An issue that seems to be running rampant these days is food and body image shaming among women, in the guise of backhanded compliments, self-deprecating remarks and passing observations. It’s happening at work, it’s happening at happy hour, it’s happening at family dinners. Perfect strangers are doing it to each other. A friend who works as a receptionist told me the other day that she was eating a carrot at her desk when a candidate waiting for an interview idly remarked, “you’re lucky you can eat like that and look like you do.” This woman was interviewing to be her new boss. Food and body commentary is a form of women-on-women violence and it needs to stop. Immediately.
Here’s what I’ve experienced: I’m at work slicing up an apple in the kitchen. A colleague walks by and sighs, “you’re always eating SO HEALTHY.” Or I’m at a party endlessly grazing at the dessert table and a friend says, “none of us understand how you stay so skinny with all the sweets you eat.” Or I wear a short skirt to work and a manager remarks, “well, I guess you’re pulling that look off because you’re so tiny.” Taken on the surface, none of these comments are particularly cutting or cruel. However, in our culture, body image rules the feminine world and we all know having the “right” body matters more than almost anything else. It may even be ranked above beauty and wealth. Any commentary is deeply rooted in this terrible dysfunction.
As a gender, we’re still buying into the lie that an ideal body type exists, and we’re supporting the media and fashion outlets that create and perpetuate this extraordinarily damaging myth. We’re constantly comparing our bodies to other women’s shapes and sizes, and if we’re honest, finding ourselves lacking. When women comment on what other women are eating, or another woman’s shape, it’s a thinly-veiled measurement. It’s competitive. It fragments our gender and causes resentment about things over which we have limited control. I believe it’s another issue that keeps us from succeeding the way we might want—the endless, dissatisfied mirror-gazing and measuring ourselves against others obscuring real, external issues.
We have to recognize that we’re doing it to each other. Yet we are conditioned to say such things (and accept them) because it’s OK to rag on what we perceive as desirable and positive. It’s ironic! It’s funny! I didn’t mean anything by it, and besides, healthy, slim people don’t have problems. It’s a form of measuring, and that behavior needs to stop. We’ve all done it, in every direction, across every category.
I’m calling for an end to all commentary between women on other women’s body shapes and sizes and eating habits. I’m asking you not to comment when you see another woman eating. I’m asking you not to comment on another woman’s body, even if you think what you’re about to say is positive. I’m asking you to stop yourself before you judge another person’s food choices, or how you perceive their clothing to fit their body. I’m asking you for no comment, not on what you order, or what you ate, or what you perceive you can’t wear. Take it out of the conversation.
It starts with me. I resolve to examine myself in the mirror less, in an attempt to abandon the purpose of measuring myself against some unattainable form created by the culture. I resolve to look other women in the eyes, not up and down, to assess outfit, body type, shoes, hair and makeup, wondering if she did it better than me. And finally, when I see you in the kitchen, slicing up that apple, or peeling the wrapper off a cupcake, I’ll say hi, and ask you how your day is going. No comment necessary.