We (women) have all indulged in talk like this from time to time.
“My thighs are huge. I can’t wear these white jeans.”
“I look like I’m three months pregnant. I need to go on a diet.”
“I’ve been so bad. I ate both lunch and dinner today. I need to run twice the distance this evening to burn off the calories.”
I’m no stranger to complaining about my body. My favourite target is my tummy and it drives me nuts as to how I can never wear cropped tops or a bandage dress because I store all my fats there. From a biological standpoint, being predisposed to storing fats around my waist has no detrimental effect on my health and I should be happy that I am healthy and relatively fit. But from an asthetics standpoint, I’m pissed that I can’t wear bandage dresses like Blake Lively.
So my “fat talk” typically revolves around how I need to lose weight on my tummy and feeling frustrated because it’s not really possible to spot reduce. Even at my thinnest in university, I still sported a small paunch (You see, this is how my fat talk starts).
The term “fat talk” was coined by researchers in 1994 after noticing how teenage girls talked about their bodies.
Why do people engage in “fat talk?”
1. Girls engage in fat talk to bond
While guys tend to brag about their accomplishments to bond with mates, girls lament about the extra piece of cake they ate. If you don’t join in with similar fat talk, you risk looking arrogant and unsympathetic. It’s strange that it’s socially acceptable to complain about thunder thighs but not to express satisfaction with one’s slim waist.
A typical conversation goes likes this. “I’m so fat!”
The usual response would be like this. “No, you’re not. You’re beautiful. I’m the one who’s fat. I have been binge eating these past few days.”
Yep, this is how girls bond. Strange, if you think about it.
2. Girls tend to compare and compete on appearances
We are bombarded every day by images of fit and lean women, be it a lingerie model or a stranger on social media showing off her incredible abs. We compare ourselves with this thin ideal and do not realise is that these photos capture a person at a moment in time and always shows the best angles.
Fitness competitor Molly Galbraith talked about how she would get insensitive comments from her clients and friends about her body when she was in the off-season phase. When she was competing, she would restrict her food intake and exercise consistently to achieve the desired ripped look. But once the competition season was over, she would relax and her body fat percentage would increase, spurring unkind comments from people.
Boys compare as well but appearances are less important – wealth symbols such as jobs and material possessions seem to be the focus for them.
3. Girls use fat talk for reassurance
People find it reassuring that they are not the only ones struggling with weight managment and body image. By knowing that your friend has similar anxieties, you may feel assured that you are not alone.
“Oh my goodness, I’m such a whale. I ate three cupbcakes today!” “Me too! I ate four cookies!”
It’s okay to be unhealthy as long as your friends around you are also unhealthy.
So why should we stop this fat talk?
1. Fat talk reinforces the normalisation of negative body image
Instead of celebrating what is beautiful and positive about our bodies, we are choosing to focus on the negative. People with positive body image are deemed as proud if they don’t conform to the social norm of having a negative body image.
I cannot emphasise how important this is. Support your friends. Don’t compete and compare. Bond through positivity and not through negative thoughts and words.
2. Fat talk encourages “baiting”
Fat talk also encourages the unpleasant conversation technique known as “baiting” or “fishing for compliments.” Imagine if my friend comes to me and moans about her fat body part. The right response for me should be, “No, you’re not fat. You look fine.” But if I say, “Yes, you’re right. Your waist should be smaller by 3 cm based on your height and waist-to-hip ratio,” I’m sure I won’t endear too well with said friend.
Regardless of how I feel about her body, there are only two socially-appropriate responses here – one, to compliment her, or two, to put myself down so we can bond over our fatty selves. Surely such a conversation is not very useful.
3. Fat talk is not productive
Let’s pretend we are talking about hair for a moment. Hair is a good substitute for fat because we tend to be very emotional about fat but more logical when it comes to something like hair. Let’s assume you have short black hair in a pixie cut. You want long, cascading pink hair.
What will you do about this? To achieve this, there are a few steps:
- First, you need to grow out your hair to your desired length. This may take about one to two years depending on the growth rate.
- Next you need to bleach your hair.
- Then you need to colour your hair pink.
- This doesn’t end here. You need regular hair treatments to minimise the damage done by the bleach.
Do you moan to your friends every day about the colour and length of your hair? Do you say “Oh I’ve been such a bad girl because I used the wrong conditioner yesterday?” It’s unlikely. You already know what you need to do. Your hair length is not going to change even if you complain about it daily. You just have to be patient and wait for a year for your desired look.
Our figures are a different matter, however. There is a lot of shame, guilt and emotions behind our weight and appearances. That’s completely understandable. But just like how moaning about one’s hair length isn’t productive, neither is complaining about one’s flabby arms. An action plan is needed and it could look like this:
- Calculate calories eaten on a regular day and compare with the recommended calories
- Create a calorie deficit but do not eat less than the recommended 1200 calories per day
- Plan meals. Switch from a high sugar diet to a paleo diet within the calorie budget.
- Buy groceries – fresh leafy vegetables, fresh fish, frozen lamb, full-fat yoghurt, low sugar fruits like berries.
This is an example of an action plan that is much more productive than whining about weight. And then conversations with friends can become meaningful when you share the latest research and the merits of counting macros vs counting calories.
So how do we stop “fat talk?”
Now that we know that it’s better for our mental and physical health to stop this fat talk, how do we do it? This may be easier said than done. I still do it and I have to remind myself constantly that I’m just whining for the sake of gaining affirmation. Here is a great link from www.thefrisky.com that gives some pointers on how to stop the fat talk. Here are the four tips from that website that I like very much.
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.
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.
3. 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.
4. Spend time with people who don’t do “fat talk.” We all have a friend 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.
So here you go! These are such awesome tips to help stop the fat talk. Let us bond over something else apart from our body image. Let us be positive and supportive.
Have a great Monday!