Read this first. Notice how I am being told to shut up. Notice how in the comments I am encouraged to blog anyway. So I am.
Disclaimer: It is possible to read this as a critique of the post I just linked to, or as criticism of the writer Sjokoladepiken for even posting that post. This is not my intention at all. This is a general comment about something that has been on my mind off and on for years.
And then, perfectly in tune with my own blogging schedule, Dollymix links to an article by Jane Shilling about women and food. She admits that she has never dieted and writes: “I’ve been feeling awfully lonely lately, and I thought it might help to set up a support group for British women who have a normal relationship with food. There must be a couple of you out there.”
Being a girl with a lot of friends who are girls, I have had hundreds of conversations about food and dieting, not to mention thousands of conversations about disliking one’s thighs and knees and feet and seriously, there is not a body part out there that no one has issues about. I usually don’t contribute much to these conversations. Firstly, while I do have some issues, I have a lot of other things on my mind, and I find many of these things more interesting than my own legs. Secondly, if there is something about my appearance that I’m really uncomfortable with for whatever reason, I don’t want to draw attention to it by constantly pointing it out to everyone. Thirdly, if I think through all the different aspects of my appearance, I really think that I’m happy about more things than I am unhappy about.
This means I can sometimes come off as insensitive, dull, stuck-up and maybe in denial about my own looks. Friends will tell me they feel fat, and when I don’t manage to repeat the expected phrase (“Me too”? “No, you are SO skinny”? What’s my line again?) they think I’m weird (or they tell me to shut up). So here’s what I really want to say in these situations: If you are a close friend of mine, and this is really important to you, listening and sympathising is in my job description as “friend”. But if you are someone I don’t know that well, my reaction will probably not make you feel better.
Because this isn’t subject matter that I want to discuss with every girl I talk to. I don’t believe that this is or should be a topic of conversation that unites all girls. Notice how Sjokoladepiken tagged her post commenting on The Calorie Quiz under “girliness”. This isn’t a reflection on her personally, or even specifically, because many people think like this. I just find it interesting that counting calories falls into the same category as peep-toe stilettos, lacy pink bras and bright red lipstick. It all fits into “stuff you might find in Cosmo”, but why? Shilling writes: “(B)ecause body image is implicated with fashion, media and other commercial interests, including the vastly lucrative diet-and-treatment industry, the “madness” continues to be treated as an idiosyncratic indulgence, like a taste for couture frocks or expensive facials.”
While I’m not going to go into the whole “Women’s Interests” debate, I will say: Lipstick, lingerie and shoes are fun, light-hearted conversation topics, which I am comfortable discussing with any girl who wants to (and any guy who feels offended that I just wrote “girl” and not “person”). Dieting and self-esteem issues are serious topics that for some people cause a lot of emotional distress. Counting calories is not a harmless hobby. Feeling ugly on a regular basis is not a good thing. Liking your own body, not because it’s perfect, but because it’s your own, is something all women should do. We should not be ashamed of this. We should not feel abnormal if we’re not dieting, considering plastic surgery or hating the way we look.
Studies show that women are more upset about the aspects of our appearance that we believe we can change ourselves (hair, skin and of course weight) than the things we believe to be completely out of our hands (height, shoe size). It appears that the guilty feeling of not having done a good job is worse than the actual “feeling ugly” part. So a natural first step to happiness is to accept that, without surgery, there is a lot about appearance that you can’t do a thing about. It’s not your fault, so stop feeling bad, and there is no advice that will help, so stop asking. Second step is to get it through your head that your issues are in your head. That I like the way I look has to do with my attitude, not my dress size. I know this because while my dress size hasn’t changed in years, the way I feel when I look in the mirror changes depending on my mood. Third step is to stick to normal, healthy habits. No diets, no resolutions you’ll break within a week. Shilling’s miracle diet regime, the one that has kept her in the same size from her late teens to her late forties, is this:
"Step 1. Eat three proper meals a day, made from fresh ingredients. Eat nothing else in between. You are not hungry. You are bored. Go for a walk or have a glass of water. While you’re at it, think about people who are properly hungry and feel ashamed. 2. At mealtimes, stop eating when you are full. We’re not on the ration now, it is fine not to finish your plateful. 3. Walk briskly around the park in your lunch hour (or walk to work, or walk the dog after work, or whatever). Take the family with you and save the money the gym would have cost you to go out for supper and a movie. Er, that’s it. Now, please can I have my own telly series?”
Just as cupcate writes on Dollymix, we’re all different, and we should have (healthy) snacks if we’re hungry between meals. However, what Shilling is trying to say is that most of us don’t need diets or miracles or to know exactly how many calories we’re eating. We just need to establish some healthy habits and stick to them.
Let’s get into the habit of having healthy conversations.
The title of this post is a line Carrie says to Charlotte in "Sex and the City"