight. These friends, are actually trying to gain weight, because they want more strength and for their bodies and hearts to feel well again. While the outside world sees their weight loss as being celebratory, my friends are left dealing with healing their body on their own because nobody will take the time to hear their backstory. I also have friends who have gained weight because they feel more relaxed and happy in their lives. Their parents may tell them how they lost self-control, when in reality, they feel the best they ever have. Yet when people make comments on their weight, it shuts off an opportunity to learn about what’s going on beneath the surface. And this “beneath the surface” is the heart of the matter, that needs to be talked about more than weight.
Let me share some of my own personal story with weight, to paint the picture a little more. When I was a teenager I put on more weight than I ever had, and it was more than noticeable. I was emotionally eating, wasn’t exercising and when I wasn’t at school or work, I was partying. My weight gain wasn’t just about eating excess food, or lack of exercise though. It was about what was going on beneath the surface that almost nobody cared to notice. At this time, my family was still reeling in the aftermath of my parents devastating divorce. Combined, my parents had moved five times in three years and I was going back and forth between them each week. My mom moved us in with her boyfriend at the time who I had major conflict with, and my father had recently come out as transgender and was in transition to become a woman (I now call her my parent Sofia). On top of this, my family was also experiencing the most difficult economic challenges we had faced since I was four, and all of us were emotionally traumatized from all that we had been through. There was a lot of scarcity, and instability in my life, and pretty much all of it was out of my control.
Saying this period in my life was tough is an understatement. The only people I felt like I could talk to, and who I felt supported by were my brother, sister, and first boss. Unfortunately, my sis was miles away at college, my brother was graduating high school, and my first boss had to close her business so I wouldn’t see her as regularly. To get through it, I suppressed most of my emotions. My body was crying out for someone to pay attention. Instead of anyone asking me how I was feeling with what was going on in my life and empathizing, I was met with remarks like “you’re chubby” and “you should probably start exercising.” These comments shut me down even more, and made me feel like my weight gain was all my fault, and only due to a lack of self-control. It made me feel even more like shit than I already did. I didn’t understand the link between my emotional life, and how it was affecting my physical landscape. I started to feel guilty, and developed feelings of self-hatred.
Eventually, I decided to take control of my health. I started running, stopped snacking excessively, and started eating healthier. This skyrocketed even more my freshman year of college when I discovered a new-found independence. I had access to a gym which I never had before, and I could decide what and when to eat. Instead of gaining the freshman fifteen, I lost it. I was feeling great, and received a ton of positive reinforcement from other people. At first my health was balanced, but it quickly turned into obsession. By the summer, I was working out every single day for an hour or more, and I ate a strict diet of yogurt, smoothies, protein bars, fruit and salads. I would wait as long as I could before eating my meals, and when I did eat I tried to eat the smallest portion possible, with the fewest calories. I should have known this was not sustainable or healthy when I fainted in a hot yoga class and woke up to women fanning me and giving me coconut water (yes, you’re supposed to laugh here, it was a comical scene). I kept going anyway.
I continued this style of dieting and exercising when I returned to school, and I kept losing weight. Everyone kept calling me skinny. At first, I didn’t want to take it as a compliment because it made me uncomfortable and I come from a culture that praises curviness. But the more people told me it, the more I realized they meant it as a compliment. They taught me that that’s what people wanted to see of me - for me to be skinny. That’s what got attention. That’s when they liked me the most. I ignored what my body was telling me, to slow down, eat more, and enjoy my time with friends instead of running all the time. But I was fueled by this concept of skinny and all the attention I was receiving.
Finally, my body said enough. One night while I was dancing at a party I collapsed on the floor. I thought my knee popped out, but I actually chipped a bone out of my femur. I couldn’t walk for ten weeks. It was a huge wake up call. I slowly learned that my obsession with exercise and weight was out of control. I was using it to have a feeling of control in my life after not having any in my life for years. I was using it to ignore the immense anxiety I was feeling that year, the confusion I felt at having unexpected fall outs with my two childhood best friends, and the sadness I felt at losing a close friend and my grandpa. I was the skinniest I had ever been in my life, but I was the unhappiest. I hardly ever laughed, was getting few hours of sleep, and was having a hard time opening up and connecting with people.
