The Hard Facts: Weight, Weight, Don’t Tell Me

It’s Research Wednesday! Where I share the latest, or most fascinating, in the science of friendship.

“68 percent of SELF readers say weight and dieting come up often with friends, at least once during every or every other get-together. … In the SELF poll, 75 percent of women admitted to being competitive with friends about weight, 40 percent said they were jealous rather than worried when a pal had gotten too thin, and 30 percent confessed to feeling a teensy bit smug when a friend put on a few pounds.” (“The Surprising Secret to Loving Your Body” ; Self;  February, 2012)

I tried to avoid using this research for today. It felt too mean girls after yesterday’s post, and I’m not trying to write the next Women Are The Worst blog. But these findings are too relevant to ignore. I mean, something we talk about with friends virtually every time we get together? There aren’t many topics in that category. Men, maybe. TV, if you’re me. That’s about it.

Let’s focus on the first half of this nugget. I don’t think weight comes up that often with my friends—every or every other time?!?—but I”ll admit that when it does come up, it’s usually my doing. I can be guilty of the whole verbal diarrhea thing, so if my weight is on my mind (and, yes, it is often), I find myself mentioning it, even when I know better. But it depends a bit on who I’m talking to. If it’s Callie or Sara, people I’m so comfortable with I’ll say anything, I’m more likely to make weight-related complaints than I am with a relatively new acquaintance.

It’s an awkward conversation, weight. One person complains, the other has to reassure. Or both people complain, back and forth until you’ve each reinforced the other’s crappy outlook. Rarely are friends talking about body image issues by saying, “You know what? I feel so fit today. I’m so happy with my body.” I mean, who are we kidding? I’ve literally never heard someone say those words.

That we root against each other when it comes to healthy weight is kinda gross. Feeling competitive isn’t the best option, since research shows friends can actually help you lose weight or get fit. Self suggests surrounding yourself with friends who promote the positive and choose to talk about what makes them happy rather than the pounds that are bringing them down. They even have a quiz to see if your friends are “body-positive.”

Just remember, if you’re one of my friends, don’t dump me just yet. I’m making a change. Recognizing the problem is the first step.

Do you and your friends talk about weight, diet and body image a lot? How do you steer the conversation in other directions? And are you guilty of the fat-talk?

I’m so enjoying doing book club visits, and would love to meet your group. Choose  MWF Seeking BFF for your next book (discussion guide is here) and I’d love to join in via Skype or in person. Just let me know when!

18 Comments

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18 responses to “The Hard Facts: Weight, Weight, Don’t Tell Me

  1. I’m with you, when weight comes up it’s usually my doing. My friends, while they wouldn’t say they’re happy with their bodies and all want to loose ten pounds, really don’t bring it up except to day they want to exercise more, which is healthy in my opinion. I’m the only one who has about 50 pounds to lose and it’s in my mind a lot because that extra weight has only been there for the last two years. But even I don’t bring it up like “oh, I’m so fat, reassure me,” I bring it up very matter of factly, like “oh back when I was thinner I used to wear…” It still bums people out, which I don’t mean to do, but it’s my reality and I trend to talk about what’s on my mind. The alternative is becoming ok with my weight, which isn’t a healthy option. It’s almost like I need to talk about it to keep myself motivated to exercise.

  2. katieleigh

    I’m pretty happy with my body (there, I said it!) so I don’t usually feel competitive with my friends when it comes to weight. (I do struggle with feeling plain and short next to my tall, blonde sister, however.)

    However, I have one dear friend who’s unhappy with her weight and complains about it all the time – and it drives me bananas. It’s so tough to have a productive conversation about this issue – especially when she seems determined to put herself down.

    Argh. Touchy topic. Men don’t do this, do they?

  3. Janelle

    I’m with Katieleigh, I’m happy with my body and have been working hard for it. But would I say that to my friends? Nope. I have friends who are overweight and I don’t dare complain about my body around them. We all have self image issues but it wouldn’t be fair to complain when the other person is struggling to lose weight. There are only three people I feel comfortable talking about my weight loss and fitness success with, my husband, a male co-worker and my female boot camp instructor. Other than that, I feel like I’m bragging.

    I’m not trying to say I don’t have good friends, I just don’t feel right talking about myself to them. It feels vain and heaven forbid I make anyone feel bad about themselves. It’s just not worth it. Heck, I even feel bad pinning health and fitness motivation to my Pinterest board!

  4. Christina

    I exercise about 5 – 6 days a week and have done a few half marathons (walking) and even metric centuries (bicycling). Exercise, being/staying healthy, and diet are big parts of my life, so it’s something that is always on my mind, among other things that I enjoy. However, because I’ve encountered others who are very sensitive about the exercise/diet issue, I now avoid befriending anyone who is massively overweight or obese.

