Developing the Skill of Living a Fat Talk Free® Life
This guest post graciously submitted by Carolyn Becker
In 2008 Tri Delta launched its international advocacy campaign – Fat Talk Free® Week. These days, we encourage people to engage in the campaign year round. Yet, many women (and some men) tell me that living a life without fat talk can be really difficult. Just the other day I was talking with a women who said she can see the damage done by fat talk and would like put an end to it in her daily life. Yet she finds herself slipping into fat talk inadvertently and she often doesn’t know how to respond when friends engage in fat talk. So I’m going to let you in on a bit of a secret. Learning to live without fat talk requires actual learning. It’s really a skill set you need to develop, one that involves several steps.
- Learn to recognize fat talk. You can’t change something if you don’t know what it is! Fat talk is any speech that implicitly or explicitly reinforces the impossible to achieve thin-ideal standard of female beauty. It can be obviously mean – “Wow – she has a fat ass! I’d be embarrassed to walk around with that.” Or seemingly complimentary “Hey, you look great, have you lost weight?” or “How are you so thin?” People also engage in fat talk in an attempt to seek reassurance. For example – “This doesn’t make me look fat, does it?” Fat talk also perpetuates fat stigmatization in that it implies that anything other than a “perfect” physique is bad because it is “fat.”
- Really understand why fat talk is problematic. Research by Eric Stice and his colleagues suggests that you only need to engage in Fat Talk for 3-5 minutes before you feel worse about your body. Other research has shown that body dissatisfaction is associated with poorer health behaviors like decreased exercise, and decreased consumption of fruits and vegetables (Neumark-Sztainer et al., 2006; Anton et al., 2000), and research conducted for the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty found that body dissatisfaction leads women to disengage from life enhancing activities. Fat talk also not only makes you feel badly, it can hurt other people around you. I can’t tell you how many girls and women have told me about experiences in which they were feeling reasonably good about their bodies until someone around them started engaging in fat talk. In addition, if anyone around you is suffering from an eating disorder, you are now contributing to an environment that makes recovery that much more difficult. Lastly, even if someone doesn’t have a full blown eating disorder you could end up reinforcing health damaging behaviors. For example, I met a woman who said she was historically very happy with her weight, but she stopped eating and started smoking again during a very stressful time at work. Everyone told her how great she looked because she had lost weight (Note: her weight was low normal to start), and it undermined her motivation to quit smoking and improve her eating habits. She reported she was now sick more often and had less energy, but she was afraid others would think she was fat if she returned to her healthier lifestyle and higher weight.
- Practice responses to fat talk that work for you. This is a really important step. Visit www.endfattalk.org and look at the list of alternatives to fat talk and then practice using them. Use alternative strategies that fit your personality style. During a recent Reflections: Body Image Program® peer–leader training session, some students chose to assertively educate the “fat talker” about fat talk, whereas others were more comfortable with a “playing dumb” approach. For example, in response to the fat talk statement “Why is he dating her, she’s fat” the respondent said “I’m totally confused as to why you would say that because she’s really sweet and they seem really happy. That seems more important to me. Let’s talk about something else.”
- Focus on aspiring to the healthy-ideal instead of the thin-ideal and encourage others to do the same. The healthy-ideal is however your unique body turns out when you are doing all of the things necessary to appropriately and simultaneously maximize your physical health, mental health and quality of life. Striving for the healthy-ideal moves your thinking away from the thin-ideal which makes it easier to resist fat talk.
- Invite friends and loved ones to help you on your journey. They will help keep you accountable and vice versa.