What Is Fat Talk And Why Does It Need To Stop?

There are so many different ways that fat talk exists and invades our lives and it is so engrained in our brains that most of the time we don’t even catch it. In her new book The Woman In The Mirror, Dr. Cynthia Bulik dedicates an entire chapter to discussing the different types of fat talk and what we can do to end them. This is definitely the most beautiful and comprehensive list of types of fat talk that I have ever seen, so I’m just going to kind of summarize what she says are the different types of fat talk and add a few of my own comments. All of the “names” for these types of fat talk are from Dr. Bulik and they’re pretty brilliant. I seriously recommend this book, it’s great.

Generic Fat Talk-This is your basic fat talk. It seriously just comes right out of our mouths without us even thinking about it.

  • Does this make me look fat?
  • I hate my hips/arms/legs/etc.
  • I need to lose weight
  • I’m fat
  • I shouldn’t be eating this cookie

Compliment-Fishing Fat Talk-The purpose of this fat talk is to get someone to compliment you. If you feel bad about your body, having someone reassure you about it is nice. Unfortunately it doesn’t last. We never seem to actually believe the compliments that we receive from compliment-fishing fat talk. It has no long lasting benefits and only perpetuates negative stereotypes about fat.

  • I look so fat in this swimsuit
  • My stomach is so huge
  • This outfit looks terrible on my figure

Comparative Fat Talk-this happens when we compare our bodies to other people’s bodies.

  • She’s so much thinner and prettier than I am
  • You think you’re fat? Look at me!
  • That outfit looks so much better on him than it does on me
  • You’re so healthy, eating just a salad, I should be doing that

Can’t-Take-a-Compliment Fat Talk-This happens when someone genuinely compliments someone and they just automatically negate their compliment. Maybe they don’t actually believe the compliment. Maybe they do kind of believe it but we’ve been taught to be humble and not accept compliments. Maybe they think that the person is just saying it to be polite.

  • Someone compliments you and you say something like
    • This outfit would look so much better if I was ten pounds lighter
    • Thank God for Spanx!
    • This outfit might look ok but my hair is a mess!

Competitive Fat Talk-this type of fat talk happens when people are sort of covertly competing with one another about their health/body size, incorrectly believing that a certain health/body type is better than another one.

  • Oh I would never eat that
  • I always exercise every single day
  • I don’t snack between meals/after dinner/whatever the fuck else you think is omg super healthy
  • Yea, I recently lost XX pounds

Silent Fat Talk-This often happens when we’re eating around other people and we want them to think highly of us.

  • Placing your order at a restaurant based on what the people around you are eating
  • Deliberately eating less/eating what you consider healthier/etc. than the people around you

Joking Fat Talk-This kind of fat talk is meant to be a joke and is disguised as being harmless, but the reality is that these kinds of jokes are only perpetuating stereotypes and prejudices about size.

  • I hope he doesn’t sit next to us or else we won’t have any room
  • That scale will probably break if I step on it!
  • I hope she’ll be able to fit through that door

Stealth Fat Talk-Most people probably don’t realize that comments like these are actually hurtful. They’re super disguised comments and just kind of subtly imply that fat is bad and thin is good.

  • You look great! Have you lost weight? (Translation: you looked bad before or thinner looks better)
  • You must be spending lots of time at the gym (Translation: you looked really out of shape before)
  • This type of dress is really flattering on your figure (Translation: it makes you look thinner)
  • You’re so much healthier now! (Translation: Even though I’m completely wrong, I’m convinced that thin and healthy are interchangeable words)

Fat-Stigmatization Fat Talk-This kind of fat talk is just broadly directed at fat people in general and really shows the prejudices and assumptions that we have about people based purely on their size (i.e. that they never exercise and eat too much).

  • Fat people should have to pay more for their food/clothing/etc.
  • Fat people should have to walk in a single file line so that everyone else can go around them
  • Fat people just need to exercise more
  • Why can’t they just have some self control?

Fat-Is-Ugly Fat Talk-This type of fat talk perpetuates the beauty standards that you cannot be both fat and attractive.