    I’ve had fat friends in the past and while they are great pals to have for checking out the best restaurant buffets (they seem to know them all, lol), sooner or later their jealousy and /or unhappiness with themselves makes its way into affecting the friendship in a negative manner.

    Also… it’s just an observation of mine… but generally birds of a feather do flock together… at least when it comes to body size.

    • Fit Fat Chick

      Believe it or not but along with knowing the best buffets some of us fat chicks like to work out. Gotta work it off so we don’t get fatter! Fortunately we can lose weight but you can’t grow a more accepting personality.

      • Christina

        Judging by your comments, you only further prove my point, lol.

        As for “fortunately being able to lose weight”, most people unfortunately find that very difficult, if not impossible to do if they have A LOT of pounds to shed. Most unfortunately… just keep on gaining.

        So good luck to you with your diet and exercise. Maybe you’ll be one of the lucky few, but I’m not willing to bet on it.

  5. Years ago, one of my close friends told me that she didn’t think she would like me if I was thin (I have always had a weight issue). I was sad that she thought so little of our friendship. I knew then that she was always intimidated by my accomplishments and she felt the only thing she was better than me was that she was prettier.

  6. I have a couple of different groups of friends and it’s absolutely amazing how differently each group deals with this this topic of conversation. Each group is dominantly female, there’s a gay guy thrown in one of them for good measure but he’s pretty much one of the girls at this point…But what is interesting is that the group that talks about their weight more often is the group who is more active in their ‘society’; as in likes to go out and show off more so than the other who are generally more comfortable having invite-only shindigs with close friends. The fundamental way the groups judge other people (ex. via physical attractiveness, personality or intelligence) also seems to be related to values of self worth and it’s vocalization within the group. There is also a drastic difference in education level of these two groups as well, so much so that It’s almost worth getting a social psychologist out here to a study on the effects of education on assessments of self worth vs. level of actual physical health. Then again, it could also be completely circumstantial… ;)

  7. Kristen A.

    I have to say weight comes up pretty rarely with my friends, at least when we’re actually together. Maybe a passing remark about the health benefits or hazzards of what we’re eating, if there’s food- only our own, not what somebody else is eating. It’s actually more likely to come up among my casual acquaintences and with total strangers; I’m in the SCA and when I’m dressed in a Tudor gown, it’s not unusual for a woman I just met to follow a compliment on my dress with the observation that I have a great figure for it (the figure for Tudor is thin-ish with hips but little breasts). My friends are more likely to post about their weight on LJ or Facebook than to talk about it when we’re together, and when they do bring it up I usually feel massively awkward. I don’t consider myself skinny- I reserve that for women with narrower hips and shoulders than I have- but I’m the proper weight and overall I feel pretty good about my body. And as far as I can tell from how they look with their clothes on, only two of my inner circle have any particular need to lose weight, but those are NEVER the two who bring up their need to lose weight. So when one of the others, who to my observation is probably at as healthy a weight for her height as I am for mine, starts complaining about how fat she feels, that is awkward and makes me wonder if she consideres me fat, too. And as the possessor of the flattest chest in the group, it’s also pretty awkward when one of the others starts joking about how unimpressive her boobs are. (But hey, I’ve got a great figure for Tudor.)

  8. Anonymous

    Weight isn’t a huge topic of conversation among my friends. I think we’re aware of our imperfections and areas of “improvement”, but there isn’t much body loathing going on. I’ve had a few friends in the past who were obsessed with their bodies, weight, etc. and I found I was more critical of myself when those friendships were at their peaks. Obsession with weight is now a red flag for me in potential friends.

  9. Mary

    While weight/fitness occasionally comes up with my friends, it’s never a main topic of conversation – I think part of this is due to age (late 20′s/early 30′s) as we’ve finally started to accept ourselves and our bodies more fully. And what sort of person (40%!) gets jealous over a friend who is dangerously thin? First reaction: concern for my friend! and then: what can I do to help her? I want all of my friends to be healthy and happy, and I feel like anyone who doesn’t feel that way is not a true friend.

    I’m also really concerned by Christina’s comment – the fat friends that she used to have only knew where the buffet was? This is part of what’s wrong with our body image – the way we as women treat each other and judge each other. If you’re overweight, you must love the buffet and not work out. I know plenty of active women who by messed-up standards like BMI would be considered overweight or obese – and amazingly they haven’t seen a buffet in years, and could easily run that half marathon that Christina is talking about walking. Even if it was meant somewhat in jest, it perpetuates the terrible expectations about weight and body size that women put on ourselves.

