women

My Your (Body) Language (Part 2) - What your lover says

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What your mother says

Description: “My mom can never give me a straightforward compliment about my body,”

“My mom can never give me a straightforward compliment about my body,”

“My mom can never give me a straightforward compliment about my body,” says Sindi*, 32, an accountant from Pretoria.

“She always manages to get in a sly barb, like, “You have a nice figure, but I was much thinner at your age”

“She can’t seem to help herself and, as a result, I can’t accept praise. If a friend says something admiring, I immediately undermine it. I also tent to obsess about relatively small flaws and spend a huge chunk of my salary on beauty products I don’t really need”

Parents are the primary influence on a child’s perception of its body, explains Johannesburg-based clinical psychologist Liane Lurie. “Intuitively, we model much of our behavior on the caregiver with whom we most closely identify, depending on our developmental stage. If, for argument’s sake, mom adopts a restrictive attitude to food or a publicly odious attitude to her own figure, her daughter is likely to do the same – or, in some cases, entirely the opposite.”

Description: “There’s an entire constellation of words, attitudes and actions that come into play,”

“There’s an entire constellation of words, attitudes and actions that come into play,”

“If, on the other hand, our parents offer loving words about our bodies and their abilities from a young age, we may develop what psychologists call an ego ideal – an inner image of ourselves – that’s flexible enough to deflect even the cruelest words later on. Because, deep down, we’ll know that skew teeth or big ears don’t make us less lovable.”

Of course, spoken words are only part of the story. A father, secretly saddened that his teenage daughter isn’t the adorable little cherub she was at five, might begin to treat her indifferently. She, in turn, may begin to believe she’s become repulsive. A mother who struggles to relate to her own ageing body might project her insecurities onto a 16-year-old daughter who’s just discovering her appeal.

Negatively comparing a child to her siblings or peers could also cause long-term damage, adds Cape Town-based psychologist Siyabonga Nkosi. “There’s an entire constellation of words, attitudes and actions that come into play,” he says.

But it’s not all bad news: “Children also internalize positive words for character formation,” comments Nkosi.

They may not be very well filed, but they’re buried somewhere in our catalogues all the same.

What your lover says

Description: “It’s human to become defensive in the fact of perceived criticism, but there are known health risks associated with being overweight,”

“It’s human to become defensive in the fact of perceived criticism, but there are known health risks associated with being overweight,”

“One day, a few weeks before our wedding, I noticed my usually sensitive fiancé checking out my second helping of mashed potatoes a bit skeef,” confides Nazeera*, 35, an events planner from Cape Town. “You’re so gorgeous… if only you’d lose a few kg,” he said with a sleepish grin.

“I felt his words like a punch to the stomach. I nearly called off the wedding, even though I knew his comment was no reflection of how attractive he found me. Instead, I slowly became aware of just how much I overeat under stress… In the end, I was grateful for what he said – if not exactly for how he said it!”

Sometimes, harsh words can be motivating. There’s probably no tactful way to tell the person whose body you know most intimately that they’ve put on a bit of a paunch, says Durban-based psychologist Rakhi Beekrum.

Who among us has never tried to make a constructive suggestion, out of care, and botched it entirely? Surely there comes a point hen health trumps hurt feelings? Beekrum believe so. “If someone makes a negative comment about your body, ask yourself if it was purely malicious, merely thoughtless, or if there might be any truth in it,” she suggests. If you’re really not sure, run it by someone you trust to tell you the truth.

“It’s human to become defensive in the fact of perceived criticism, but there are known health risks associated with being overweight,” says Beekrum.

When it’s completely taboo to say anything that’s less than adoring about each other’s bodies, this could signal shaky foundations. Since we’re bound to expand, contract and age over the course of a long-term relationship, it’s important that we feel valued for more than how we look.

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