Imagine a lunch with Friends without Body or Weight Talk (September 2017)
When was the last time you went to lunch and enjoyed the company of the guests you were with?
I was considering this because of a recent experience I’d had with two childhood friends of mine.
Growing up, I had two very close friends. We called ourselves the “Three Musketeers” and we truly were. We did everything together, going to school, cheering one another on at sporting events and plays, and hanging out every weekend. We shared so much through elementary school, middle school, and high school. When it came time to go to college, we were all accepted to different schools. We maintained our strong bond for some time but, sadly, life got in the way and the “Three Musketeers” lost touch.
Recently, I’d moved back to my hometown in L.A., where they both lived. Even though it had been 25 years since we’d last spoken, I reached out to both of them, hoping to reconnect and reunite. I was so excited to see them both, to hear where life had taken them and learn all about their careers, their friends, their family, their relationships – everything that made them who they were now.
While I was hoping to bring the “Three Musketeers” back together, I planned to meet with them each separately first to give them each equal space and my undivided attention. I kept reminiscing on how close we all used to be. In those days, it was as if we were 3 equal parts of one vessel, we always knew what the other was thinking or feeling. As I prepared to reunite with these women, I knew things would be different but still thought we would click back into our old ways.
I grabbed dinner with Sally first. She looked exactly the same as she had 25 years ago and I immediately felt my nerves slip away. It started out as any reunion does, light conversations about how long it’s been and how good it is to see one another. As we chatted, we both perused our menus, talking about what looked good. Sally asked “how many calories do you think is in that?” I shrugged my shoulders and continued scanning the entrees, not at all phased by this question, as it’s basically as common as asking “does this dish have nuts in it,” as if calories were something you could be allergic to, simply another thing some people just can’t eat.
The waiter came to take our orders and could not have expected the barrage of questions Sally had for him:
“Do you have a gluten-free menu?”
“Can you go light on the dressing?”
“Are the chickens they use organic and grass-fed?”
“Can I substitute the French fries with a salad?”
Finally, Sally settled on getting a salad, “no croutons, no cheese, dressing on the side” and I placed my order of a turkey BLT, with no questions and no caveats. As Sally handed our menus to the waiter, she stated to me, “I just finished a juice fast and I’m trying to eat clean, if I can help it.” She stated again how nice it was to see me after so long and noted, with surprise, “you haven’t aged a day! What products are you using?!” I then got a verbal tour of what Sally’s bathroom cabinet at home must look like before she moved to discussing the foods she was eating and the workouts she participated in to slow down the ageing process.
It went on like that much of the night.
I would ask, “How do you like living in Malibu?” to which Sally would respond, “It’s beautiful there but I don’t go to the beach. I don’t look as good in a bathing suit as when we were 16.”
Me: “How is your husband? 20 years together is amazing!”
Sally: “Thank you! Thank goodness cycling keeps me looking like I did when we met.”
It seemed that no matter what the question, Sally brought it back to body image, weight, and appearance. Even in our reminiscing, we didn’t talk about our own memories! Instead, Sally asked about classmates of ours, “did you see so-and-so had twins. 15 years and she still hasn’t lost the baby-weight” or “I can’t believe they got married, she is too pretty for him!”
The evening passed and it came time for us to leave and return to our lives. When I got home, my husband asked me how seeing Sally was again after so long. I responded vaguely: “It was like no time had passed, I had fun!” I realized the second I said it that I didn’t mean it, then added “well, it was actually not that great, she seemed to be going through something because all she could talk about was weight, beauty products, and appearance.” I went to bed feeling disappointed.
I kept turning our dinner conversation over in my mind for days. It occurred to me that Sally and I had talked all night with no awkward breaks in conversation but I hadn’t gotten any real details about her life. I don’t even remember her telling me where she worked! She had been so consumed in talking about weight, diets, and workouts that we hadn’t skimmed the surface of any real conversations.
After my realization, I was incredibly nervous for my dinner date with our third Musketeer, Becky. I didn’t want to become fixated with the same topics of conversation. I resolved to pay more attention to the focus of our conversations and headed to dinner.
I met Becky at the restaurant she chose and, just as with Sally, she looked just like my old friend. I lost my nerves a bit. The waiter brought our menus and I thought of my dinner with Sally, waiting to see if the long list of foods offered sparked another conversation around calories or organic vegetables. It didn’t. We talked over the menu, yes, but only raving, “it all looks so good, how could we possibly choose?!” Once we’d ordered, we could really dig into catching up, and that’s just what we did. We talked about how long it had been, reminisced on the past, and gushed about our present and future. I learned about Becky’s job, her hobbies, how she still loves to dance as she did when we were kids. I held her hand as she opened up about her divorce and we laughed full-belly laughs about ridiculous things we did as teenagers.
The whole night was a wonderful blur of emotions and stories. When we finally finished our meals and went to leave, I felt myself beaming from ear-to-ear and my soul felt like it was smiling, too!
As I drove home, I thought over the stark contrast between my reunion with Sally and my reunion with Becky. I wasn’t mad at Sally that her focus seemed to be on such surface level topics. So many people find their identity and worth in how they appear to others that they don’t know how to talk about anything else. I was sad to have seen my friend after 25 years and to see that her identity was solely wrapped up in how she looked.
My reunion with Becky couldn’t have been more different, filled with life and depth. I hadn’t monitored our conversations more closely, but only because I hadn’t needed to! Somehow, dieting, weight-loss and anti-ageing products hadn’t come up. I realized this was one of the only conversations I’d had with anyone, not just Sally, that didn’t revolve around those things.
Society tells us that these conversations are important and we all believe it. We spread the “gospel” of “clean” eating, weight-loss, exercises to get a thigh-gap, how makeup can make your face look thinner, which clothes will hide whatever parts of your body you don’t want seen. It’s as if it’s shameful to not be consumed with looking “better” than whatever you look like. So we tell ourselves that sharing this information is “caring” for one another, that we’re helping one another out. Not only that, we believe receiving that information is helping us!
In reality, these topics are the conversational equivalent of rice cakes: they may stave off your hunger but they are not doing you any real good. When we consume ourselves with these topics, we feel as if we’re fulfilled but, upon closer examination, they’re just fluff. We’re not talking about who we are, what we stand for, our lives, our passions, our struggles, our dreams, or our loved ones. We’re not discussing anything beyond the surface, focused solely on a conversation that ties our identity and our worth to our appearance.
People believe in the lie that they are what they eat, and that how they look says something about their worth. Their relationship with food, exercise, themselves, and others becomes less about nourishing themselves and more about feeding the beast of society’s expectations, all the while not realizing they are depriving themselves of the relationships, self-love, and experiences they are really hungry for.
It’s time to take back our identities and to focus our conversations on the unique aspects of our being that truly identify us – our hobbies, our passions, our experiences, our struggles, our loved ones. These are the aspects of life that nourish our soul, fill our lives with color, make our relationships worthwhile, and feed the hunger we truly long for.