The body positive lifestyle is lovely, exhilarating and freeing; but nobody said it was easy! It can be tiresome to swim against the current and a total mindset rewiring does not happen overnight. Sometimes we slip! We accidentally say something that is outside our positive values or we think something so negative that our palm immediately slaps our forehead in frustration. One step forward and two steps back. It is this struggle to expel body-shaming habits from our everyday life that inspired me to compile this list of the 9 most common phrases that are killing your body positive vibe. Then I took the liberty of rewriting them. Let’s see if we can beat these bad habits out of our lives in the Otis Redding style: “Try a Little Tenderness!”
- I CAN’T EAT THAT.
I REALLY SHOULDN’T EAT THAT.
Actually you can! Nothing is stopping you! You are a human being. You could eat the computer sitting in front of you right now, but admittedly that may not be the best idea! For some reason you think that the food item in question may not be the best idea either, but let’s cut to the real reason why. I call this avoidance tactic “the shame shield.” You are shielding yourself and the real reason you don’t want to eat something behind a wall of implied shame. Shame for you, and shame for whoever brought up eating it in the first place!
Try this instead…Just be honest and tell truth.
You have your reasons which I hope are imbedded in body love, but implying that the decision is shamefully out of your hands relieves you of the vulnerability of owning up to the fact that you just don’t want to eat it. Let them know the real reason. Say “I am trying to cut back on dairy.” or “I just went on vacation and ate junk for 4 days straight.” or just tell them you are not hungry and that is the end of it. I guarantee that if you try it this way they won’t roll their eyes or peer pressure you anymore. Trust me, nothing tastes very good when it goes down with a side of shame.
- I’M GOING TO THE GYM LATER, I PROMISE!
I will be the first to admit that I am completely guilty of this one. This thought runs through my head daily; sometimes I even say it out loud! I feel guilty or lethargic so I vow to go to the gym ASAP. It wasn’t until I sat down to write this that I realized this mentality links the gym to the need to repent or atone. Several body positive ladies who are “thin” by societal standards agreed that they are victims to this mindset, too! When they express that they are going to the gym others scoff and say “Why? You are soooo skinny.” Since when did the gym become the equivalent of the “time out” corner, a punishment where adults go to work off their indiscretions?
Try this instead… I deserve to feel good all the time.
This is a much more direct and shame-free way of communicating that you aren’t feeling the best but you know you can do something about it. This is a personal mantra that I have fallen in love with because it really works for me. The gym is about health and fitness. If you treat it like a punishment, how will this will affect your attendance record? Health and fitness doesn’t have to be about a #bikinibody. It can be about cardiovascular health, muscle growth or getting some endorphins going! Many gyms are jumping on the body positive wave with new mottos like “Do it for the mood, not the mirror.” This way anyone who wants to, no matter their body type, can go to the gym without the weight loss stigma.
- I’M ONLY EATING THIS BECAUSE I HAVEN’T EATEN ALL DAY.
I imagine we hear this being said most often while polishing off a carton of Ben and Jerry’s, or indulging in another form of “shameful” eating activity. You know this looks “bad” and you don’t want to incur the downpour of social judgment, so you clarify by letting us know that it is “okay” for you to indulge in this behavior (that you have deemed unhealthy) because you have not fed yourself all day (a behavior that most people would deem as unhealthy). You see where I am going with this? This kind of thinking turns into a social mentality that directly links a desire for indulgence with the necessity to starve yourself. Can someone do the math and let me know how many meals I’ll have to skip if I want to be able to eat cake at my wedding?
Try this instead…I’m going to enjoy this indulgent experience and then call it quits for a while.
If you are going to indulge, you might as well enjoy the experience. At least this way you have the opportunity to feel complete when it is over. If you feel the need to vocalize something like this, you are admitting that you feel shame about what you are doing. Why? Everyone needs a double fudge sundae every once and a while. If you find yourself indulging on a regular basis or more than you would like, that is a problem and you are clearly unfulfilled by the experience. You are not getting what you need out of it. Maybe what you actually need is a hug, or a new project to work on or a day at the spa. I wonder if it would produce a healthier result if you tried something different, or allowed yourself to really indulge just once without shame.
