Words by Kate McIntyre – Art by Wendy Sinclair
I was hanging out with some good friends in my living room when the topic of diet talk came up. One by one, we shared stories about hearing our friends, families, and co-workers talk about food, eating habits, weight and body size. It was quickly pretty clear that whatever our personal experiences and family dynamics, we’d all been hearing the same sorts of stories throughout our lives. And it became clear that these stories shaped the way we each saw our own bodies.
During that conversation, so many memories came to mind:
Standing shoulder to shoulder with my classmates along a green line on the floor of my high school gym. One by one stepping forward to receive our measurement from a Vernier fat caliper – a device that pinched the skin on the back of our arms and looked like it belonged on a construction site rather than a school gym.
Watching family members carefully measure out their allotted half cup of cottage cheese. Counting calories and food points, the arbitrary but all-powerful numbers that would define their success or failure on any given day.
The male classmate in Grade 7 making a joke about my “fat ass”.
Hearing the protest of “Oh, I really shouldn’t!” or the guilt-laden caution of “just half of a half” slice of cake in workplace lunchrooms.
All the detailed descriptions of all the diets I’d heard about. The pre-wedding diet. The pre-vacation diet. The pre-family reunion diet. The pre-summer diet. And the list goes on. It sometimes seemed like almost like every important life event had a diet pre-requisite.
So many memories. So many reminders of the insidious ways diet culture can creep in to almost every part of our lives.
But most of all, I felt the impact of those conversations I’d heard. Even as a child, I wondered if the judgments people held about their own bodies was telling of how they saw my body. Remembering all the ways that years of diet talk made me think and feel dissatisfied about my own body, I knew it was time for me to set some boundaries.
Shortly after the night with friends, I sat my mom down on the couch to have a conversation about body and diet talk. I asked her not to make comments about bodies, weight, and diets in front of me anymore. It felt empowering. It felt like I was asking for what I needed to be healthy and well and that felt good. Mom respected what I had asked for in that moment and has continued to respect it.
It’s still hard for me to challenge diet talk in public settings or when people make off-handed comments, but I learned first-hand that finding the courage to interrupt, opt out, or change the conversation about diets can be an empowering act of resistance.
During that conversation with friends in my living room, we talked about how exhausting it can be to confront the critical body talk that seems to be everywhere and the ongoing work of trying to unlearn the things we’ve been taught to think about bodies, size, shape, and value. But we also talked about our shared agreement to set boundaries that feel good for us, to speak out when we need to – both for ourselves and for others in our lives, and especially the kids in our lives – and to continue being a place where we each feel safe.
And I’d encourage you to consider doing the same thing – to question the ways you think about your own body, to be aware of the ways you hear people talk about their bodies and to consider the ways making body talk boundaries can be a radical act.
Kate McIntyre is a Health Educator with Women’s Health Clinic. Original art by Wendy Sinclair – Instagram @righteous_bebe