I’m not sure that there is a polite way to say this, but I don’t want to talk about my body with you. I understand that we’ve come to a point in our culture that talking about bodies is pervasive and almost expected but still, I have no interest in discussing my body with you. Not when I was a kid or a teen or when I was pregnant or even when I lost weight. There are just so many more interesting things about me.
A Lifetime of Awkward Conversations
When I was about 7, I remember someone commenting that I had thick thighs. I was a pretty average-sized kid, but my build was such that as a child and teen, I had muscular legs. Before that, I hadn’t thought much about my body. But I knew I didn’t like hearing anyone talk about my body that way.
When I was about 11, I remember an older man noticing out loud that I was old enough to wear a bra now. I remember that I also made straight A’s that year. I didn’t understand why he thought it was okay to talk about my body.
When I was 15, I was playing basketball and was in pretty great shape. A boy told me I had sexy legs. I liked him very much, but I really didn’t want to talk about my body with him.
When I had my first pregnancy, I was overjoyed at becoming a mother. I couldn’t wait to meet my son. I was also getting stretch marks, but I didn’t care at all. And yet people would ask about that. Sometimes it was people I barely knew. And I didn’t want to talk about my body with them.
Not long after my son was born, I was out in town without him. A stranger told me “Congratulations,” gesturing to my belly. When I told her I was not pregnant, she said “REALLY?” and then went on to make a huge scene of her apology. I threw away that shirt and her face is burned into my memory forever. I definitely didn’t want to talk about my body with her.
When I lost the baby weight between my second and third pregnancy, people told me how fabulous I looked. I worked hard to lose that weight, not as much for appearance, but to feel good and energized and healthy. And I did feel that way. I was also working on my third degree and maintaining a 4.0, but no one asked about that. I know they meant well, but still, I didn’t want to talk about my body with them. There really are just so many more interesting things about me.
During my third pregnancy, around the 38th week, an older lady asked me, “You didn’t get this big with your other pregnancies did you?” (Actually I gained about the same for all three). I smiled politely and said yes. But it was about 100 degrees in late June, and I was so very pregnant and everything in me wanted to be really mean. I resented talking about my body with her.
I am More than my Physical Body
During each of these times in my life, there were much more fascinating things about me than my body. Sometimes I was pregnant and other times not. Sometimes I was heavier and sometimes I was more fit. Sometimes I looked my best, and other times motherhood took its toll in the form of gray hair or dark circles. But in all of those times, I didn’t want to talk about my body because it’s not really a subject for small talk.
This doesn’t mean that I don’t think about my body. I care about how it looks and what it can do. I care about how it feels to live in it and I do want to look my best for my husband. I have health goals, fitness goals and weight goals. And I talk about them with my husband. Not because he asks, but because I invite him into that part of my life. (I’ll also give a pass to my trainer and my OBGYN.) But that’s where it should end. It shouldn’t be of any concern to anyone else. And yet, throughout my life, I have found myself subjected to these conversations.
We hear this from pregnant women often. There are many people who feel they absolutely must comment on a pregnant woman’s body, vocally acknowledging its changes along the way. We’ve all heard the stories. “Are you sure it’s not twins?” they will say. And all pregnant women everywhere share a collective eye roll.
Likewise, I hear from my friends who are naturally very thin that they are tired of it too. Other women feel compelled to offer them a cheeseburger. Strangers ask them if they ever eat. The overwhelming message I hear from them is, “CAN WE JUST PLEASE STOP TALKING ABOUT THIS!”
Respect People Enough to Care about Their True Self
I don’t know if there’s any way to fix this behavior in a culture that is so obsessed with appearance. Maybe it is that it is so much easier to discuss appearance than the more real things that make a person who they are. To know someone’s accomplishments, joys and interests, we have to take an actual interest in who they are. Maybe it’s just easier to ask that pregnant mom about her heartburn and stretch marks than it is to ask about her dreams for her baby. Maybe it is easier to compliment a woman’s figure than it is to compliment her professional achievements or ask what she is praying for this week.
What I do know is that if we respect people, we will make an attempt to learn who they are as a person and focus our interest in that area. I want my daughter to learn to take care of her body and to be healthy. But I also want her to know that her body is not what makes her interesting. So as for me, if I don’t offer rave reviews on your weight loss or ask about your pregnancy cankles, it’s not that I didn’t notice. It’s just that I think there are so many more interesting things about you.