This body is not taking comments.
Happy Tuesday! As you may (or may not) know, 9 years ago I started my coaching career in the health field, helping women and men reconnect with their food and their bodies.
Over the last handful of years I’ve expanded this concept of “reconnection” out beyond just food and body to include writings on romantic and family interactions, career, spirituality, and the imperative cultivation of compassion for ourselves, our loved ones and the world.
And what I’ve realized recently is it’s time to talk about bodies again.
A few weeks ago my wonderful mother came to visit to check in on me and my growing belly. We had a great time as we indulged in our 3 favorite things; food shopping, cooking and going on epic walks.
One morning while walking, my mother and I came to steep part in the road that narrowed down to one lane. As I eased my way in front of her, she said, “Jamie, you’re just so cute and petite from behind. You don’t even look pregnant!” Her words stopped me in my tracks. This wasn’t the first time I’d heard, in a congratulatory tone, that I barely looked pregnant but it was the first time I really let the words in.
For many women my mother’s words may have felt like a compliment but for me, as someone who’s spent the last 10 years healing herself and others from a belief that as women we are only as good as the flatness of our abs, only as lovable as the perkiness of our breasts, only as desirable as the “fit”, “tight”, “petite” frames we kill ourselves to get, my mother’s words sounded terrible in my ears.
In fact, they went directly against the hard-earned mindset I’ve had while pregnant to embrace my body, new curves, softness, stretch marks and all as a gorgeous reflection of the life I’m creating.
I know my mother didn’t mean any harm. Neither did the other people who have recently remarked on my body. But what happens when we comment on a woman’s physical frame, whether positively or negatively, is we perpetuate the belief that it is OK to scrutinize, pick apart, comment on, compare and judge the female form.
Which it’s not, ever. (Though it makes sense why we think it’s OK as every time we stand in line at the market we’re inundated with magazines featuring half-naked women. Seriously, just this morning, 50% of the magazines I saw showed women with no pants on. WTF???)
What also happens, whether consciously or unconsciously, when we comment on a woman’s body is we both reduce her worth to simply her looks AND project the internalized beliefs and probable shame we have about our own bodies onto her and out into the world.
When we praise a woman for being “small" we both offer our twisted belief that smaller is better and then shower ourselves with self judgment for not being small, or at least, not “small enough”. This example also works if we were to praise a woman for her being “tall” or “large”, believing that larger is better and then judging ourselves and others for not being “large enough”.
The point is not to stop praising smallness and start admiring largeness, the point is to stop believing the female body is supposed to look and be any particular way at all.
So as my mother’s words sunk in I realized I had 3 choices.
- I could either hold tight to her words as truth, grip my “petite” frame with all my might and track everything I ate in an attempt to maintain my smallness.
- I could say nothing and harbor resentment for her insensitivity.
- Or I could say something with love and compassion, knowing that she meant no harm, that she said it out of love and a lack of awareness of her own internalized judgment towards the female body.
Thankfully, for my own long-term sanity, I went with number 3.
“Mom,” I said. “I know you didn’t meant any harm. And when you comment on my body, even positively, it doesn’t feel good. It feels like if I don’t stay small you won’t love me anymore, or worse, I won’t be able to love myself. And I’m working really hard to love my body throughout and beyond this pregnancy. So in the future, I’d really appreciate it if you’d not comment on my figure.”
Those words were hard to say and I know hard for her to hear. When we begin to shift our relationship with our bodies, how we speak to them and how they’re spoken about, it’s very uncomfortable. It takes courage to examine the poisoning we’ve experienced at the hands of a culture (and often our families) that refuses to teach us how to honor and love our bodies. And it takes double courage to stand up for those bodies, to use our voice and say, “Please don’t comment on my body. She’s not a topic for discussion.” And yet it’s when we find that courage to reconnect with our incredible bodies that allow us to experience life, that we begin to heal and commit to opposing the objectification of ourselves and other women, in any way, whether by our own hands or by the hands of society at large.
Our biggest opportunity is to learn how to accept the female body, in her myriad of forms, so as not to continually offer body shame as part of the next generation’s inheritance.
This is a huge topic and it can feel overwhelming as we dig into how we may unknowingly judge women's bodies as a reflection of our own negative body beliefs. So let's start with something easy together, shall we?
The next time we feel called to comment on a woman’s body, even if positively, let’s promise each other that we just won’t. Let's promise that we won’t propagate the misconception that the female body is open for comment and public opinion. Let’s promise to practice awareness around our judgments and see where they stem from and how they just might be fears and judgments we harbor against ourselves.
And for those of us who are pregnant or have pregnant friends, let’s all promise to focus on the miraculous fact that a magical life is being made rather than how the mother looks while she’s making it.
All my love,
P.S. If you find yourself comparing or judging your body against others’, let’s talk. I have a few 1:1 clarity sessions open and during our hour together we’ll dig into how you feel about your body, how you navigate those feelings around other women, how this impacts the connection you seek, and how you can begin to find peace in your body along with the courage to stand up for her. Simply email me and we’ll get you on the calendar.