Ladies, let's talk about Fat Talk. What is Fat Talk? Fat talk takes on a few forms. It happens when someone says, "You look great today", and you reply "Ugh, I feel like a cow!". Fat Talk. Or when you look in a mirror and say to yourself, "My thighs are so gross". Fat Talk. It happens when you're shopping with a friend and say something like "I could never wear that, my ass is huge". Fat Talk. It even happens when your friend says "I shouldn't have eaten that last slice of pizza, I'm so fat!" and you reassure her "You're SO not fat...I'm the fat one"! Double Fat Talk! Fat talk is all the little negative comments we make about our bodies to ourselves and others.
Why do we do it? Here's the screwed up thing--women use Fat Talk as a social lubricant. It helps us identify and connect with each other. "You hate your back fat? I hate my back fat! Let's be besties!" In order to make women like us, we have to show how much we don't like ourselves. That's jacked up, friends. In fact, we even engage in Fat Talk when we don't mean it--just to show solidarity to a friend. Think about it, have you ever made a disparaging comment about your own body just to make a friend feel better about hers? Researchers have found that the practice of Fat Talk is so deeply ingrained in female relationships, that 93% of women admit to engaging in it to connect with other women. That's almost all of us, for the math-challenged like me.
So if everyone's doing it, what's the big deal? Isn't it just female nature to share our complaints about our bellies, butts and boobs? Well, no. Actually, its not. Most fat talk doesn't come from how we feel about our bodies, but rather how we're supposed to feel about it. Which brings me to the problems with Fat Talk: 1) It's contagious, and 2) It's damaging.
First, its contagious. Women are natural commiserators, and even one-uppers. "You don't like your thighs? Well, look at the size of mine--they're twice as big as yours!" "I gained 30 pounds during pregnancy" "That's nothing, I gained 75!". In a group, these kinds of seemingly harmless comments create a culture where a woman has to share her body dissatisfaction just to fit in. Imagine a group of women sitting around a dinner table, sharing stories of their post-baby bodies, and one woman chimes in with "I like my body". She'd be stabbed with a salad fork quicker than you can say "Mommy Makeover"! So instead, what does she do? She laughs and agrees, and even shares a story about how her boobs will never be the same. She can't help but participate.
Second, its damaging. The same study that showed how prevalent Fat Talk is, also showed that just hearing other women participate in Fat Talk makes us feel worse about our own bodies. Engaging in Fat Talk has an even greater effect. Let's take our dinner party guest. She felt okay walking in, but ended up sharing her own body dissatisfaction (whether real or created for the sake of fitting in). Now she's said it, and those words start to take hold and plant seeds of doubt in her mind. The next morning, she looks in the mirror with a little less satisfaction. I'm reminded of the old quote that says "Watch your thoughts, because they become words. Watch your words, they become actions...." Saying negative things about our bodies to ourselves and others gives life to the thoughts.
So what do we do about it? First, Shut up! My daughter, who is 5, sometimes gets so caught up in whining that she literally can't stop. Everything that comes out of her mouth comes out in a whining tone, and she'll say,"Mom, I can't help it" (in a whine, of course). When this happens, I tell her, "If you can't stop whining, just stop talking". If you can't stop complaining about your body, just stop talking about it. You may not be able to get rid of all the negative body thoughts that come into your head, but you CAN control the words that come out of your mouth. Don't be the initiator that causes other women to engage in the negative talk. Don't be the one who lights the match that sparks the fire. Don't open Pandora's Fat Talk box.
The other thing you can do is not engage, and change the subject. When someone else puts herself down, don't keep the dialogue going by commiserating and one-upping. Say "Why are we always so hard on ourselves" and then change the subject. Put out the fire. Do it for all the women around you, whose day could be made a little bit worse just by hearing two strangers Fat Talking. Do it for all the little ears around you that are affected when they hear women complaining about their bodies.
Can we all agree to let go of the Fat Talk? To refrain from starting it, and to shut it down when we hear it? To not engage--because we know that even as we try to use Fat Talk to make a friendship better, we're making our relationship with our own bodies a little worse? For the rest of the month, I challenge you to stop the Fat Talk. Who's with me?