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Conversation starters to make your friends feel great

Conversation starters to make your friends feel great

Why do we so often greet our friends with a comment about their appearance? We’ve put together a checklist to give you ideas for opening a conversation, without placing too much importance on looks.

Meeting and greeting

Next time you greet a friend, take notice of how you start your conversation. Does it go something like: "Wow, you look great, have you lost weight?" or "I love that top – it makes you look so slim?"

Using appearance as a way to open conversations is second nature to women – but why? We may think of these sorts of comments as compliments, but conversation starters focused on looks can make appearance seem overly important, and set a negative example for our children.

Our children learn from our conversations

"Many women compliment each other’s appearance, or make negative comments about their own appearance, as an icebreaker. This kind of conversation is often referred to as ‘fat talk’ or ‘body talk’," explains research psychologist Dr Phillippa Diedrichs. "Often women and girls do this as a way to show interest in their friends, and to show that they care or can relate."

The problem is, we tend to do this without considering what impact it might have on our friends, and inadvertently on our children. We’ve become so accustomed to talking about our appearance before anything else, that often we don’t even realise we’re doing it.

"Although body talk is often used with good intentions, it usually has the opposite effect. It can make women feel self-conscious and unhappy with their appearance. This is because body talk often reinforces narrow beauty ideals," says Diedrichs. "For example, commenting on how great it is that someone looks slim, sends the message that women need to be slim to be considered attractive or worthy of attention, and it also implies that you notice what your friend weighs."

Without even trying, we’re passing on a subliminal message – appearance is a priority when it comes to friendships. What’s more, we’re often reinforcing negative beauty ideals by using weight and shape in our 'good' compliments. According to the study Adverse Effects of Social Pressure to be Thin on Young Women: An Experimental Investigation of the Effects of ‘Fat Talk’🔗, young women only need to hear three minutes of this type of conversation, before their body satisfaction decreases.

Undoing the conversation habits of a lifetime

It’s not just friends we greet with these appearance-openers. Think back to the last time you met a little girl. Did you ask her about her hobbies or school, or did you launch into the "Isn’t that a pretty dress!" routine?

How do we undo the habits of a lifetime? After all, we’ve probably been learning these ‘conversation rules’ since childhood.

We’ve put together an action checklist, with some helpful icebreakers and ideas for opening conversations without mentioning the other person's looks. Changing your habits will take time and conscious effort, but you’ll be sending more positive messages to your child about what you value in other women. Putting less emphasis on weight, clothes and looks when you greet your friends, indirectly teaches her that you don’t have to look a certain way to fit in and form friendships.

Action checklist: Conversation topics for you and your friends

  • 1

    Be a brilliant role model

    Your child learns how to address people and engage with others through you, so if you start using alternative greetings, they'll rub off on them too

  • 2

    Your friend is so much more than her looks

    We all have interests, jobs, hobbies and families, so next time you meet up with a friend, trying focusing on these. Think ahead – what did you talk about last time you met? Was there anything important happening that you can enquire about again?

  • 3

    Keep it simple

    Basic openers like, "It’s so great to see you", “How was your journey?" or "Have you been here before?" provide a positive conversation starter, from which you can move on to more substantial topics

next steps

  • Share the Cracking Compliments tool with your child, and help them learn ways to compliment people – without mentioning how they look
  • Talk about how you greet your friends and how they greet theirs. What sort of greetings do they use? Can they teach you anything?
  • Discuss why people talk about appearance to each other so much. Where did you learn it? Do their friends’ parents do the same thing?
  • Get your child to challenge you next time you fall into the greetings trap. Perhaps you could play a game with them of seeing how many different greetings you can use during a day or a week?
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