- I AM TOTALLY FAT ON THE INSIDE!
I AM SECRETLY FAT BECAUSE I LOVE FOOD!
I HAVE FAT GIRL PROBLEMS!
This is going to be very short and sweet. My lovely new friends – don’t say this. You might scoff at this being included on my list but I was absolutely aghast to hear how many people had experienced these comments firsthand or overheard comments like this on a regular basis. I can see that this may be a misunderstood attempt to reach out or relate to someone. This may be a way of expressing shame or even guilt because you do not suffer from obesity as others do. I ask you to consider the fact that what you are actually doing when you say that you have “fat girl problems” is relating your own lack of self-control, love of gorging and decidedly poor health choices to a bunch of innocent, overweight young women. These women have nothing to do with you or your shame spiral, so why are you sucking them in?
Try this instead…Empathy for another person’s experience and the empowerment of knowing that when you speak, people are listening.
Many people don’t realize that through seemingly harmless jokes or throw away comments they are often perpetuating body shame. Think back to a time when someone made you feel negative about your body. I guarantee it wasn’t because they were consciously trying to ruin your day. Their words unintentionally had the power to affect your image of yourself. Your words have that same power. There are a lot of really funny ways to communicate that you have a big appetite or a tendency to go in hard on some nachos. You could say something like “Oh I’ll eat anything, I’m basically a garbage disposal.” I don’t think you’ll hurt the kitchen sink’s feelings.
- DOES THIS MAKE ME LOOK FAT?
This one is actually me calling myself out. I say this all the time! Every time it escapes my lips it is followed with a series of expletives because I am really trying to quit this terrible habit. What is the logic behind asking someone to confirm that you look the way you “DON’T” want to look? Leading with an insecurity and then asking someone’s opinion makes you feel an immense amount of shame right off the bat and makes the other person feel incredibly uncomfortable! No matter what response they give you, you still leave feeling insecure about how you look because you brought it up in the first place!
Try this instead…Do these pants do me justice?
Does this dress make me look smooth?
Do you think this top accentuates my waist?
Lead with the way you “WANT” to look. This gives the other person the opportunity to give you a genuine compliment AND honestly help you find the best outfit. If they say “Actually that dress doesn’t do you justice.” you can leave feeling confident in knowing that there is nothing wrong with you. That dress did not serve you and you move on in search of one that will. Notice the part where you feel like crap is missing?
- BUT YOU HAVE SUCH A PRETTY FACE!
Thanks…I think? This gem goes in the category of the backhanded compliment – a social device that too many of us have become familiar with. I am from the South, where phrases like this come with heaps and barrels of implied shame. In my life this happens when I talk about being plus sized, and someone stops me and says “Stop, that’s not true! You are beautiful!” To which I typically reply “Thank you” but want to scream “THOSE TWO THINGS ARE NOT MUTUALLY EXCLUSIVE!” Beauty standards have ascended to the heights of “all or nothing” where the sum of our parts is carefully divided into desirable and undesirable. Someone might tell you: “You have a nice face, bust, and waistline, BUT your thighs are too big and your teeth are not straight and your nose is crooked.” It’s the feeling of lying down on the butcher block and having your body parts individually dissected into two categories so you will receive an accurate diagnosis. Are you beautiful or did you come up short?
Try this instead…You are beautiful. PERIOD.
Sage maternal advice: “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” I will add to this and say that “If you want to say something nice to someone, internally say it about yourself first.” How does it feel to hear “I’m not usually this attracted to _____ guys” or “You are really pretty for a _____ girl?” Can you hear that? It’s got an edge doesn’t it? If you think this “all or nothing” beauty standard deserves an early retirement, banish it from your life by saying what you want the other person to believe. You are beautiful. The end.
Also, if you find yourself the victim of a backhanded compliment like this, don’t just let it go! Take the time to kindly stand up for yourself and express what you believe. These can turn into great conversations and real transformation moments.
- YOU LOOK SO SKINNY!
