Fat talk. We’ve all heard it, and we’ve all felt the sting that comes along with it. Sometimes it’s subtle, like when your aunt suggests that you’re, “probably not hungry for dessert” but other times it can be very clear, like when a friend mentions that, “you’ve gained some weight since I last saw you.” These comments don’t go unnoticed, and they can create feelings of anxiety and self-doubt. Also known as body bashing, fat talk has been linked to the development of problematic eating habits1, and it encourages thin ideals that are often unrealistic. On the journey to become a better you, this language can act as a very difficult barrier. Arming yourself to defend against this kind of talk is the best way to ensure your long term success and your immediate happiness.
I’m no stranger to fat talk. I see it all the time. I remember attending a birthday party with some friends not long ago. One of the ladies in attendance began preaching the benefits of a sugar free diet and as her focus shifted to weight loss, I winced. Why does the conversation always come back to our weight and our eating habits? Why can’t we talk about life without mentioning our body? I felt uncomfortable in that room, and I felt saddened by that party. As she spoke about weight loss, she was conforming to the ideal of a skinny body, and when she explained her reasoning for a restricted diet, she did not stop to consider that the other ladies at the party may not have that same relationship with food. When women constantly choose to talk about weight and eating habits, it develops a dependency on our body as a source of happiness. Unfortunately, when we don’t meet our expectations, we often develop negative body image and low self-esteem.
Words can hurt, which is why finding the tools you need to deflect this kind of conversation is crucial. You can block fat talk amongst friends and family with these steps:
1. Heads Up
If your family and friends have used fat talk in the past, they may not realize how hurtful it can be. Try speaking to them ahead of time to let them know what topics are off-limits, and be aware that they may need reminding.
2. Go Prepared
Asking someone to stop the fat talk can be difficult. Rehearsing what you are going to say ahead of time is a great way to facilitate a healthy conversation.
3. Rinse and Repeat
If your message does not get through the first time, try again. Repeat your message to reinforce it. Typically, three reminders is all it takes.
4. Shut it Down
If repetition fails to stop the fat talk, end the conversation all together. You can explain, “This is not a conversation that I am willing to have today. If you would like to discuss this further at another time, we can set something up.”
5. Escape Plan
Remember that you have the power to walk away at any point. If someone is not respecting your request, there is no point remaining in that conversation. Set up a code word with your husband/man/friend/ride that means, “We’re leaving, now.” Your health is more important than how it looks if you leave.
6. Dignity… Check!
Always be respectful. Challenging another person to change their ways isn’t always a smooth process. If someone does not receive your message well, know that this is a reflection of who they are, not who you are.
How to Address Fat Talk Directly:
Speaking up to address fat talk can be intimidating. If you are unsure of what to say, try using phrases like, “I am certain that your comment comes from a place of love, and for that I thank you. Please know, that I no longer accept comments about my food or body” or, “I appreciate your love and concern for me. Please know that I speak for myself and choose my own food.” Identify that they have made comments you are not comfortable with, and clearly state that you do not wish to engage in this topic of conversation.
If you hear someone using fat talk to address another person, and you wish to step in, you first need to assess the situation:
1. Assess Yourself – First know where you are, and know how you feel. If you are feeling especially vulnerable or fragile, it might not be the best day to take on a big conversation. You must have confidence in your message and yourself.
2. Assess Your Audience – Understand that some people are more receptive than others. This might be a new concept for them, so don’t overwhelm them. Treat it like they are trying a new kind of pie; don’t try to throw the pie at them, instead, just offer them a slice.
Adding humour to any situation can help to diffuse the tension. If you sense that your message isn’t being well received, try to ask a more lighthearted question, like, “What would Mr. Rogers think of that comment?” This way you can introduce the concept without any strong demands.
What About Skinny Talk?
Skinny talk can be just as hurtful as fat talk. Body bashing in any way can have the same mental and physical effects2 regardless of body shape or size. When we tell a story about someone, and we add descriptors like ‘fat and lazy’ or ‘skinny minny’, we place importance on their body. You might look at someone and think that they are perfect, but when they look in the mirror, they may have the same insecurities as you. I encourage all of my Rebels to be gentle with their words, not just with others, but with themselves. Fat talking or body bashing yourself can be just as hurtful as using it with someone else.
There is no perfect body, and there is no perfect weight. If we continue to speak about these beauty ideals, we will never be happy with ourselves. Fat talk may be common, but it doesn’t have to be a part of your life. If someone makes a comment that you are not comfortable with, shut it down. Fat talk is contagious3, so let’s change the conversation. Don’t let body bashing stop you from feeling beautiful, and don’t let your size dictate your self-esteem. We are all amazing, and most importantly we are all unique.
Live Life. Love Food. Be Free.