Where Did You Learn “Fat Talk”? (November 2015)
Have you ever stepped away from yourself to listen to the manner in which you speak to yourself? Perhaps you hear your critical voice come out when you are getting dressed, or when you are eating a rich meal, or even when you choose to take the day off from being active. For some of us there is a “voice,” that is not very kind, known as “fat talk.”
Where did we learn to speak in such a condescending and hurtful manner? It may have been from as far back as elementary school or more recently from our peers. There is even the possibility that it is a result of the many hours we have spent with our parents. It is possible that our mothers dieted frequently resulting in the often-heard comments on thighs, butts, jiggling arms and other body parts with which they were dissatisfied. It is likely that a dieting parent spoke of “good foods” and “bad foods” rather than exposing us to terms that would teach us how to legalize all foods into our diets.
Research shows that many of our parents have been so consumed with calories and diets that we end up learning their way of thinking about foods. Sadly this way of thinking often times results in a lifetime of dieting, disordered eating and perhaps an eating disorder such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and/or binge eating disorder. There probably is not a day that passes that we don’t hear someone discuss the latest diet s/he is on, what food or food group is being excluded from the diet, and what part of his/her body leads to dissatisfaction. If we want our kids to love and respect themselves, we need to love and respect ourselves first so they can see how it’s done.
If our “fat talk” is derived from that of our parents’ maybe it stems from the following: “At the birth of a baby, most parents will be relieved when genetic disorders, congenital conditions, and other issues resulting from problem genes are ruled out. If the baby has all his or her reflexes and ten fingers and toes, the child is perfect. So, why are a few extra pounds considered a genetic problem later on? The answer is unclear, but apparently the right genes are the solution” according to psychologist Stacey M. Rosenfeld, Ph.D and author of Does Every Woman have an Eating Disorder? Dr. Rosenfeld’s book has many wonderful examples of the toxic language that parents use now and in the past that shape the thinking of current and future adults.
The Tri-Delta Sorority started Fat Talk Week which is an annual five-day body-image-awareness campaign typically held in October. The purpose of the campaign is to educate participants about the damaging impact that pursuing the “thin ideal” and using “fat talk” has on women of all ages. It also strives to promote a healthy lifestyle while inspiring women to change the way they think and feel about their bodies.
I think it’s a wonderful idea that college organizations have started to ban “fat talk” among their young-adult population; but how do we break this viscous cycle among other adults? I like to recommend to clients who have negative self-concepts to think the opposite of what they usually think about themselves. For example, I suggest to clients that they say something positive about themselves, even if they have difficulty believing it. Since we learn negative self-concepts from negative statements over time, it will take time to transform that negativity into positive thinking. It’s like the old saying goes: “Fake it ‘til you make it.”
If we lived in a different world — one that neither displayed underage, underweight models as the beauty ideal nor fostered a culture of fear and rejection around weight gain— then it might be easier to remove the fat talk. When we are influenced by parents who have been life-long dieters, plus media (print and tv/radio ads, journalism, and social media like Facebook) we are constantly reminded that “fat talk” seems to be endless and appearance and weight matter.
So…why don’t we break a damaging cycle and begin to speak in positive ways about ourselves while practicing kindness to ourselves as well? I know that neither is easy to do, but such positive changes in behavior can begin to repair the damage that has been done. And, you know what? Before long you may actually begin liking yourself AND your body. Who knows? In time, maybe you will become a positive role model for a friend, family member, co-worker or your own child.
- Rosenfeld, Stacey, Does Every Woman Have an Eating Disorder? Siena Moon Books, 2014. p. 37