We all have that friend. That one friend who doesn’t seem to understand their reflection in the mirror, and who seems to hate everything about themselves. Whenever you are hanging out they spend half the time talking about how “gross” and “fat” they are, and the other half dissecting other people’s perceived body flaws. I used to engage in this kind of talk – there is a weird comradery in self hate and unfortunately it is an all too common form of female bonding these days. However about six months ago I made the decision to stop. My tolerance level dropped to zero. And it has really changed my existence.

Habits die really really hard. They cling to your existence like mufasa to the wall of rock in the lion king. And they only get more ingrained and less conscious the more we repeat them. To break one you have to show up to every second of your day intending to nip it in the bud. As much as we hate Scar, we have to physically throw them from the rock face. Body talk has been a habit of mine that I have worked hard to stamp out between my friends and I. And to make any change in this world, we always have to start with ourselves.

To be honest, most of my friends were relieved to be let off the hook. Me included. Spending a lot of time focused on your appearance is boring – and I feel like a lot of us engage in this out of guilt. A sense of shame and obligation to the idea that women’s bodies are objects, and are the most relevant part of us. The relief to be finally free from self hate (that you really aren’t that invested in) is amazing. And it is self fulfilling. The more you walk away from a toxic situation, the stronger your strides get. I found this snowball effect when I decided to eat well and get healthy. The more energy and happiness I gained from nourishing myself, the more I wanted to keep up the hard work. That’s not to say I don’t wake up some days hating myself. But the bounce back usually comes within a matter of seconds, not days.

Body talk is something that I want to see our society consciously moved away from. Because to me it is irrelevant to who you are as a person. A huge amount of power comes from conversation about a collective experience. So let’s work to change the conversation. I made this change by actively checking my friends when they engaged in body talk. Not rudely, you don’t have to be an asshole about this. But when they start up with the talk, don’t feed it with “omg no you aren’t fat, I’m fat”. Say “I love you, but I will not talk about this anymore”. If the talk continues, then do not engage anymore. Stay silent. Make them uncomfortable. Then change the conversation. But most importantly, do not feed the beast. Enjoy the awkwardness of a sentence left hanging – when you don’t respond to your friends self deprecating comment, they will learn quickly.

I also had to work to overcome the guilt by this method. Because who doesn’t want their friends to love themselves and feel better? But by this logic, every time they put themselves down and you reassure them of the truth (that they cannot see), they should feel better about themselves. However this obviously isn’t the truth. The cycle is self perpetuating, and the next comment is not far away. The only way to break this choke hold on your conversation and time is to starve it of oxygen. Do not engage. Break and switch – find something new to talk about. If you find that your entire relationship is centered around mirror based self flagellation, it may be time to work on your relationship. Or move on.

I truly believe in leading by example. The twisted sense of belonging through negative energy will eventually leave you feeling isolated and lonely. True deep connections are forged through meaningful conversation and shared experiences. Not through moaning about your thigh size. When you are eating out with friends or anyone – do not classify foods as naughty, or talk about how much you need to train to burn off those calories. Empower yourself. Food is not the ruler here, if you want the cake, eat and enjoy the damn cake. Talking about how you don’t deserve it, but are going to eat it anyway erodes at your self esteem, and diminishes who you are as a person. If you want it, go for it. If your friends give you a hard time for your food choices, stand up for yourself. If they won’t let it rest, it is probably time for new friends.

I love my friends to death. I love them for their emotional support, and for the light and happiness that they bring to my life. Since I let go of body image fuckery, my relationships all improved immensely. Mostly because I finally had the energy to be social for once, but also in large part because I let go of the weird competitiveness that my disordered eating gave me. I was always wanting to be the one eating the least, and training the hardest. I always saw myself as fatter than everyone, and would absolutely hate being around them in workout gear. I was so damn insecure that I was missing out on the amazing people I was surrounded by. For two years I did not make a single new friend. It is heartbreaking to look back now and think about all that I was shutting myself off from. And for what? It was a very twisted fear that I am so happy to be free from.

Friends and loved ones give you the best shot at a long life. But more importantly, they give you such joy in a life well lived. It is time to let go of the unfortunate nature of body talk. It achieves nothing, and only buys into the idea that women’s bodies are objects to be dissected, objects that belong to the society at large. I say bullshit.

We are powerful. And we are so much more than our bodies. Let’s all work to reclaim them.

 

This article originally appeared on BridgetMalcom.com and has been republished with permission.