Have you ever referred to your midsection as a “muffin top”?
Do you call your comfortable jeans “fat pants”?
Have you ever adjusted a friend’s dress to hide her “back fat”?
When asked, “How are you doing?” have you ever responded with “I feel fat today,” or “I’ll be better when I lose these last five pounds!”?
Most women—and many men too!—can probably answer “yes” to at least one of the questions posed above. Negative self talk, particularly related to our bodies, weight and shape, is commonplace in our society. Fat jokes and “fat talk” are speckled throughout most chick flicks, sitcoms and beach books, they are the fodder of seemingly every comedian in the world and they form the basis of hundreds of ad campaigns encouraging us to buy products and services promising to make us thinner, prettier and more desirable. For many women “fat talk” is almost like a bonding ritual—often times, we connect with others through our dissatisfaction with our bodies and body parts.
Despite the prevalence of negative self talk, there is a serious downside to this seemingly common and acceptable practice. These negative body messages—both internal and external— adversely impact our self esteem and body image. For most people, “fat talk” just makes us feel badly about ourselves or inadequate, or it engenders feelings of competition and envy among women. However, negative body image plays a significant role in the development and maintenance of eating disorders. For individuals that are predisposed to developing an eating disorder, the simple and seemingly harmless comments made about themselves—or unsolicited comments from others—can contribute to the development of anorexia, bulimia or binge eating disorder, or trigger a relapse for those in recovery from these illnesses.
To bring awareness to the prevalence of “fat talk,” body image issues and the damaging impact of the “thin ideal” on women in society, the sorority Tri Delta developed Fat Talk Free Week several years ago. According to the official website of Fat Talk Free Week, this annual, five-day international body activism campaign seeks to:
- Educate others about the damaging impact of pursuing the thin ideal and the use of fat talk on women of all ages
- Inspire change in the way we think and feel about our bodies; and
- Promote a healthy lifestyle and one that urges individuals to live a balanced life in mind, body and spirit.
Fat Talk Free Week 2013 is October 21st through October 25th. During these five days, I encourage you to be aware of the negative body messages you relay to yourself and others, and make a commitment to avoiding this behavior for the duration of the week. Our relationships with our bodies can be complex, but some simple strategies can move us toward a more accepting and loving relationship with our bodies.
Be aware. As with any behavior you’re trying to change, the first step is awareness. Understand what “fat talk” is, and consciously try to identify the ways you and those around you use it in your daily life.
Be kind to yourself. Because you deserve it. It’s as simple as that. Our body weight and shape have nothing to do with who we are as individuals, mothers, daughters, friends and employees. When you feel the urge to insult yourself related to your body or weight, instead think about the value you bring to your family, friendships, workplace or community.
Be kind to others. Because they deserve it. It’s as simple as that. Take care not to “fat talk” to others and draw attention to their body and weight insecurities. We may think we’re supporting or motivating others with these messages, but we can never know the impact of our words on others, so always err on the side of kindness and make it a practice to not talk about others’ bodies.
Be a role model. Kids and teens are behavioral sponges—they observe what we do and say, thinking that the acts and words of their parents and other trusted adults are normal and acceptable. This notion applies to fellow adults as well. Family and friends may notice the absence of “fat talk” from your vocabulary and follow your lead.
Understand eating disorders. “Fat talk” does not always lead to an eating disorder, but it’s important to understand how sociocultural norms can contribute to the development and maintenance of eating disorders in certain high-risk populations. Knowledge is power when it comes to these complex illnesses, so be sure to educate yourself about the signs, symptoms and effective treatment if you or a loved one suffers from extreme body image distortion or dissatisfaction.
Mark your calendars for Fat Talk Free Week 2013, and make commitment to removing negative body talk from your vocabulary for the full week. Who knows? You may feel better about yourself, and you may feel more accepting of your body. And you may decide to work the “fat talk free” concept into your everyday life on an ongoing basis.
Learn more about Fat Talk Free Week and how you can get involved here: http://bi3d.tridelta.org/ourinitiatives/fattalkfreeweek