    • Christina

      I really don’t think BMI is a “messed-up standard”. There’s a lot of scientific evidence showing that having a BMI over 25 and most especially 30 — which is considered by the medical community to be the beginnings of obesity– can result in the greatly increased potential for health problems such as heart disease, insulin resistance, etc, etc.

      For example, a BMI of 30 for a female whose height is 5 feet 5 inches would be 180 lbs. — and that’s a fairly large chick by most people’s standards, lol. Also, I’ve never encountered any woman that size or larger attempting to walk– let alone RUN — a half marathon (13 miles) or bike 100 km (62 miles) and I have been doing these sorts of long distance events for over 10 years now.

      • Mary

        It’s wonderful that you are so active and take such concern for your health, and I certainly could not achieve many of the physical accomplishments that you have. But your accomplishments don’t mean that some women who are larger than you don’t share that love for activity and being healthy. Athletes come in many shapes and sizes, and in fact athletic women are often those who are wrongly considered overweight or obese by a measure such as BMI.

        This wasn’t meant to be an argument about BMI’s accuracy (or anything else), but some reasons why BMI may not be the best indicator of health: (there are many more articles out there that state similar things)
        http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=106268439
        http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/releases/64577.php
        http://www.livestrong.com/article/358953-is-bmi-a-true-indicator/

        • Christina

          Mary,

          A BMI over 30 for a MALE football player, for example, is acceptable because they can pack on lots of muscle due to having massive amounts of testosterone…. but women who have a BMI of 30 or greater (for example a 5 ft 5 inch female weighing 180 lbs) are simply fat… period!!!

          And while it’s true that women can gain SOME weight from weightlifting, for them to gain massive amounts of muscle, they would need to be taking steroids, which is probably why I have never heard of any female athletes with a BMI of 30 as you allege.

          Finally I just want to add… the Livestrong article link you provided seems to contradict your post! The article states:

          “MayoClinic.com reports that BMI might UNDERESTIMATE obesity in adult women….”

  10. Paige

    I think this is a great topic for discussion, but just wanted to point out that Self is a magazine that’s main gig is providing nutritional and health advice. Can we really generalize the results of a poll of Self readers to women in general? I’m skeptical. It would be interesting to see this topic researched more rigorously.

  11. I’m grateful to have had a group of friends growing up (who are still my best girlfriends) who rarely talked about their weight. I think that contributed to the fact that I never dieted or felt bad about my body, which has always been a healthy weight.

    However, I’ve found that people who aren’t my closest friends–particularly people who are older, like my parents’ friends or older women at church–feel the need to comment on my body by telling me I’m too skinny! They act like it’s a compliment, but it’s incredibly annoying because I’m actually a healthy weight. You don’t go up to someone and say, “You’re so fat!” Why is it OK to go up to someone and say, “You’re so skinny!” and act like it’s a compliment?

  12. Amy

    My Bestie and I are about the same size, heavy considered “obese” but both of us are active, her in her work and me with two kids, and she’s a couple inches taller than I. She is not one to look for reassurance on anything, but once in awhile she will complain about her weight (it’s mostly from blowing out both of her knees) and she truly sees herself as ugly. She hates pictures of herself (I LOVE photography and take a lot of pictures of friends, family, and daily life!) and she was perturbed I used a beautiful picture of us as my facebook photo because she had to look at herself! The thing is, I see her as beautiful. I love her so much for who she is and what we have, and she has a wonderful loving husband, that I tell her whenever she brings this up how much I love her regardless. She admitted she feels the same, if only we could see each other through the other’s eyes once in a while! I try to convey that to her as best as I can.

    I also had a very thin and petite coworker once complain to me about shopping for pants and the difficulty she was having. I was like, “Oh yeah right! It’s hard for you to find clothes?!” But yes, because of her proportions she had troubles even though she looked just fine. So it’s not all heavy people who have problems with their bodies.

  13. teri

    Ugh. I hate this conversation topic and it comes up all the time. I have always been very thin….can eat whatever I want and never gain a pound… and I don’t have to work out to stay thin. Female friends do not find this charming at all. I have been accused of having an eating disorder on more than one occasion. I’ve women say that they don’t want to be friends with me because men won’t look at them if I am around or it makes them feel fatter to be around me. There is no way I can join in when the conversation fixates on dieting and how to lose weight.

    to make matters worse, I have a super fast metabolism. I have to eat often and a lot to maintain my weight. I feel guilty chowing down on a cheeseburger and fries when my friends are eating a leaf of lettuce.

    For the record, some of these are not obese… or even overweight. They are just so fixated on weight and dieting. I hate to exercise and love to eat junk food so I can’t hang out with fitness/health food crowd because they tell me I am going to die any minute.

    Why can’t we just let go of this food/weight obsession?

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