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How to Overcome Body Talk on Campus

Before I came to Northwestern, I didn’t really think too much about my body and what it looked like to me or to other people. It was just there, and I was just me. Fast forward to winter quarter freshman year and all of the sudden I’m going to the gym every single night even though I barely ate a thing in the dining halls (because I’m super picky).

How did that happen? In a single quarter, my body became the first thing I thought of when I woke up in the morning, my stomach the first thing I looked at in the mirror with an unsatisfied frown. And I can attribute this whole feeling to body talk.

“Body talk,” as I refer to it, is when people around you talk about their own bodies negatively, or when they compliment people’s bodies who don’t look like you. For me, this was when friends skinnier than me or curvier than me pinched their stomachs or stuck them out and said “ugh I need to lose weight” or “I need to eat healthier” as they picked at a salad. Or it was the friends who looked at other girls around us and said “her body is perfect.” It left me thinking that I should be looking at my own body as critically as they were looking at theirs. And when they didn’t think my own body was “perfect,” under their ultra critical eye, it made me certain that it wasn’t.

Now, I’m not blaming the way I looked at my body then (and honestly still now) on those women. I blame the culture that’s been created in our society, especially on this high achieving campus, that won’t accept less than perfection, and then some.  But the truth is — and it’s taken me a long time to get to this point — there is no perfect, but there are definitely ways we can address the negative aspects of our “body talk” culture.

Compliment your female friends, but never on their looks.

Don’t you think we’d all be happier if our friends complimented on the stuff that actually mattered to us? Like “Hey, you are totally rocking that class and I’m super proud of you.” Or “You’re awesome at what you do an I am proud of you.” Or on simpler days “It looks like you’re working hard – that’s awesome!”

STOP Talking about your new diet/cleanse etc. to your friends.

When was the last time anyone actually cared what you were eating? Unless you own some super popular/glamourous food insta, literally no one wants to hear what you ate today or ever.

STOP mentioning how much better/hotter your body used to look in high school.

Was anyone actually hotter in high school? The answer is definitely no.

DON’T grab your fat in front of your friends and talk about it like its this big problem.

You know EVERYONE has fat on their damn bodies, this is not new or unique. We all have it. You don’t have to show me yours – I don’t want to see it and you’re just going to make everyone uncomfortable.

START talking about something positive you did that day

Did you open the door for someone, ace an exam, do something fun? That’s what your friends actually want to hear about, so tell them!

DON’T talk about the bodies of celebs/models.

They are literally paid millions to look like that. It is their only job. My job is to be a full time student, and sometimes that comes with a side of mac n’ cheese and stress instead of green juice. But DO START talking about the awesome way that celeb is influencing young women, or working on a cool project, or making history in some fun way you didn’t know about before

The damage, for many of us, has long since been done. But if we all work together as women (and men) to focus more on talking about on our minds instead of our bodies, then perhaps we can change a little of this campus culture for the better.

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Meg Biederman

Northwestern

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