  • She could be so pretty
  • She has such a pretty face, it’s a shame she’s a little heavy
  • I need to lose weight so that I will look good
  • Clothes look better on skinny people
  • Please don’t ever let me leave the house if I get that big

Personalized, Disrespectful Fat Talk-This kind of fat talk is targeted at specific people and is based on heir appearance

  • She does not need to be wearing that short skirt
  • Do you really need that ice cream?
  • That outfit does not look good on someone his size
  • Ew, I would never let myself go like she did
  • His new girlfriend is a complete fatass

Bullying Fat Talk-This is just what it sounds like: bullying people by insulting their size.

  • You’re a fat pig
  • I wouldn’t date someone as big as you
  • You’ll never get a job/date/make friends/be taken seriously if you look like that

I also want to add another category of fat talk that I think people really abuse and use to justify their prejudices against fat people.

But-Fat-Is-Unhealthy Fat Talk-This kind of fat talk is disguised as having good intentions based on health. It’s the kind of stuff that was used in those Georgia ads.

  • I’m just worried about your health
  • She’s not going to live past 40 at the rate she’s going
  • I’m just waiting for him to have a heart attack
  • People will think I’m a bad parent if my daughter is fat
  • I just want to look healthy

I think there are definitely a lot of people that are genuinely concerned about someone’s weight because of the impact that it may have on their health. But unfortunately the reality is that most people are pretty prejudiced in their opinions of fat people. They automatically assume that fat people are unhealthier than thinner people. If you find yourself participating in any but-fat-is-unhealthy fat talk really take a look at why you’re saying these things. Is it genuinely based off of health reasons or is there a little bit of aesthetic reasoning behind the thoughts as well? If there isn’t, then really try to focus your thoughts on the behaviors, not the actual size of the person. Make sure that you differentiate between actually being healthy and what society deems as “looking healthy.” Do you say the same thing about thinner people with the same eating and exercise habits? If you don’t point out that someone that is of “healthy” weight and isn’t exercising should be exercising more then maybe you shouldn’t point out that an “overweight” person that isn’t exercising should be exercising more.

Also, even if you aren’t actually saying these things and you’re just thinking them to yourself, it still counts. And fat talk is bullying. Whether whoever is participating in fat talk is actively bullying a fat person or subconsciously bullying themself, it all counts as bullying and it really isn’t so awesome.

In order to destigmatize weight and size variety we have GOT to stop using fat talk. Fat talk only promotes the idea that certain sizes are better than others; it is no different from racist/sexist/ageist/ whatever comments. And when we participate in fat talk we not only keep ourselves doing it, but we’re now teaching younger and younger kids to do it too.

The first step is to get yourself to stop participating in fat talk. Try to start becoming aware of every time you catch yourself participating in any kind of fat talk, write it down if that helps. Once you get better at catching fat talk, correct yourself on it. Replace every fat talk comment with a positive comment. I’ve really gotten into the habit of telling myself something along the lines of “maybe my legs do have some cellulite. But who gives a fuck, I’m a person with a brain and an opinion and a voice and I am so much more than something as petty and stupid as what my body looks like. I want to do important things and help people and have a good life. Not sit here worrying about the size of my pants.” It’s long, but it’s working. It takes practice and time but I swear that it is possible. I used to be so bad about it and I have gotten so much better.

The next step is to create a fat talk free environment around you. Avoid people that are particularly bad about fat talking. Fucking call people out on this shit. Seriously. I mean, don’t be mean about it. Remember, we’ve been TAUGHT to do this, that this is right and ok. But just because we’ve been told that it is good doesn’t mean that it really is. Racism was totally legitimized for a pretty long time, that doesn’t make it ok. And don’t reinforce fat talk. Don’t buy into it. Don’t just go along with it because other people are doing it. Just because everyone is doing it doesn’t make it right. And if it isn’t making you happy and it isn’t providing you with any kind of real benefits, then don’t keep doing it.

So why do we fat talk?

Sometimes because we’re insecure and if we point out our flaws then other people won’t point them out. Sometimes we do it so that we feel better about ourselves because we’re thinner than someone else. Unfortunately it often serves as a sort of “bonding,” something that so many people have in common is that they hate their bodies. But it doesn’t really do us any good to be comparing our bodies to other people because all bodies are different. Sure, maybe she IS thinner than you, but that doesn’t actually make her any prettier than you. If we stand up against those archetypal beauty standards and realize them as the lies and marketing strategies and shaming that they really are then we can begin to see past them, redefine them, and change them. If you keep believing them then you are seriously only doing what those companies and people in power WANT you to do so that they can keep profiting (whether through monetary gains or personal emotional “I’m better than you because I’m thinner” gains) off of you. We are being USED by these ridiculous beauty standards and we are being pitted against each other over absolutely stupid little stuff like whether brown hair or blonde hair is prettier. No one is going to win. We are being taught to not like anything about ourselves so that we will keep spending money on products and diets, so that some people can feel better about themselves for “looking better than others”