Most people didn’t take the time to notice, or ask what was really going on. This was either because they didn’t think to or they thought it was too personal. Fortunately, there were two people in my life who did notice, and that made all the difference. With the help of one of my best friends, and Christian, I was slowly able to heal. They told me to rest, ensured that taking time to nourish myself was more important than exercising, and constantly asked me how I was feeling. My friend brought me food, and checked in on me after my grandpa passed away. Christian reminded me that I was worthy and beautiful no matter what my weight was. Slowly but surely, I started to heal my body by going to physical therapy, taking yoga, and resting. Slowly but surely, I started to heal my relationship with food. This relationship is still in the process of healing, but I am thousands of miles ahead from where I was a few years ago.
Fast forward to now where I feel the best in my body I have ever felt. The last few years, I have worked hard on learning to ignore external messages about what my body should look like, and now focus on how I want to feel. I have developed a kinder attitude towards food, and understand that my body naturally fluctuates in weight. I have learned to listen to the internal messages my body brings, and when I notice myself going to one extreme or the other with exercise or food I know to stop myself and ask myself what’s really going on beneath the surface. I feel happy to be in my skin, and embrace every curve on my body. I appreciate my body for the journey it has taken me on, for being a vessel for my spirit, and for being so strong, capable, and full of magic. I am not as heavy as I was at 15, nor as skinny as I was my sophomore year of college. Instead, I feel full of life, power, and vibrancy. To me this is what is important. Not my weight.
Yet somehow, people keep wanting to judge me on my weight, and I still receive comments about it all the time. I still hear other girls commenting endlessly on their own weight, and others. I even feel myself wanting to be pulled into that again, and have to work extremely hard to avoid it. It’s dangerous ladies, and we need to end it now. I’m not suggesting that wanting to lose weight, or gain weight is inherently wrong. You know at what point you feel best and your weight is 100% up to you. What I am suggesting though is that it’s worth looking beneath the surface before stepping on a scale. It’s worth measuring your happiness, how strong you feel, and what your relationship is with primary food first. It’s worth asking yourself if your motives for looking a certain way are driven by external messages, self-hate, or from self-love. I am also suggesting that commenting on another girl’s weight is harmful regardless of whether or not you think it’s positive. So, let’s change the conversation once and for all.
Here are five ways we can all change the conversations we have around weight, and uplift one another in the process.
1) Redirect or shut down the toxic conversations.
This one is huge girls. We are all familiar with the poisonous weight conversations held among women in which we all compare ourselves to each other or communally self-sabotage. As tempting as it is to give in to these conversations, try to redirect the conversation instead. You can redirect it by saying something like “hey why don’t we try to name something we like about ourselves instead?” or ask “what are you grateful for about your body?” If this doesn’t work, or you want to avoid the whole “you’re beautiful” “no, you’re beautiful” convo, you can even be more assertive and shut it down kindly. To do this you can say something like “ladies, we’re not going to talk about our weight, we are all beautiful” or “this isn’t healthy to talk about, let’s talk about something more positive” or “hey I’m really trying to work on positive self-image, can we not talk about this?” This is something I have implemented many times, and it is very effective. Not only does it turn the conversation around, it shows my friends that I’m not interested in talking about weight and they don’t bring it up again. Try it yourself, and see what happens!
2) Acknowledge how you talk about yourself, and work on challenging your negative self-talk.
Another biggie (they all are haha)! This is probably the most difficult suggestion, but in my opinion the most important. The next time you are in front of a mirror, or pass by your reflection what thoughts cross your mind about yourself? Are they loving or judgmental thoughts? Observe what they are, and if you find that your mind tends to create negative self-thoughts, try to train your mind to think more positively. To do this, you can come up with a mantra that is unique to you, that you can say in your mind every time a negative thought comes up. I recommend choosing three to four adjectives that you want to feel and believe about yourself, and repeat them in your mind beginning with “I Am…” For example, my personal mantra is “I am worthy. I am strong. I am kind.” Another thing you can do is write yourself a love letter and include all the things you love and appreciate about yourself. Keep this in a place you can access easily, and whenever you are feeling low pull it out, and remind yourself how great you are! This step is key, because the more we can feel positive and radiant in our own being, the less we will want to judge others, ourselves, and ignite toxic conversations.
