Why I’m Rethinking the Words I Use to Describe My Body
10.11.17

“I look really good, my skin’s good, my body’s nice.”

These are the words of actress Debi Mazar as quoted in a recent interview with The Cut. As I read them (once, twice, three times), I marveled at how foreign they sounded. Especially the last bit: “my body’s nice.”

Not a single woman I know has ever complimented her whole body out loud in my presence. Not a single one! On extremely rare occasions, I’ve been privy to the positive self-appraisal of a friend’s single body part, but never the body in its totality. There’s a difference. There’s an even bigger difference when singling-out a set of limbs or pair of eyes implies the rest of the package merits improvement.

My arms are skinny, but I hate my…

It’s not new information that “fat talk” is a currency many women could trade in with their eyes closed. Even those who love their bodies are versed in this language by simple virtue of living in the world. The noise is deafening.

My body’s nice.

Mazar’s words cut through this noise like a knife, not only because she dares to admire her whole physical appearance without caveat, but also because the way she describes it is dizzyingly nonchalant.

Calling something or someone “nice” is the verbal equivalent of a shrug. It’s a filler word plopped into an apathetic characterization for lack of any other newsworthy quality, a word used when you cannot conjure a single strong feeling, positive or negative, about whatever it is you’re being made to describe. That’s what makes Mazar’s gentle indifference radical. It’s as if she’s saying, “What’s the big deal?”

This attitude, intentional or not, reminds me of Romy Oltuski’s meditation on the idea of body-neutrality. “Body neutrality aims for self-acceptance over self-love, attempting to move beyond the reflex to constantly judge our own appearances, positively or negatively,” she writes. “Where body positivity’s motto might be ‘love yourself,’ body neutrality’s would probably be ‘underthink it.’”

Easier said than done, I know. The urge to judge my own body often feels instinctual and involuntary, like sneezing. As these inevitable criticisms surface, though, I’ve resolved to try harpooning them with Mazar’s blade of compassionate apathy: less thinking, more shrugging.

It’s a work in progress, but so far, it’s been nice.

Photo by Raymond Hall/GC Images.

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  • Lauren

    Yes! I spoke with a therapist once about stretch marks- I told her I was trying to love them for representing hard work, muscle gained, whatever, but it was hard and I didn’t know if I ever could. She said something along the lines of “Why do you have to love them? Can we work on just accepting them and move on?” Changed my life.

    • Cristina

      Yes. Like, my stretch marks aren’t my “tiger stripes” from birthing children, gaining muscle or whatever. They’re because i hit puberty and went from a stick to a full fledged curvy Latina. Truth be told, they only make me self conscious around the mass population of young women that somehow emerged through puberty with no stretch marks (or even birth). Not a single man has ever told me to put my clothes back on, or turn the lights off. And I’ve got them everywhere. So everyone can SUCK IT.

      • Lauren

        Mmmmhm. I’m trying to view them objectively, like feet. Not all feet are cute. But that doesn’t mean you’re ashamed of your feet.

        • eizhowa

          Lauren, I knew a girl who was ashamed of her feet. She had perfectly normal girl-feet, which was too ugly apparantely.

      • Sydney JG

        yes!!! i feel the exact same way, and no guy has ever even noticed mine!

    • Adrianna

      So applicable to most, if not all, aspects of life

    • belle

      Oh man, I have been struggling with my stretch marks lately too. I’m also super pale right now, which makes them even more noticeable. My therapist made a similar point about anything that causes discomfort in our lives – we don’t have to “fix” it or learn to love it, and there is strength in being able to just accept something for what it is, acknowledge your feelings about it and move on.

  • Christel Michelle

    Harling!!! Thank you for writing this! I wanted to share something that I hope you’ll take part in. This past summer my best friend/former roommate and I decided to start this thing called, “The Summer of Self Love”. We were fed up with the fact that it felt so easy to shit on ourselves, but so hard to just like ourselves. So we checked each other and tried our best to replace harmful phrases like, “I fucking hate my life” to “Today could be better, but it could also be worse.” etc. It was tough, but by the end of the summer we were literally yelling “summer of self love” at each other whenever one of us got off track. Now we’ve changed it to the “Life of Self Love”. Everyone should get someone to yell “life of self love” at them when they feel like shit lol also, “It’s a work in progress, but so far, it’s been nice.” Is sometimes all it takes <3

    • Harling Ross

      What a neat way to rewire your thinking. Thanks, Christel

  • Anne Dyer

    Your writing is better than nice.

    • Harling Ross

      OH MAN, ANNE

  • nell

    The idea of striving for “gentle indifference” towards your body is really liberating — we don’t always talk kindly about our own bodies, but the pressure can sometimes run the other way… life if you don’t hate your body you have to LOVE your body and shout it from the rooftops. Like, come on — you don’t have to *love* the flesh sack you use to carry yourself around. Take decent care of it and try to practice thinking about it less. Much easier said than done! But a powerful idea.