All of these beauty standards are seriously just about creating a hierarchy and making money. Some people feel like they have to establish dominance over others, whether they justify it as because of their race, the amount of money that they have, their level of education, their gender, whatever. Beauty standards are completely just another example of this. And people have just turned this process of making people feel bad about themselves into another way to make money.

The pressure to be perfect is purely for profit.

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Let’s Move. Or Not.

I like Michelle Obama. I really do. I think she presents herself as a very intelligent, confident and compassionate woman. But I have some issues with her “Let’s Move” campaign to end childhood obesity. I think encouraging people to put a little more exercise in their life is mostly a good thing, I totally support increasing the access that everyone in the country has to fresh and healthy food. Really, I do. Her intentions are awesome, I’m sure. But there are a few problems.

1. It puts a really strong emphasis on weight loss.

Holy Jesus this is not an unreasonable concept. Its seriously common sense if you think about it. Health is related to behaviors, not just weight. It astounds me just how many people don’t understand this. I mean, I guess it makes sense since we keep being told “fat is bad. Fat is bad.” And we keep being shown these images of thin and told that “thin is healthy.” But it really isn’t that easy. Thin does not equal health and we need to stop teaching that. You can participate in healthy eating and exercise at an “above healthy” weight and still be perfectly healthy. You can be at a “healthy” weight and be eating only Doritos all day. But this program puts the emphasis on overweight and obese children. THEY are the problem, THEY need to change, THEY need to learn better habits. When THEIR weight is healthy, then the country will be saved from crisis. This is fat shaming and it is not ok. Nevermind all of the other unhealthy people with totally different body types. Despite the fact that they might have the exact same habits as an overweight person, society keeps perpetuating this idea that they are for some reason “better.” Keep blaming and shaming the overweight people because obviously they are the reason for all of the problems in America. And all fat people are lazy and eat junk all day, right? WRONG.

Focus on the eating/exercise habits and attitudes towards food/exercise that children have and let their weight do whatever it does then. This program is just feeding in to this “thin ideal” that this country has, telling us that thin is better, thin people are good and healthy people, fat people are lazy and unhealthy.

Also, 95% of people that lose weight gain it back. So really, why the emphasis on weight loss?

2. She went on “The Biggest Loser”

I have serious problems with this show. It features obese people competing to win money by losing weight. Also, they often tempt the contestants with prizes or things like phone calls home in exchange for not exercising or for eating cake or something. Really? I know I’m not the only one getting mixed signals here. They’re supposed to lose weight to win money, but they can talk to their family if they try to offset their weight loss…

Also, sorry, but when there is a quarter of a million dollars at stake here, do you really think people are going to stick with what is actually good for them rather than pushing themselves too hard. Terrible things have come out about this show. Contestants spend like six hours a day exercising and eat a pretty low calorie diet. It has been said that they manipulate filming to make it seem as though contestants have lost more weight. They use footage from two weeks time to represent a week. It sets this unrealistic expectation that people should be able to lose 10 pounds in a week, which is way beyond the maximum recommended weight loss rate of 2 pounds per week. Really. Read this interview. It only gets worse.

And this one, where a doctor admits that he counsels people against trying what the contestents are trying and contestants admit to dehydrating themselves to lose more weight.

When contestants enter the show, they sign a waiver that says “No warranty, representation or guarantee has been made as to the qualifications or credentials of the medical professionals [on the show].” Wait, what? You mean they’re doing all this crazy shit supposedly under medical supervision and it turns out that their medical supervision isn’t even legitimate? But it gets better. Contestants aren’t allowed to tell anyone about this because any unapproved interviews or comments result in fines up to a million dollars.

Also, Jillian Michaels, who is one of the trainers on the show, coined the phrase “unless you puke, faint, or die, keep going!” Don’t get me started on that one because that is NOT a healthy approach to exercise.

