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Phew! What a week. Time flies when you’re having fun, right?? Here it is, day four of Fat Talk Free Week – so I suppose this is almost a retrospective. I’d like to take this space to talk about some of the challenges of FTFW, and how we might meet them with positive alternatives.

I teach a college-level Women’s Studies class, and so I gave my students an extra credit assignment to sign the pledge at www.endfattalk.com, then spend the week trying their best to eliminate fat talk, and next week they’ll write a reflection (I can’t wait to read these!). When I saw my students on Monday and Wednesday this week, we took some time to check in about how Fat Talk Free Week was going.

First, they were incredibly surprised by how much fat talk is part of our everyday lives! As a feminist eating disorder/body image advocate and activist, I am often painfully aware of just how much fat talk permeates our society. I mean, it is RIDICULOUS, people! Fat Talk Free Week seemed to give my students the incentive to notice the conversations going on around them too. And they were *not* impressed! When they realized how ubiquitous fat talk is, it made them righteously angry. They couldn’t believe how much time was wasted on fat talk, how much we put ourselves down, and they became determined to change that.

One thing that both my students and I struggle with is internal fat talk. Because I am a role model, and because I know the harm that fat talk can do, I have been *very* careful for a long time now to avoid engaging in fat talk around anyone who might hear. However, the fat talk in my head is out of control (I mean, I have an eating disorder after all. I’m sure this is not surprising). My students echoed my experience and shared – sometimes with frustration, sometimes with disappointment, sometimes with determination – that the fat talk in their heads was the hardest to stop. I found myself desperate to reassure them; I did not want them to think that they were failing because they couldn’t stop their fat talk thoughts. I said, “This isn’t about perfection; that would be counter-productive! I know how hard it is to stop these thoughts – we don’t have the ability to stop our thoughts like we do our words. What matters is that you’re trying! That’s a huge step!”. I told them, “It’s amazing that you’re becoming so mindful of these thoughts in a way that you weren’t before. That right there is progress. And the fact that you’re trying to think something positive to counteract them? That’s huge! That kind of intentional reframing can become automatic over time.”

It’s just that, there was one catch here. I have *a lot* of trouble applying these same statements to myself. I know that having an eating disorder is going to make fat talk thoughts more prevalent, stronger. And yet, because I can’t simply make myself stop with fat talk thoughts, I criticize myself harshly. I disparage myself for disparaging myself! And it was hard to see the same tendency present in some my students. It made me realize (not for the first time, but very forcefully), that I have *got* to recover fully in order to model healthy behavior – physically and mentally – for my future students and future clients. And I hope that my students were able to trust what I said. I hope they were able to know that they are trying their best, and that is the important thing.

My students, like myself, also struggled with how to effectively respond to fat talk going on around us. For me, I often get it in the form of compliments regarding my weight loss. People say I look so good; they want to know how I did it. And though I often want to sarcastically respond with, “Well, wouldn’t you know it? Turns out having a life-threatening illness is a GREAT way to lose weight!,” I generally mumble something about healthy eating and exercise. I’ve never felt good about this response; it’s never been productive like I would like it to be.

Similarly, my students struggled to respond to fat talk, whether it was a comment made to them – “Look at my arms, [insert fat talk here]” – or whether it was a topic of conversation. More than one student said that she felt left out of a conversation because it was all fat talk and she didn’t know what to do to except remove herself.

So, we brainstormed together about ways to deal with the challenges of both the internal fat talk and the external fat talk. What we decided was that the best way to eliminate fat talk is not only to remove ourselves from it or point it out, but to actively intervene with messages of health, strength, and positivity. And, for the record, this is something that I think the end fat talk campaign really encourages!

So, for example, if someone says, “No wonder you’re so skinny; you work out all the time!,” a positive, healthy response might be, “Well, I really work out because I enjoy it and it makes my body strong.” Or if someone says, “These pantsĀ  are supposed to be my size, but they give me a muffin top!,” we might reply, “I try to pick clothing that I feel good in and that fit my body, rather than the other way around. It makes shopping way more enjoyable!”

Okay, okay. I know. Those answers might feel a little bit contrived. But, changing our way of talking takes practice. I truly believe that if we practice, practice, practice, these responses will begin to sound more natural because we will believe them.

So, the next time someone comments on my size, I think I’m going to try out, “You know, what’s really important to me is that my body and mind are strong and healthy – and that’s not based in a certain size.” It can’t hurt, right?

And just for funsies, check these out!

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