The harmful body image "compliment" we need to stop giving

I have yet to meet a woman who has never complained about her body. One friend will tell me she’s too skinny, another that her hair is too dry, and a third that her legs are too lumpy. Meanwhile, I’ll overhear similar things being thrown about between my mother and her friends; “Oh, I haven’t been to the gym in so long!” and “I really must get rid of all this weight! I’m just so wobbly!” I myself have done it countless times, regardless of whether it was my “huge bum” or my “thunder thighs” that bothered me.

Women complaining about their bodies to their female friends has become ridiculously common practice and discussing how they are all fighting together to banish unwanted body evils instills in friend groups a sense of camaraderie.

In the past, these conversations would unravel like they did in Mean Girls: I would moan that my bum is too big, to which my friend would reply with something she hates about herself, and so on around the group of girls present until we all felt better about ourselves because everyone is in misery. These discussions were nauseatingly toxic–yet as of late, I have seen a shift in the script into something even worse.

In the last year especially, when I have mentioned a part of my body I didn’t feel comfortable with and why that was the case, my friends would look at me with consolation and say, “But that’s the way guys like it.” At first, I didn’t know what to reply. So I didn’t. I went home and I thought about it, and I quickly realized that saying what I consider to be a flaw is fine because boys like it could potentially be even worse than us collectively lowering our self-esteem.

Regardless of my friends’ intentions, this sentence does nothing in terms of coming to love my own body. What it does instead is objectify me; it tells me that my value depends on whether a man will like what I look like. “But guys like it that way” is saying that I may not like it, but guys do and that’s what matters first and foremost. It’s telling me that as long as guys like it, I have something to be proud of, whereas the moment the appeal is lost, I can go back to wallowing in self-pity about the way I look in jeans. It’s stating that my body is just here to please a man and if it can’t do that, then it doesn’t deserve any respect or love.

This made me sad then, and it angers me now. One way or another, it needs to change. Collectively plummeting our confidence? Not cool. Saying it doesn’t matter what your friend feels as long as some dude will find it attractive? Not very nice, either. It would obviously be lovely to be in a place where no woman ever finds herself ashamed of or saddened by her body, but until then, I think we should all keep sharing these insecurities with those who love and support us.

And taking that a step further, if you are the one listening, praise whatever your friend is shaming. If she says she is too muscular, remind her how strong she is and the amazing things her body can do. If she tells you her bum is too big, gush about how much you envy the way she looks in jeans. Camaraderie? Definitely. Self confidence based on nothing but her own gorgeous self? Absolutely.

Mia Micozzi is an English literature student at King’s College London. She enjoys wearing head-to-toe black and Wes Anderson films and can often be found fangirling over plays and theatre productions. Follow her musings on Twitter @miamicozzi.

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