Is it weird to be fat?
What you can & should say instead of "You're not fat at all"
There are approximately 850,000 studies and scientific papers on the subject of body awareness. They are “Bullying and the long-term effects on body image” or “Does knowledge hurt? Self-recognized overweight determines future health and well-being ”or“ The connection between a negative body image and depression, anxiety disorders and Suzid thoughts ”.
The basic ideas are always the same:
A) Body awareness has a profound and long-lasting impact on our physical, mental and emotional health.
B) Our body awareness is strongly influenced by comments and reactions we receive from friends and family.
And C) No matter what these comments are, they never seem to make us feel better about ourselves.
In one study, the parents and grandparents of preschool children were asked how they were made aware of their own body weight when they were children. This is my favorite sentence in the work (if not all studies): "None of the participants described the emergence of the topic of body weight in positive terms".
Oh, you beautiful science, you're weird to scream.
But seriously: I'm glad that so many academics and researchers are doing research in this area. (I should add that most of the studies focus specifically on body image in relation to weight, and many focus on women, but I'll open this Pandora's box on a different day.)
A negative self-image is an individual experience that has systemic consequences - in other words: it affects us all equally. In theory, there should be a pretty straightforward solution to this, right? In any case, easier than let's say ... melting polar ice caps. (By the way: Can you imagine what our society would be like if no one wasted their time on self-hatred? What would we do with all the extra time? Maybe devote ourselves to the melting polar ice caps?)
What amazes me most is that all of these myriad studies seem to dance around the solution. The answer is right under our noses and yet we ask the same question over and over - in different ways. And not only in the academic field, but also in everyday life. We catch our children examining their reflection in the mirror before they go to school. How your gaze falls on the legs and the little bellies. We look at photos with friends and see how they get wet eyes. Our answer to “I'm so fat” comes like a shot: “You're not fat. You're beautiful".
What should we say? What can we do?
My sister has lost a lot of weight lately and is very happy and proud of herself about it. How can I celebrate her new body with her without implying that she wasn't beautiful before? One day I received a letter from a reader. Or an opposite example: My boyfriend gained five pounds this year and he's always messing himself up - calling himself fat and wobbly. How can I convince him that he isn't?
Ordinarily I would point out now that issues like weight and self-acceptance are so complex that there isn't one single right answer that will fit everyone - or if there is one, I don't know about it. But in this particular case there is one. And I know her. How do you celebrate your sister's new thin figure? Not at all. How do you tell your boyfriend that he is not fat? Not at all. How do you talk to your children about their weight in a positive way? Well, I don't have any kids, so I'm not going to give parenting advice either. But good luck with that!
When we talk about the subject of body and figure, there is none one right way. So best just leave it. Faux pas are waiting for you everywhere. You never know if the person you're talking to was bullied in childhood. Or whether she has or has an eating disorder. Or whether, like most of us, it has simply been influenced for too long by ideals spread across the media. Also, the message you are sending out with the wrong answer is terrible. You can't compliment someone about their new slim figure without implying that something was wrong with the old, fat figure. You cannot reassure someone with "You are not fat, you are beautiful" without saying at the same time, "Fat is not beautiful". So again: just leave it.
But what do I say to my sister now? Do I just stare at her and say nothing when she tells me to high five? Of course not, I think and roll my eyes. Just because you don't explicitly comment on the body doesn't mean you won't comment at all. The solution: Respond to the feeling, not the figure.
That's all. That's the complete answer.
You say to your sister: “It's so good to see you so happy!” And you treat your friend with compassion: “I know how difficult it can be when your figure changes. I'm sorry for you that you don't feel comfortable in your body. I love you". As you can probably guess, the last sentence is essential - in every scenario. Make sure you let the other person know that you love him or her now, have loved before and will continue to love in the future. Even if his or her body changes.
It's easier to comfort someone who is sad. Celebrating someone is just as important, however. Don't spoil your sister's mood by telling her that, from a purely statistical point of view, the results of deliberate weight loss may not last forever. But keep that thought in mind as you regularly show her that your love for her is unconditional. Should she one day gain a few pounds again - or change her appearance in some other way - she will know, deep down, that you are a person to go to. A person they can trust.
Will your reaction confuse your sister? Yup, pretty likely. If you get close, she may even be offended because you haven't complimented her on her weight: "Don't you think I look great?" Should you get to this point, just be honest. Tell her that you are trying something new and that you are trying to stop commenting on the character of people. That is a perfectly plausible answer and the truth. Even if she's still upset, she'll at least understand why you're doing this. Remind her again that you love her - it's hard to be mad at someone who just said, "I love you" to you.
In the beginning, this new behavior is probably strange for you. For example, I recently wrote to a friend who moved to another city for a job. When I asked her how things are going, she replied, “Fantastic! I've been promoted, I'll buy a dog in two weeks AND I've started this new diet and I've already lost seven kilos !!! ”. At first the situation was pretty uncomfortable for me. She is my friend and she knows that I have been writing articles on an "anti-diet project" for four years. That being said, I think it's weird that she put weight loss in one sentence with a promotion (and a dog!). I would weight things differently and therefore not list them at the same time, but good. (Although of course I was curious which dog she wanted to get). But then I realized it wasn't about me. you was the one who used capital letters to tell of their weight loss and not for transportation or the pet. As bizarre as I found it, it would have been even stranger if I'd just ignored parts of your message and only responded to what I consider important. So I thought about it for a moment and decided to virtually raise my hand for a high five - after all, she was super excited and happy. So I wrote, “Wow! There's so much going on with you - that's great! I'm SO happy that everything is going so well over there with you. I miss you!!!". And then I sent her about 12 more emojis.
It took a few minutes, but then she responded with at least as many emojis as I did. As I know her, it must have taken her the time in between to wonder why I didn't congratulate her on her weight loss. After all, in our society it should be like this: If you notice that someone has lost weight, should you say something like "You look great, by the way!" should we shut up. And that polite silence speaks volumes. Ultimately, however, my friend understood what I wanted to say with my message: I am happy for her. I am happy that she is happy. But I miss YOU, not her slightly narrower body.
Body talk is a difficult subject - and it is even more difficult not to fall back into old habits. It's a bit like driving a car: once you've learned to drive a car, it is difficult to drive with the clutch at the beginning. But that doesn't mean you should just give up and go back to what you used to do. If we all learn to appreciate, respect and appreciate things other than our bodies, then we would live in a society in which people no longer only pay attention to external appearances. We could save our comments, compliments, time, energy, and emojis for what really matters.
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