Seriously. Why is this show on it’s 13th season? It is entirely about money and competition. This show is not about helping people change their lives no matter how much they say it is. NBC has created a Biggest Loser diet that you can pay to participate in, various Biggest Loser supplements, they’ve made Biggest Loser themed cruise, and even Biggest Loser fitness resorts! But no way, this is about helping people.

And Michelle Obama went on this show to show support for it! I’m sure that her intentions were awesome, that she was trying to show praise for these people making lifestyle changes and exercising and cool stuff. But this is NOT the way to do it. This show does not promote healthy behaviors or realistic expectations of what bodies can do, and this should NOT be the model that she is recommending that everyone follow.

This is a super excellent but never actually published article about why Michelle Obama should not have gone on this show.

3. She doesn’t even begin to address the other end of the spectrum.

The prevalence of eating disorders has doubled since the 1960s and we are seeing eating disorders in children as young as 7 or 8. The number of hospitalizations for adolescents with eating disorders had risen 119% since 1999. Eating disorders are on the rise and they are not something to play around with.

A studyhas been recently published that researches the behaviors of children in schools that have recently started obesity prevention programs. Researchers found that 30% of the parents noticed worrisome behaviors such as over-exercising, inappropriate dieting, refusing meals, excessive worry about fat content, etc. Also, 7% of the children had been made to feel bad at school about their weight or what they ate.

And this makes sense. We’re already in a society that places so much emphasis on what we look like. Placing such a strong emphasis on obesity prevention without mentioning that the other end of the spectrum is just as bad is setting us up for disaster. Particularly when working with either very young children or especially emotionally vulnerable children (like, I don’t know, all middle schoolers?).  And when everyone around these children such as their school, their peers, their parents places such an importance on thinness, but maybe that just isn’t how this kid’s body is meant to be, what is that kid supposed to learn?

I’m not saying “tell everyone to be obese and quit exercising forever” but we don’t really want to be inadvertently pushing them to the other extreme. I went to a meeting where Cynthia Bulik, head of the UNC Eating Disorders Program, was speaking, and she said something to the effect of “we don’t want them to be decreasing obesity but increasing business for us. That isn’t good either.” We need some kind of medium. And if you’re on the topic of eating properly and talking about why it’s important to not eat too much, why not go ahead and talk about why it’s important to eat enough. Over-exercising is just as bad as under-exercising. Under-eating is just as bad as over-eating.

I’m not saying that everyone that is shown obesity prevention stuff is going to automatically have an eating disorder, but they might have already been genetically predisposed to develop an eating disorder and this might be enough to trigger someone. Eating disorders are complicated and involve a lot of factors. But this is definitely something that can be a contributing factor to eating disorders. There are SO MANY stories of people whose eating disorders started when they were told that they needed to lose some weight or they were made fun of because of their weight.

You don’t want to be telling kids that fruits and vegetables are so awesome and then find out a few months later that some kids are only eating fruits and vegetables.

Her intentions were awesome, I’m sure. Really, I am. They were just not totally done the best way that they could have been done.

 

Eating Disorder Lobbying

It’s been a really long time since I’ve written anything. Everything at school got so hectic with finals and moving out. But I did take the time to do something that was really awesome and empowering.

Last month I participated in the Eating Disorders Coalition Lobbying Day. I went with a friend up to Washington D.C. and we spent a Tuesday morning being trained on how to effectively lobby. We then spent the afternoon talking to the assistants of various House and Senate members, trying to get them to cosponsor the FREED Act and to sign on to a letter to Michelle Obama encouraging her to include eating disorders in her obesity intervention program.

Basically, the FREED Act pushes to increase research for eating disorders regarding prevalence, death rates, economic burden, etiology, treatments, etc. It also pushes to increase education, awareness, and prevention of eating disorders, particularly through schools. It also wants to make treatment accessible to everyone struggling with an eating disorder.

I haven’t heard back from anyone that my group spoke with regarding whether the would cosponsor the act, but several other groups did speak with people that agreed. I’m not sure what the people we spoke with will decide to do, but it felt amazing to actually be out supporting the cause, doing something, and using my voice.

I would totally recommend that you write your United States House of Representatives or Senate members and encourage them to cosponsor this act. One of the speakers at the briefing told this absolutely devastating story of how her daughter died of an eating disorder while waiting for their insurance company to allow her to receive treatment. Stories like these shouldn’t have to exist. We need more awareness and activism when it comes to eating disorders since they are so misunderstood.Image