    Also can we talk about how sweet and chill Debi Mazar’s life seems in general? Especially her “disco workouts” and her Italian husband making coffee for her and their two daughters every morning.

    • Harling Ross

      yes CAN WE i am obsessed with her

    • Adrianna

      I live within walking distance to her husband’s restaurant in Windsor Terrace. (The Tuscan Gun.) Actually saw him cooking there

    • Alexa M

      YES! The message that everyone’s body is beautiful is really great, but I feel like it still perpetuates the idea that it’s important to be considered beautiful. I’ve made an effort to attach less of my self-worth and identity to the way my body looks and that has made it much easier to accept it as it is.

      • Ai-Ch’ng GB

        This is interesting, not least of all, because for about half the week, I really love pulling things quickly out of my closet and whacking them together in a way that I do find pleasing to me (and more often than not, not necessarily so to others).

        My son (at eighteen years old recently) has started to choose and buy his own clothes the last year. Prior to this, he has been happy for me to buy him $10 Tshirts snd cotton hoodies, and simple $25 jeans for him. Now, however, he takes more care with how he likes to dress (and he really does dress unusually and not at all like his buddies). He has also started to return to a regular exercise plan that he set up himself, incorporating some of the stuff his physio has shown him post-knee-reconstruction.

        What we both explorered last weekend was how we dress, and that we both feel that we look after our bodies less for how they look, than for how they function. We agreed it’s okay to dress nicely and want to muck about a bit with our appearance with clothes whilst getting dressed in the morning. However, once it extends beyond five minutes, and we leave the house end are constantly looking at our reflections as we walk past windows/mirrors/any vaguely reflective surface, that’s just vain and destructive. Because, even though we may start out thinking about how we look in the morning for a few minutes, once we leave the bathroom/bedroom, we shouldn’t be thinking any further about how we look. Instead, we should look at how we function, and based on how well we go that, how we subsequently feel.

        And the same goes for our body shapes. We should use eating and exercise to get our bodies to feel good, and function well. And looking good is a far second to all that. Because, it’s just so much more meaningful an existence for our family, at any rate, to live according to, “Form follows function” – which, for us, means that how we feel and our bodies work is more important to us, than how we appear to others.

  • tmm16

    I’ve also been trying to speak of my body in a more positive light. Whether or not it has marks and scars or maybe it’s 10 pounds heavier than you’d like it to be, your body gets you up in the morning, allows you to live life, and supports you. When I want to make a negative comment, I try to remember these things.

  • Cristina

    It’s so hard when we are still surrounded by an “ideal” women. Don’t get me wrong, like half a brownie point to some of the ads representing women of all body types. And another half a brownie point to “plus size” models like AG. But the thing is, those are still women with perfect versions of that body type. I don’t see rolls, cellulite, bumps and lumps. So you still don’t really represent me. I’m currently in a stage where I’d be more comfortable losing 20 lbs, but… this is who I am now. And I need to learn not to let other dictate how I feel about what I look like, regardless if it’s love or indifference. It’s so crazy to me that there are gorgeous women out there using waist trainers and shifting their organs to get a “coke bottle” figure that I’m blessed to have naturally. I hate the way my butt jiggles, but you’ve got women that spend hours in the gym trying to get a bigger butt. So I’m never going to be skinny and white. I need to get over it!

    • Abby

      “I’d be more comfortable losing 20 lbs, but… this is who I am now. And I need to learn not to let others dictate how I feel about what I look like, regardless if it’s love or indifference.”

      Yes yes yes yes, x100. Perfectly said.

    • Sarah

      I’m really loving lonely lingerie (check out their insta- It’s so good!!) because, in addition to making beautiful undies, all their shots feature models of all body types that aren’t the idealized form of that shape. There’s cellulite and strech marks and jiggly stomachs and back fat poking from the bra elastic. They are also stunning shots and I always think how great the models look, even though their bodies are presented in their honest state.

      • Cristina

        Looking them up now! Thank you! I just ordered undies from Aerie. I’ve heard nothing but awesome things about the panties themselves, but they also support real bodies, rolls and all. And I always look for an excuse to buy new undies haha!

    • pamelabeesly

      I really really love your comment. I identify with it to a T.

