Who engages in fat talk?

Recent findings have reported that 93% of women engage in fat talk. As disheartening as this is, it is probably not surprising to anyone. This statistic not only tells us about where we culturally stand with regards to our relationship with our bodies, but also that nearly every woman engages in this harmful paradigm.

2 girls whispering

Usually, statistics are grossly under-reported, and I’m sure this one is no exception to the rule. But I still can’t help but wonder who on earth this so called 7% is? Possibly society’s unicorn?

Asking a girl if she currently does or ever has engaged in ‘fat talk’ is quintessential to the scene in the movie “Mean Girls” where Ms. Norbury asked how many girls had ever heard or said something bad about another girl, and almost everyone raised their hand.

The two worst things you can call a female in our culture is “fat” and/or “ugly”. Why? Because that’s culturally what a women’s worth and value is based on, primarily her physical appearance. In fact, Mean Girls even coined the term “fugly”, essentially meaning a fat and ugly girl. So naturally it makes sense that calling a woman fat/ugly would instantly make her feel bad about herself. In fact, many women feel that negative appearance remarks are the number one way to offend them.

What is fat talk?

Well, it sounds a little something like this: “oh my god I’m so fat” or “gross, she’s so ugly and fat”, or “do I look fat in this?”. We hear this all the time as women, whether we’re out to eat, shopping, or just enjoying a day at the park. Fat talk usually involves negative body talk among groups of women either about their own bodies or about other woman’s bodies. It can be blatantly obvious as is depicted in the examples mentioned above, or more subtle such as “hmm, it looks like she’s still struggling to get her pre-baby body back” or, “I wonder when she stopped working out?”.

Women also use fat talk as a way of relating to one another. It’s this unspoken bond that we all have. Think about it: it’s much safer to say “I feel fat” than it is to say “I’m scared no one will like me” or “I’m anxious about ____”.

But why are we so compelled to label others as “fat”? Perhaps it’s because we all want to be worthy of connection and feel we have value. Because a woman’s value and worth is based off of how beautiful and thin she is, when we call someone else fat, we indirectly increase our worth and value by directly devaluing the other person.

The notion of the thinness myth permeates throughout our culture. It’s the belief that if we are thin enough, we will be more successful, find love, have more fulfilling relationships and so forth. This belief is not true yet so many women organize their own values and life around this one belief. However, the consequences of this belief are not exclusive to eating disorders, low self-esteem, body hatred, dieting, bullying and even depression or anxiety.

You’d be hard pressed to find any female who has never struggled in some way with her body. In light of all of this, there are ways we can challenge this ingrained belief and it can start with increasing our awareness and changing our response to fat talk.

Let’s face it, when someone asks you “do I look fat?” The reaction they are hoping for is one that reassures and reaffirms their worth and values by answering (usually in horror) “oh my gosh no, you’re so skinny”.

Verbal reassurance from others about our bodies provides external validation that we are enough, that we have value and that we are worthy of connection. When someone asks “do I look fat?”, there really is no ideal way to answer that question, and saying “no you don’t look fat, you look great” only reinforces that being thin is good and being fat is bad.

Here are some helpful reminders and tips you can practice as a way to start not only changing the dialogue on fat talk but also shifting your own relationship with yourself and your body:

Tips on combating Fat Talk:

– Recognize that fat is not a feeling and instead ask “what do you actually feel?” (For example: unworthy, insecure, anxious)

– Ask “how do you feel in that outfit?”

– Ask: “Why are you bullying yourself?”

– Open the dialogue and ask “why is that important to you?”

– Practice vulnerability and open up about what you are really upset about.

– Ask yourself “what am I getting out of calling this person fat?”, “does it make me feel less ashamed of my own body?”

– Recognize that you can have the same achievements, participate in activities and live a meaningful life even when you are not your ideal size.

– Ask yourself what is more important than your weight or pant size.

– Respond with or give a compliment about someone else’s personality or behavior rather than focusing on their weight.

– Refuse to acknowledge or engage when fat talk emerges during a conversation and refocus on other meaningful parts of the conversation.

– Talk to your friends and educate them about how fat talk hurts not only yourself but everyone around you.

– Accept that “fat talk” occurs and recognize where our own beliefs and biases about shape and size came from.

So the next time “fat talk” presents itself, take a moment to reflect on what you are experiencing in that moment and practice one of the above strategies to shift the dialogue.

You might also want to consider therapy.

Written by: Julie Raymond, LCPC

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