How to Talk to People

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I re-read this article called “How to Talk to Little Girls” recently (linked from this lovely blog). It captures some of what i was trying to get at in my recent postWhat we talk about shows what we value.

Growing up, I rarely thought about my weight. I was always on the skinny (in my mind, scrawny) side, and I had  trouble finding clothes and was constantly being told how tiny I was. But ultimately I did not think much about it; after all, I could not really change my size. (And as the picture above of my eighth grade self shows, I did not really have much fashion concern either!) However, after my years of teaching and hearing older women talk about weight during lunch, I did begin to think about it more. I felt left out of the conversations, but it was worse when they included me.

I began to think there was something wrong with me. My friends  would talk about “childbearing hips” and how they would be able to easily have children. I lacked said hips. Older women would make similar remarks. I began to wonder whether pregnancy and birth would be easy (or even possible) for me. A well-meaning professor once assumed that I might not have the strength to teach based on my small size. And after a while, I believed that I was weak. I was less of a woman because I was so small. I was too weak to exercise hard. I was too weak to have a healthy pregnancy. I was too weak to have a healthy baby in the future. I used to wish I was a normal size just so people would not comment on my size so often. Sometimes I would eat a doughnut when I did not even want one just because people told me I needed it.

I was surprised when I made it through my first year of teaching as weak as I supposedly was. I was surprised that I kept on teaching. Almost every day during pregnancy, I was surprised that my tiny body did not go into preterm labor. I was surprised that I did not end up with a C-section. Looking back, it seems so silly that I was affected by these comments. I know most of them were well-intentioned.

My healing came recently. In the whole experience of pregnancy, labor, and birth, I gained confidence in my body. I realized that I was not weak; I was strong. I carried a baby inside of me for over nine months, gave birth to that baby after sixteen hours of labor, and have been caring for him since. I still am on a bit of a high from the whole thing.

1-Jul 15, 2013

I bring this up not as a discussion of weight and size and not even to urge us to celebrate our strong bodies (although we certainly should!). Instead, I am concerned about the nature of our talks. Why are so many of our conversations centered on size? Why do we find a need to point out our flaws? Why do we always share our explanation of why we are eating or refraining from eating? Why can I not look at Pinterest without being inundated with weight-centered photos?

What we talk about  (or post or pin or link to) shows what we value, and our speech affects others.  I need this reminder often; we all could apply the information from “How to Talk to Little Girls” to all of our conversations. As the article urges, we should seek to draw out our listeners.

What do you talk about too much?

While I don’t talk a lot about weight and beauty, I tend to talk way too much about money–feeling the need to add “it was on sale” or “I don’t buy stuff very often” when talking. This is a problem, too, and I realize that it can make people question themselves or just make them uncomfortable.

What do you find takes up a great deal of your conversation? What about yourself do you always tend to qualify or justify?

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