If you are a mother, or plan on being a mother, I think this step is especially important. I have had multiple conversations with women about their negative body image, and time and time again I have heard that the most hurtful comments they receive about their weight are from their mothers. Equally hurtful comments come from how the mom speaks about herself in front of her daughter, not necessarily what the mom says about her daughter. All little girls believe their moms are beautiful. They experience the power of their moms love and kindness, and this is what they learn is beautiful, not looks. Yet, when they hear their mom speak negatively about herself, they quickly question their own beauty and feel like they don’t know what beauty is after all. So moms, and future moms, I need you to especially think about how you talk about yourself in front of your daughter, and remember that you have to lead by example.
3) Bite your tongue, dig beneath the surface, and reserve judgement.
If you notice a woman you know has gained or lost a lot of weight, hold your tongue and your judgement. Check in with her kindly, and lovingly. Be genuinely curious about how her life is going, and ask how she Is feeling. Listen to her with an open heart, and be there for her if she is going through a rough time. If she is doing great, wonderful, still be there for her and support her in her dreams! If she brings up her weight that is up to her, otherwise don’t mention it. If she does bring it up, ask her again about how she’s feeling, and how she’s feeling about the weight loss or gain. If she brings it up in a positive way and clearly wants to talk about it try to ask things like “do you have more energy? Do you feel healthier? Do you feel stronger?” This way the focus is not on the number of pounds, but rather the overall well-being and feeling of your friend.
If she brings up weight in a negative context on the other hand it can be tricky because it’s often at this point that it’s easy to want to empathize with your friend by stating something you feel uncomfortable about in yourself. I urge you not to go down this path. Acknowledge your friends discomfort, and offer your love and support in a heartfelt way. One way I like to do this is by saying something like “I know you’ve been going through so much lately and that’s really tough. You have been working so hard though and I am so proud of you for everything you’re doing. You are amazing. Look at all these incredible things you’ve done (insert amazing things your friend did here). But I understand where you’re coming from, and I’m totally here to support you with whatever you need.” You can say whatever is in your heart, but be sure to keep it empathetic, understanding, supportive, and loving. I have found that often times, talking about weight is a gateway for a woman to start talking about what is beneath the surface. When you listen and give a woman space to direct the conversation, she will naturally lead you to what she really wants to talk about. And guess what? Nine times out of ten, it's not actually about her weight.
4) Acknowledge or compliment a woman for her character not her physical attributes.
Don’t get me wrong we all love a compliment on our sexy looks sometimes, and I do think it’s okay to give a woman a compliment on her beauty sometimes. However, if you didn’t notice already the key word is sometimes. We are so much more than our looks, and we all have character traits that are unique and meaningful to us. Instead of commenting on a woman’s weight or her physical beauty, try to think about what you really appreciate about her as a person. Maybe it’s her bravery about speaking up for what she believes in, her hard work ethic, her ability to make everyone feel important, or her witty humor. I guarantee you she will remember this compliment far longer, and it will be far more meaningful than being told she’s pretty, or skinny.
5) Create a new kind of scale.
In my experience, I find scales to be disempowering, discouraging, and misleading about overall health and happiness. If you haven’t already, I encourage you to throw away your scale. As I said earlier, the numbers on that machine cannot determine your worth, intelligence, and power. In its place, I want you to create a new kind of scale. One of your own design, that focuses on your holistic well-being instead of your weight. It could measure your joy, feeling of connectedness, energy, or level of presence. Think about what feelings are important to you, and each day rate those feelings on a scale of 1-10. For instance, if joy is one of your desired feelings, you could write down your joy ratings on your calendar for a week. At the end of the week, notice if your numbers were lower or higher. If they were lower, brainstorm ways you can raise that number and incorporate your ideas into the next week. If they were higher, acknowledge yourself and do a happy dance! Repeat this process as many times as you want, and get creative with YOUR unique scale!