According to an article in the New York Times’ “Well” Blog, a study found that a staggering 93 percent of college women engage in something called “fat talk.” Think, one woman says: “I can’t believe I just ate that whole bag of Oreos. I’m so fat!” Think, another woman says in response: “Oh my god, you’re not fat. Look at my ass, I’m the one who balloons when I eat sweets.”
Sound familiar? I’m sure it does. “Fat talk” is a vicious cycle wherein we tear ourselves down so we don’t seem too confident and then, in order to maintain equality in the friendship, we praise our friend and then tear our body down even more aggressively. If you’re a woman, than you’ve more than likely engaged in this toxic conversation cycle that sets the stage for poor body image and eating disorders, sometimes without even consciously wanting to. Why?
Because it’s become a way to bond with other women. And the really sick part is that researchers have found that it’s so automatic and embedded in women, that it may not even reflect the way we really feel about ourselves, but rather the way we think we are expected to feel about our bodies. That’s fucked up. It’s time for us to make an effort to shut the “fat talk” down. But how? Anything that happens automatically is a habit. Just like biting your nails or smoking cigarettes, we need to think of it as a seriously bad habit that must be broken. After the jump Winona and I have come up with some suggestions for cutting fat talk out of your life.
1. Make a no body snarking policy. First things first, put some rules in place for yourself. Draw a line in the sand with that friend, co-worker or sibling who always wants to have “fat talk” convos with you. To “my ass looks so big in these jeans,” your new reply is, “Sorry. I’m on a snarking diet for my own sanity.” Don’t feed into the cycle by commenting on how nice your friend’s ass looks or by insulting your own ass to make your friend feel better, just shut it down the moment it starts. There are so many other important things women can be bonding about, like how much we love/hate the new season of “Arrested Development.”
2. Flip the script. Replace cruel body talk with something loving. Instead of, “these pants make my hips look huge,” try “these pants are not cut for my body type.” It’s not like you have to pretend like these awful, clown pants aren’t making you feel like crap in the dressing room, it’s just that you have to acknowledge the reality of the situation which is: these pants are not for you. Stick with reality instead of taking it to the next level and finding a way to degrade your body. Shopping’s stressful enough as it is. Remember: those pants suck, not your hips.
3. Police your thoughts. What’s coming out of your mouth is just as important as what’s going on in your mind. Pay attention to your thoughts about your body because that’s where it all starts. Thoughts lead to words, lead to actions. Give yourself a new body mantra. Instead of thinking, “I am fat,” think, “I am beautiful.” You may not believe it, but you’d be surprised how well faking it till you make it works when you’re dedicated to the cause. Ami practiced doing this her freshman year of college, when her own body image issues were getting in the way of her social confidence. She and a friend made a pact to consciously think “I am hot” whenever they walked into a room. By the end of the year, Ami had kind of sort of tricked herself into believing it. In any case, the negative thoughts about her body greatly diminished.
4. Reward yourself for progress. Just like when you’re quitting smoking (or whatever bad habit you’ve tried to put the kibosh on), set markers that help track your progress. For each day or week or month you go without engaging in “fat talk” find a reward that motivates you. A mini shopping spree! A dance lesson! Tickets to a concert! Whatever makes you happy and increases your love for yourself is a good reward.
5. Point out the behavior in others. Yes, you can only change yourself and you’re not responsible for others’ behavior, but part of the insidiousness of “fat talk” is that it’s become socially acceptable way for women to bond with each other. Not only is it socially acceptable, but it’s pervasive. It’s hard to escape it no matter how hard you try. So, saying something non-pushy like, “It’s hard for me to hear you talking about your body like that,” may make someone else aware of the toxic script they’re engaging in. Winona and her best friend have a pact to (gently) call each other out whenever their body talk turns negative. Holding others accountable can help you stay accountable too.
6. Spend time with people who don’t do “fat talk.” We all have a friend (or maybe a whole group of friends) who, no matter how many times we change the subject or remind them to not body snark, continue to do it. Sometimes the best way to keep yourself from getting sucked into that toxic “fat talk” cycle is just to remove yourself from the situation. You don’t need to cut these friends out forever or anything, but try spending more time with the people you know who don’t dis their bodies, and see how it affects your own conversational habits and body image. This is especially helpful when you’re first starting to break the “fat talk” cycle. Once you’ve built up some healthier habits for yourself, you’ll be less likely to fall back into your old patterns, even if your old friends never change.
7. Be realistic. When something has been embedded in you for most of your life, know that it’s going to be a hard habit to break. It’s a life-long process; there are times when you’re going to be better at loving your body and times when it’s going to be harder. You won’t be able to snap your fingers and instantly banish “fat talk” from your life, but the work you put into maintaining more positive thoughts and discussions about your body will pay off, we promise. The important part is that you stay focused on your goal of ridding your life of “fat talk” and keep working toward it forever.