      • Cristina

        ::virtual hug::

    • Senka

      Exactly. Yesterday I tried on a pair of wide legged pants. I was alone shopping and, well I wasn’t sure do I like them or not, and I went out of the dressing room. I asked a woman standing outside checking her self out in a mirror how I looked. I literally made my self vulnerable, because I always assume female camaraderie in such situations imply. Woman was tiny. As in really short and really, really thin. In her forties. I, myself am a coke bottle, like you said. 6’7, 117lbs coke bottle with waist and hips to be seen and reckoned for as long as I live. She said, plain and simple that I’m too fat for the pants.
      I said thank you. I went back into a dressing room. Looked at my self in a mirror. to say that her words didn’t affect me would be a lie. I lost some weight recently, due to health issues, but still, to a stranger I was fat.
      I got the pants, nevertheless, because they have Annie Hall vibe, and I loved them.
      Wore them to work today. Three female coworkers said I looked great.

      • Cristina

        What the actual f**k?! I would’ve told that lady to quit being a hag for sure. Props to you for getting the pants because they make you feel good and you love them! AND people complimented you so maybe that lady just didn’t get you and get your vibe and those are the people that matter. I keep trying the “boyfriend” jeans trend… and I look ridiculous but I’m bummed because who doesn’t want to wear jeans that are basically pajamas?! lol!

        • Senka

          I can’t wear the boyfriend jeans either. They look weird. But I do love mom jeand even though some high waisted ones cut into my stomach as I sit. 😀

      • belle

        What a garbage person! I’m glad you got the pants 🙂

      • The striking piece of this story to me was when you described yourself by the numbers. I always shy away from sharing/requesting the measurements of anyone (unless it’s my younger sister who is a hardcore athlete and incredibly lanky) so it’s been awhile since I’ve heard a body type described followed by the exact numbers that constitute those proportions. This was jarring for me because 1) I practice body neutrality and it’s something I do with relative ease (especially compared to the greater female population) and 2) you and I are roughly the same height but I am almost 100 lbs more than you and I’ve always considered my body type/shape average or thin-ish on a good day. My self description sounds comical when compared to yours since you are almost half my size but after about 10 seconds of being taken aback I just sat back and thought “why would this random person’s description of herself completely change my view of my body”

        • Senka

          In a way that’s the thing. I used the numbers to point out that, by numbers, I should objectivelly be considered thin. Yet someone elses opinion made me feel fat. ( And that woman was minuscule.)Because our brains are wired the wrong way. We are systematically thought to look for flaws in our selves and our bodies. I am over thirty and not a day goes by, without me pointing out that my head is too small, my upper arms too thick even though I never lifted a weight in my life, etc. I don’t want to make other people doubt themselves , because I have spent most of my my life doubting myself. I strive for body neutrality and am still struggling as you can tell.
          I often joke that, I wish Kardashians were famous in late 90s and early ’00s in my remote part of the world. They would have saved me a lot of hurt and nasty comments, diets and cosntant attepmts to make myself into waifish blonde that I wasn’t meant to be.

  • Kelsey Moody

    Love Debi Mazar! Sidenote…. If you dont watch “Younger” with her and Hilary Duff you are MISSING OUT

    • Cristina

      Seriously love that show!

    • Harling Ross

      i’ve been thinking of starting

      • Kelsey Moody

        have you started yet…start now.

    • Autumn

      LOOOOOOVE that show!

    • Njchickalways Smith

      Adore that show and her!

  • After reaching my heaviest weight in at least 5 years yesterday, I really needed to read this article. Hell, just hours ago my boyfriend joked about visiting our favorite food truck and my immediate response was, “I can’t eat that, I am too fat right now”. He chastised me for my outburst and told me that I need to be nicer to myself.

    It’s extra hard to be kind to your body when you’re feeling your worst, but I need to re-focus on what I can do to feel better (complaining doesn’t help!) and I need to be thankful for the fact that my body, while chubbier than I like, still gets me from A to B and is healthy enough to let me enjoy life.

    • Senka

      What I liked the most was the way your boyfriend “chastised” you into being nicer to yourself. You have a good man.
      I somehow usually date men who are twice my size (and I lke them that way), but allways have had something to say about the state my body is in. Body that works and has better and worse days, as you said gets me from A to B, and to work every morning. Also the body they chose to date and “love” at some point.

  • My bod is one big shrug, and I’m feeling very chill about it these days. Plus, it’s fun to do in the mirror. How do I look today? Shrug.

    • Harling Ross

      one big shrug is potentially my new IG bio

  • Katja N

    I love this. That’s the state of mind I’m trying to reach myself. The only thing is, my friends unfortunately don’t understand this. When I tell them I don’t think I look beautiful but just fine, they will always interrupt me after beautiful and insist on the opposite.. and I’m having a hard time to explain I don’t want to care about that at all.

  • I love this idea! Self-love can feel so unattainable and often boastful…but self-acceptance…well that’s something I could move towards! Thanks for sharing! Off to shrug more and think less!

