Thursday, August 22, 2013


"Augh, I need to get back into my work outs, I look like a friggin' balloon!" said my friend who is, if memory serves, a size 4, as a few of us hung out at my place for drinks one night. I looked her over. Her body was, as far as I could tell, perfectly toned, and the only reason she had gotten "out" of her workouts was because of an injury. The men in the room rolled their eyes. This wasn't an uncommon thing to come out of her mouth, but no one wanted to be the one to fight with her to say that she was gorgeous, and even if she wasn't, it shouldn't matter again. God knows I had tried enough times.

Still, it pained me to listen to someone I love hate on their body like that, and I had an idea, one that took some balls. "Look at me," I ordered, leaning back on the armrest of the couch, facing her so she could get a full view of my figure. "I think we can all agree that I am a motherfucking babe," I said, gesturing to my body with one hand before flipping my hair over my shoulder dramatically.

They laughed, because women are taught at a young age that we will never be pretty enough, and so a woman bluntly declaring herself attractive is always seen as a shocking (as well as vain and arrogant) thing. Still, I was among friends, I figured I was allowed to be a little bit vain and arrogant. Besides, I've never been shy that I am bold enough to actually like my body (mostly), even if I'm not supposed to. "You are," she agreed smiling.

"Now look at you," I said, gesturing to her. Her smile faded a little as she began to compare her slender curves to my dramatic ones, "You're saying you're fat and ugly and flabby, but you're way smaller and more toned than I am," I yanked my shirt up to grab my stomach and wiggle it at her, demonstrating the difference. I waited to see if she was with me. She seemed to be, so I went on. "So when you say you're fat, what the hell does that say about me?"

Her brother, who was on the other side of her cheered me on. I suspect he had tried to talk her into better self-esteem more than I had. She looked horrified. "No! That isn't what I--but you're gorgeous!" she gushed.

"Damn straight," I said without missing a beat, "we just went over this. Motherfucking babe--and you are, too. Besides," I flopped off of the armrest and onto her, "even if you weren't, you're awesome people and your inner beauty would shine through," I flashed a brat grin and she laughed again, but for once I felt like maybe my words had made a little impact.

It is common for women to all get together and bitch about our bodies. Then everyone is supposed to reassure each other that no no, you're beautiful, shut up! This is a normal bonding activity for women. For all I know it may be for men, too, but I've yet to encounter it, so guys feel free to chime in in the comments on that. If I thought it was a matter of sometimes having to remind and reassure people that they're awesome I wouldn't take issue, but I don't think it is.

We encourage ourselves and each other to dwell on what we look like, and not only that, but the parts we like the least. When you spend so much time dwelling on the bad things, they become bigger, and when other people chime in and say "YOU'RE AWESOME!" you've spent so much time dwelling on your big nose and crooked teeth that you're convinced that is all people see when they look at you. That "YOU'RE AWESOME!"? It just sounds like pity. They can't really mean that, who thinks someone who has a big nose and crooked teeth is awesome? And if you try to game the system by skipping over the physical compliments and go straight to "but you're smart and funny!"? That's even worse; that's like saying "You are so ugly I can't think of anything nice to say about your looks", even if what you mean is "I think you are so much more than your looks." Hell, I think that about everyone, and I sometimes want to grab them by the shoulders, shake, and scream that, but that almost never goes over well.

It is yet another situation where no matter what you do, you lose. You play along and you contribute to a society that tries to (and sometimes succeeds) in reducing a woman to her appearance, and holding her to impossible ideals of beauty. If you don't, you run the risk of alienating and hurting people you love.  So, I will make a modest suggestion. When you find yourself about to start bitching about your body, stop and pick something you like about it instead. Yes, I am suggesting that when you want to complain about your weird teeth and big nose, stop and think about how bitching your cleavage is--or whatever fits for you and your relationship with your body. When you catch your friends talking trash about their bodies? Say the negative self talk is really getting you down, and ask them to say something nice about their bodies (and have something ready to offer, as well) instead.

It may seem like such a silly thing, but it's such an insipid, toxic thing which we let run unchecked feeds into so many bigger, more serious ones. These are the seeds that we plant that blossom into eating disorders or self confidence, which would you rather foster?

