Dearest fellow travelers, let’s talk bodies and how we talk about them. Just a bit! The subject of one’s weight and beauty is fraught with social pressures, personal histories, and private traumas. I’ve talked a little about how my own fatness affects my ability to travel, and I will probably post some more about that in the future. But for today, I wanted to share my new favorite way of stopping damaging body-shaming talk in its tracks. You can use this on yourself, your friends and lovers, even casual acquaintances. Ready for this amazing secret??
Generally, we all feel some sort of weird in our own bodies. Maybe we think we’re too fat, too skinny, too dark, too light, too too too something–we’re always some measure off of an impossible beauty standard so deeply ingrained that we almost think it’s natural. I have a lot of thoughts about that, and a lot of websites to direct you to, but despite appearances to the contrary, I don’t like to spend all my time pontificating. I have a set amount of pontificable time. The rest is spent reading Kate Atkinson novels and imagining myself into Cary Grant movies.
But just because I’m not pontificating doesn’t mean I think it’s okay for us to go around hating on our own bodies (or those of others, but that’s a whole other conversation). How do I shut down body shaming without making the person feel yelled at, or shamed, or condescended to? How can we take a moment of body shaming and turn it into a gentle reminder to love your body, without preaching? The answer: humor! (AS ALWAYS.)
My friend told me about a roommate she had who turned her world around on this one. My friend is usually comfortable with herself, but she has her bad days, as we all do. Whenever she’d get down on herself about her thighs or her hair or her skin or whatever, her roommate would look at her lasciviously and say, “Are you flirting with me right now?” in a super exaggerated way. She’d even flutter her eyelashes a little and pucker up her lips. Every single time, my friend would laugh and carry on with her day.
It’s perfect! It’s absurd and non-confrontational, while also gently pointing up the absurdity of endlessly stressing over perceived body flaws. It doesn’t offer any of the usual reassurances — “no, that doesn’t make your butt look big,” “just eat yogurt for the next week and you’ll feel so much better,” “I have a new moisturizer you should try, it only cost $3,000″ — but it is reassuring nonetheless. It reassures the stressed friend that what they see as a major flaw or even minor annoyance is actually nothing at all, a triviality, a reason to relax and have a laugh. It’s like saying, “I wasn’t focusing on your body but if we’re going to, let’s enjoy it!” It takes a moment of anguish and turns it into a moment of connection and fun.
So the next time you’re despairing your love handles, or your friend is bemoaning her chest size, make a funny face and a dramatic gesture and say, “Are you flirting with me right now?” I bet you laugh and move on with your life, in that beautiful body of yours.