This post reminds of a conversation I had back in college. I was in New Orleans, with a group a group of college kids. We split up into groups based on what we wanted to do, and somehow I ended up going out to dinner with this girl who I barely knew. I ordered something greasy. She ordered a salad, and proceded to tell me how much trouble she had losing weight. Now, this young woman was no more fat than the women pictured above, but I didn’t seem to be able to convince her of this. As the conversation progressed, it became clear that when she looked in the mirror, she saw a fat person, and nothing I could say to her would convince her that she was not fat. (Apperently, her whole family teased her for being the “piggy” one in the family.)
So I guess I have two questions:
(1) Is there anything us guys can do to help women adopt a more realistic body image?
(2) Am I the only one who thinks some of these women would look better if they gained another 15-20 lbs? (Yeah, I like ‘em on the plump side, and no, I’m not suggesting that any woman should intentionally gain weight just to be more attractive to the opposite sex.)
Yes and no. It is no more possible to solve someone else’s body-image issues than it is to take care of their other problems for them. There are, however, some things you can do to help. These are the things that helped me:
Model comfortable eating. Cook for them. Invite them over for dinner. Take them out to dinner. Make them pancakes or waffles for breakfast. Stop for snacks. Carry snacks. Go to farmer’s markets and festivals. Start potlucks or movie marathons or bakeoffs. Engage in activities which build appetite, like hiking or long walks on the beach. Make eating routine. Make cooking artful. Connect it to good company and conversation. Create safe space for food.
On the other hand, Calm down. Do not press food on your friends. Do not make your friends feel guilty for refusing food. Do not override their decisions about what, when, and how much they will eat. Do not scrutinze their portions or their leftovers. Do not harangue them about starving themselves, or make passive-aggressive comments about how they eat like birds. Normal women are humiliated by this treatment; women with full-blown eating disorders live for it.
Do not overcompensate for your friends’ self-hatred. The problem is obsession, not merely negative obsession. Your friends should not be overly focused on their bodies. Resist the temptation to go off on a tear about how your friends are the epitome of physical beauty. A simple, “Don’t be ridiculous. You look lovely,” works just fine.
On the other hand, Do not allow your friends to tear themselves down in your presence. When a woman you know and love gets started on her pudgy thighs or sloppy arms or spreading ass, tell her that she looks fine and firmly change the subject. Don’t get mean, or insult your her intelligence, but feel free to be as obvious as you please about your distaste for the nasty things she says about herself. “Look! A wiener dog with two heads! Darn, you missed it. What were you saying, again?”
Shut the fuck up about your own body issues. I can’t emphasize this enough. Do not complain about how you’re a big lardbutt. Do not complain about how you’re a wee twig. Do not express envy for your friend’s voluptuous figure. Do not express envy for her svelte lines. Do not express envy for her ability to stick to a diet. Do not express envy for her willingness to eat fat, starch, and sugar. Do not crash diet in her presence. Do not berate yourself for eating. Do not say anything about any female celebrity or strange woman on the street that you would not say about your friend’s body to her face. Model healthy self-esteem, too.
If you think that a woman you know has a full-blown eating disorder…there’s probably not much you can do to heal it. It’s a good idea to make it clear that you notice the problem as a problem. It is not a good idea to obsess about how emaciated she is–that’s exactly what she wants to hear–but you can tell her that she seems unhealthy and unhappy and that you’re worried about her. Tell her that you’re there for her, and that you want her to be well. Do not pretend with her that her behavior is normal. However, do not become her warden. All of the above advice still applies. Do not force her to eat. Do not throw tantrums when she refuses to eat. Do not tell her she is killing herself when she struggles with every calorie. Do not punish her by withdrawing from her at a time when she cannot be left alone with herself. Support the good decisions she makes, and remember that recovery is a process that takes years.
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