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Say bye-bye to bad body image talk

By Mina Samuels, Special to CNN
  • Mina Samuels: Too many women are in a state of perpetual discomfort about their bodies
  • She wishes women would: see no body talk, hear no body talk, speak no body talk.
  • Samuels tried to not say anything about anyone's body image and lasted four hours
  • Now she's noticing how often the topic comes up and hopes it stops

Editor's note: Mina Samuels, author of "Run Like A Girl: How Strong Women Make Happy Lives", is a freelance writer and editor who does triathlons, marathons, yoga, rock climbing and kayaking.

(CNN) -- The other day I tried to calculate how much of my life has been spent standing sideways to the full-length mirror, trying to determine if my stomach looks flat enough in the outfit I'm wearing so that I won't descend into crankyville.

Is it every day? Thirty seconds? More than once? With time off for good behavior when I'm backpacking, and there are no mirrors available. Oh, and yes, the tic is worse on days I feel a bit blue.

What a waste, truly. And I'm not alone in this, right? After all, there would be no Sara Blakely, queen of the Spanx empire, if I were.

I am, in case it wasn't already blindingly obvious, a woman.

In a room of 50 women the other day, I conducted a quick straw poll. "How many women here feel good about their bodies?" I asked. Only two hands went up, and they were wobbly and tentative at that. That's 4% of the women in the room. In an independent study, only 12% of women thought they looked good in a swimsuit. I guess that's three times better than my poll, but come on, both of those numbers are ridiculously low.

Is this really how we want to live? -- in a state of perpetual discomfort about our bodies.

Of course not, and in my thinking too much about the issue (aka obsessing), I have discovered and self-tested some wise insights, which suggest to me that a critical piece of the issue is contained in that 8% disconnect between the hesitant hand-raisers, and the beach-bound, bikini set.

The 12% of women who felt good in their swimsuits -- they didn't proclaim that sentiment with pride in a room full of women. Oh no, they were answering questions on an anonymous poll for a study on women and body image.

I wouldn't raise my hand in a room full of women, even if I felt good about my body that day. Why? -- because I'd be fearful that all the other women in the room would be raising their mental eyebrows and telepathically communicating with each other, "That girl feels good about herself? With that flat chest? Honey, it's time for a reality check."

You know what I'm talking about, don't you? That bad fairy critic (I think of her as the BFC) inside you who spends all her time sizing up all the other women she sees -- even if that woman is in your own mirror.

We women aren't doing each other, or ourselves, any favors. We are caught up in a vicious cycle that we perpetuate.

Every time we see a friend and say, "You look great, have you lost weight?"

Every time we say to an acquaintance, "You're so slim."

Every time we say, "I just need to lose however-many pounds."

Take time to notice for a few days how utterly common it is in the course of a conversation, for women to comment on their own or each other's bodies. As if this is an acceptable, interesting, or worthy topic for us to expend our energy on.

Guess what, for the most part, the topic is not worth the breath we're wasting on it.

When someone tells us we look slim, we feel good ... for a nanosecond, until it settles in that someone is noticing how we look, and then we start to worry about whether we'll measure up the next time. Because we know, we know, we know, that we're doing the very same thing right back at other women. In the end, that BFC is really just our own insecurities, projected on others, isn't it? A vicious cycle, that goes round and round and round.

The good news is, like any carousel, we can get off anytime. Step away from the topic. Breathe some fresh air, pure and clean, unpolluted by the noxious gas of body talk. Put in our special BFC-proof earplugs. Be like the three wise monkeys, see no body talk, hear no body talk, speak no body talk.

I recently set myself the task of no body talk for ... well, for some unspecified period of time -- in other words however long I could do it for. Four hours. I lasted a paltry four hours, and I was by myself for a few of those hours. I forget the topic that derailed my grand intention, something electrifying like whether my friend's bared arms looked better in a particular dress than mine did.

So, as the saying goes, baby steps. My new task is to notice -- just notice -- how often body talk comes up in conversations with friends, acquaintances and colleagues. And in that noticing, I hope that I'll get better at quieting the BFC.

Will you try with me?

I'm offering a 100% guarantee that you'll feel better about yourself. If not, you can have your BFC back.

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