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Casual remarks like “Have you lost weight?” “You look great!” or “That cake is going straight to my hips!” are usually meant to be kind or funny. Yet no matter how well-meaning they are, such statements help reinforce a status quo that suggests thinness is better, says Chrissy King, author of The Body Liberation Project. They contribute to the idea that there’s a “right” way to look — and that any body that isn’t slender and fit (and probably white, gender-conforming, and able-bodied) doesn’t qualify.

When you’re cultivating a more body-neutral mindset, King recommends paying close attention to your words. “Start listening to how you approach body topics in your conversations,” she says. “If everything you’re saying is around appearance, and you’re assigning value to yourself or others based on that, what does that say about your perspective?”

Every body deserves respect and compassion, King adds, and she acknowledges that expressing those values is not easy for many people — especially when they’re talking about themselves.

In that case, the first step may be hearing how you talk to yourself, says body-image coach Anne Poirier, author of The Body Joyful. “We’re so programmed to talk down to ourselves,” she says. “There’s almost a sense of belonging and community when you’re out with friends and every­one is beating themselves up. When that happens, pause. Sometimes, that’s all it takes to reset your self-talk and the conversation. Just stop, listen, remember the size of your body is not related to your worth.”

(For more on dealing with diet talk, see “How to Halt Diet Talk.”)

This was excerpted from “What Is Body Neutrality and How Can I Embrace It?” which was published in Experience Life.

Elizabeth Millard

Elizabeth Millard is a writer, editor, and farmer based in northern Minnesota.

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