The next time you greet a friend, take notice of how you start your conversation. Does it go something like this: “Wow, you look great, have you lost weight?” “I love that top – it makes you look so slim?”
Using our appearance as a way to open conversations is second nature to women. Butwhy? We may think that this sort of comment compliments women. But actually, conversation starters focused on how we look can make appearance seem more important than you intend, can make us feel bad, and also set a negative example for our daughters.
"Many women compliment each other’s appearance, or make negative comments about their own appearance, as an icebreaker. This kind of conversation is often referred to as “fat talk” or “body talk”,” explains research psychologist Dr Phillippa Diedrichs.“Often women and girls do this as a way to show interest in their friends and to show that they care or can relate.”
The problem is, as adults, we tend to do this without even thinking about what we’re saying and what impact it might have on our friends, and inadvertently on our daughters. We’ve become so accustomed to talking about our appearance before anything else that often we don’t even realize we’re doing it.
“Although body talk is often used with good intentions, it usually has the opposite effect. It can make women feel self-conscious and unhappy with their appearance. This is because body talk often reinforces narrow beauty ideals,” says Diedrichs. “For example, commenting on how great it is that someone looks slim, sends the message that women need to be slim to be considered attractive or worthy of attention, and it also implies that you notice what your friend weighs.”
So, without even trying, we’re passing on a subliminal message – our appearance is a priority when it comes to our friendships. What’s more, we’re often reinforcing negative beauty ideals by using weight and shape as one of our main compliments. Research published in a study called Adverse Effects of Social Pressure to be Thin on Young Women: An Experimental Investigation of the Effects of “Fat Talk” has shown that young women only need to hear three minutes of this type of conversation before their own body satisfaction goes down.
It’s not just our friends who we greet with these appearance-openers. Try to think back to the last time you met a little girl for the first time. Did you ask her about her hobbies or what she’s been learning at school recently, or did you launch straight into the, “Isn’t that a pretty dress!” routine?
But how do we undo the habits of a lifetime? After all, it’s clear we’ve probably been learning these conversation “rules” since childhood ourselves.
We’ve put together an action checklist with some helpful icebreakers and ideas on how to open a conversation without talking about the way your friend looks.
Changing your habits will take time and a conscious effort on your part, but in doing so you’re sending more positive messages to your daughter about what you value in other women. Putting less emphasis on weight, clothes and looks when you greet your friends indirectly teaches her that you don’t have to look a certain way or lose weight to fit in and form lasting friendships.
Adverse Effects of Social Pressure to be Thin on Young Women: An Experimental Investigation of the Effects of “Fat Talk”, a study in the International Journal of Eating Disorders
Article date: 26 June 2013
Review date: 26 June 2014
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