  • Emily Stark

    It’s like how often we hear the message “all bodies are beautiful” when we know that’s not true. I know women whose bodies I would never think of or call “beautiful”. But also, I don’t care what their bodies look like at all. Sometimes when I think of my own body I remind myself that nobody cares.

    • Harling Ross

      yes!!!!!!!!! nobody cares! one of the best reminders of something so easy to forget

  • Kay Ann

    I had a similarly formative moment the first time I watched Annie Hall.

    Annie and Alvy go back in time to a party, and they observe younger Annie flirting with an actor.

    ALVY’S VOICE
    (Laughing)
    Look at you, you-you,-re such a clown.

    ANNIE’S VOICE
    I look pretty.

    The total self-assured way that Diane Keaton delivers that line wins my heart every single time. I was very young when I first saw that movie, but damn it if it wasn’t the first time I’d ever heard a woman give herself a compliment. It showed me that you never have to make excuses or apologize for being your own fan. You bet I’ve channeled that moment many times in different difficult contexts.

    • Harling Ross

      i love the idea of being your own fan

  • Morg

    I will often observe my boyfriend getting ready in the morning, or when he is trying on clothes. His outward observation of himself is just as Harling described, neutral. It appears to me, and I’ve been observing this for a long time, that he doesn’t think one way or another about his body. At least not on a daily basis like some of us. He is healthy and exercises frequently. But he does this for the feeling it provides him, not the look. When it comes to his appearance he is mostly focused on keeping warm, remaining comfortable, and more recently; matching [thank god]. When we’re at the beach, he rips his shirt off like he’s a male model who just recently left a GQ photoshoot- complete and utter confidence. But I often have to think, is it confidence I’m observing? Or is it simply a lack of opinion about oneself?

    I nodded along in agreeance [is that still a word?] when I read the line, “The urge to judge my own body often feels instinctual and involuntary, like sneezing.”

    SO – How do we take steps to reverse this?! That’s where I’m stuck. I often tell my boyfriend, “I don’t care how I look; I just want my body to be able to climb mountains, pedal me to work and make it through flu season.” However, let’s be honest. I’m lying. I’ve programmed myself to believe I need to look like the models displayed along the side bar advertisements.

    If I got there, though, would I be happy? My hope is that as I grow older & wiser, I will be able to define wellness & happiness within myself, and find a balance of love and neutrality that agrees with me.

  • Emily M

    Holy y e s. I am all about this.

  • Alice

    Bodies are hard. I’m having a hard time accepting mine lately and one thing that helps is taking care of it. It’s nice to focus on how nice my perfume is or how clothes feel against soft skin. Thoughtless thoughts.

  • sifsgoldwig

    I had a minor epiphany when I heard someone talk about loving and accepting your body parts simply because they’re yours. Instead of objectively scrutinizing your looks based on some “ideal” or negatively being subjective about your body, the idea is to be positively subjective about it. As in, my nose may not be as slender and small as an “ideal” I see in most media, but it’s mine and as a result, I’m actually quite fond of it.

  • Enika Rood

    I love your articles, I seriously take so much inspo from you lassies! X

  • Sarah Mcgrew

    I figured out, at the age of 60, that I disliked my body at 20, and at 30, again at 40 and 50. And I had a great body all the time!! Not size 0 but strong and healthy with curves in curvy places. Now I know that at 70 my body isn’t going to look the way it does now, and I’d better 1. Accept that, and 2. Appreciate what I have now. Oh, and exercise and eat well to stay strong, healthy and curvy until my last day on earth. Cheers!!

    • Senka

      From a woman in the thirties, that’s trying to enjoy the life best she can in the body she has, thank you for writing this! The body we have is the best we’ll have at this moment. Improving it isn’t a problem, but, enjoying it the way it is is a priority.

  • Sydney JG

    yes yes yes! time to embrace who we are! i need to work on not being so self deprecating all the time. I feel l’m constantly critiquing and judging my body, and thinking I need to change, when in reality I like who I am and I like my body! “its nice” 🙂

  • beckly

    I was a self-conscious adolescent and young adult before camera phones and photoshop, so I feel for anyone aiming for a sensible working relationship with their body image now. You’re winning if you survive your daily feed!

    One thing that people who make their own clothes learn: when you fit the clothes to the body, not the body to the clothes,your perception of your body becomes quite neutral. Your measurements are just useful figures you work with to make your garment feel right, and fashion ads are just mean-girl messages for other people. Many sewists will tell you that making their own skinny jeans was the greatest liberation they’ve ever felt.

  • Ciccollina

    Everybody needs to surround themselves with more Debi Mazar, she is just about my favourite Hollywoodette ever. So frank, so chill, so funny. She tries but there’s really no fucks given. Her ITG interview is to die.

  • Miciah

    I love this post and I’ve honestly never thought of anything like this before.