You can find more Erika on twitter @SnappyErika


  1. As a guy -- I'm pushing 60, weigh 270, and look surprisingly like Harcourt(Harry) Mudd from the original Star Trek. I find that guys, as a rule, can look just like me, look in the mirror, maybe suck it in a little, and think "Looking pretty good, looking pretty good."

    Remember -- though they're trying to change this, there are no billion dollar industries (beauty, fashion, diet) trying to make us hate ourselves so they can sell us stuff; and there is no patriarchy trying to control our lives by turning the anger which should be focused out inward, toward ourselves. Men, money, and power are all conspiring to steal women's lives and vitality and eat all of it themselves.

    That is, everything you said.

  2. I can't help thinking of that scene in "Mean Girls" where the Plastics were doing their complainy mirror dance. This shit really grinds my gears, and the thing that bothers me most of all is how it's considered 'arrogant' or 'stuck-up' to be open about liking your body. I for one love my body. I always have. Even when puberty stretched me up into a stick-figure and then the next year my curves came in with a big BOOM, I was always comfortable in my own skin. My peers always seemed surprised by that. What can I say? I'm a motherfucking babe!

  3. When you catch your friends talking trash about their bodies? Say the
    negative self talk is really getting you down, and ask them to say
    something nice about their bodies (and have something ready to offer, as
    well) instead.

    And it's true. I am rarely surrounded by such conversations*, but it always makes me very uncomfortable when it happens. Mostly because I'm worried it's contagious. I think I look plain in a vaguely pleasant manner, and that's exactly the way I like it. (Sexiness is not my thing.) It's pretty comfy to live in most of the time, too. I don't want to lose my comfortableness.

    I'll try to speak up next time I hear the complaining. (I'm sure there'll be a next time sooner or later, unfortunately.)

    *On the occasions when my friends do complain about their bodies, it's usually health issues rather than appearance.

  4. Thank you! Thank you thank you thank you.

    I've been struggling with this exact thing, because I'm deeply perturbed by the expected negative self-talk game ('Oh, I'm so fat!' followed by the expectant stare, waiting for you to reassure or complain about yourself) but have had absolutely no idea what to do about it. Any form of arguing with the person is taken as the expected fished-for compliments, thus participating in the game. Agreement is really shitty to do to your friends. AUGH. Which you pointed out, with the whole lose-lose thing.

    Any more I've just been silent and uncomfortable and changed the subject and then felt crummy all day.

    Although I've never met you, Erika, I'm positive that you are indeed a motherfucking babe. As am I.

  5. Whenever I see discussion about weight I swear to god it's times like this when I wish I had a magic wand and could wave it so everyone could look and be exactly as they wish themselves to be.

    (Not as old as you by far, but I know that feel about the weight level)

  6. alice in wonderlandJanuary 14, 2014 at 3:53 PM

    damn girl, you are so right

  7. As a fat girl myself, when one of my skinny friends infuriatingly says to me that they're "a whale" or "ohmygawd so fat" my response is usually to look at them while stroking my chin and saying "Yeesh, yeah - you could probably stand to lose a few." Not because I want to give them a complex, but because I think it's extremely rude and insensitive to say that to someone who is bigger than you. I am a plus sized diva, and I am extremely comfortable with who I am and what I look like. I still think that it is in poor taste and akin to body shaming when they say those things to me specifically.

    Perhaps it's the fact that I live in Los Angeles, where most attractive people enjoy shaming fat people (especially when I'm at the gym, why you would fat shame someone who is actively trying to do something about it is beyond me) but it always comes across as snarking on my weight.

    I was once sitting down to dinner with my boyfriend and a "friend" called me. She asked what I was doing and I told her "Well, we are having dinner." She asks, "What are you having?" To which I respond, "We are having burgers from In-N-Out." She then says, "Ugh I'm so fat, I need to go to the gym." I told her that was probably the case, she should probably go NOW and then said that I had to go and got off the phone. She is known to throw major shade at everyone, which is partly why I really have nothing to do with her now.

    I have thin friends who have the self awareness enough to not say things that could potentially offend someone who is nearby. Those are generally the people I keep around. Everyone else can go fuck themselves.