I feel the need to point out that “skinny” started out as an insult that has somehow managed to climb the ranks of the verbal food chain. The origin of the word is “resembling skin” (circa 1400) and “lean, emaciated” (circa 1600). It then jumped up in popularity starting in the early 1900s and since the 1980s has been our cultural ideal. There are many incredible articles that talk about the rise of skinny culture, but I want to focus on the fact that we have an endless supply of other wonderful words to describe the human form. Why do we continue to cling to this word that often insults many who are naturally slender and alienates those of ANY OTHER body type? Words only have power because we give them that power. So let’s usurp Skinny’s throne and appoint a word that is more worthy of the job.
Try this instead…You look so _______________.
Beautiful. Shapely. Amazing. Incredible. Attractive. Radiant. Stunning. Marvelous. Striking. Trim. Fit. Healthy. Strong. Rock Solid. Rocking. Sexy. Gorgeous.
For those who become unwillingly caught up with the #bikinibody or #broadwaybody or Tinder body culture that circulates on social media, I would like to ask you a question: “Do you really believe that access to your dreams starts with having the perfect body?” Think about it.
- I COULD NEVER WEAR SOMETHING LIKE THAT.
This phrase is a body-shaming ambassador. Its poison stretches across different gender groups, age groups, you name it! From older women who are convinced that their right to fashion ended with their twenties, to grown men who are terrified that paisley or pastels are too feminine. There is nothing more heartbreaking than to watch someone’s face light up with joy in the dressing room and then slowly, methodically talk themselves into despair with their laundry list of flaws and criticisms. No one is immune to this because the first questions we ask ourselves in these situations is not “What do I think?” or “How do I feel?” We stare at ourselves in the mirror and think “What will people say?”
Try this instead if you don’t like it…This doesn’t reflect me as a person.
This doesn’t spark joy.
In her book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Marie Kondo says that no item belongs in your possession if it does not “spark joy.” This is the essential way to decide what you will keep and what your will de-clutter from your life. If you are wearing something that doesn’t spark joy, don’t use shame as an easy justification. If it doesn’t spark joy that’s enough of a reason.
Try this instead if you do like it…This is outside of my comfort zone but I like what I see.
Should you buy something that you may never wear? Of course not. If what you are wearing sparks joy and makes you feel closer to your true self, then I really hope you buy it! But regardless of whether you get it or not, don’t perpetuate the shame cycle. We are convinced that people are instinctively cruel to each other but that is only because we have become instinctually cruel ourselves. Most people are too preoccupied with themselves to even notice that you are mixing prints or wearing zebra strips. Those who do notice will likely do so because they like it.
- WHEN I’M THINNER…
People spend their entire lives waiting. Waiting for the day when they can finally do what they have always wanted to do. People often say: “When I lose ten pounds. When I build more muscle. When I get rid of this. When I am finally free of that. I’m not ready yet. I’ll look better then. I’ll finally be able to.” I have heard so many stories of people waiting to travel, get married, buy a new pair of jeans, take a class or ask someone out on a date. The list goes on and on and so do the days, months and years. Our lives have many seasons and so do our bodies. You may not be at your ideal target but you deserve the joy, experiences and comfort in this and every season of your life. I actually hit my target weight when I was a sophomore in high school and I didn’t even notice! I was too busy feeling self-conscious about my size. I look back at pictures of myself and think “Damn…I missed it! I was exactly who I wanted to be and I didn’t even enjoy myself.”
Try this instead…Don’t wait, do it NOW!
I say this not only because I’m a body positive writer who believes that you are worthy of love and happiness right now in your current body, but also because happy people have a much easier time achieving their goals! If you are really passionate about losing ten pounds for your health, what better way to get momentum then to buy a new pair of jeans that make you feel fabulous? YES, you will have to donate them to Goodwill when you lose the weight, but trust me, you won’t lose any sleep over that. Joy attracts joy and shame attracts shame. Don’t waste another precious moment of your life waiting for the “right time” to live the life that you have always imagined.
Nine down, about a thousand more to go! In one of my favorite books, author Don Miguel Ruiz writes that one of the “Four Agreements” or pillars of life is to be “impeccable with your word.” This speaks to the power of knowing that you are what you see in the eyes of others and in the eyes of your true self. I extend the invitation to all of you! Don’t accept the negativity that you overhear and then automatically replay on repeat in your mind. If you don’t believe it, rewrite it. Change the way that you speak about your body one “innocent” phrase at a time.