Three Lesser-Known Facts about Fat Talk

By Katie, 5:12 am

October is a pretty awesome month. I mean, there are pumpkins…

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And babies in funny costumes…

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And, of course, Fat Talk Free Week!

Fat Talk Free Week, which this year runs from October 18-22, is a chance for us to spread the word about how much damage our society’s “thin ideal” can really do. It’s an opportunity for us to reject the hurtful, negative langauge that has unfortunately become second nature to too many women. It’s a moment for us to look critically at the obsession with weight and size and say, No more.

Fat Talk Free Week means that phrases like “thunder thighs” and “jello arms” are off the table. It means that I won’t call myself a whale or an elephant or any other large animal that I most certainly do not resemble. It means no pinching my mid-section and wailing about how fat I am. No, no, no.

But those are rather obvious examples; we can all agree that that kind of negative self-talk needs to go. The tricky thing about Fat Talk, however, is that sometimes it’s clothed in disguise. So I’d like to take a moment to unveil the truth about this unfortunate phenomenon.

Three Lesser-Known Facts about Fat Talk

1. It can be camouflaged as a compliment.

You know what I’m talking about. The old “You look great! Have you lost weight?” I truly believe that people who say this mean no harm; they usually have the best intentions. But when you tell someone they look great and immediately follow it up with a question about their weight, there is a definite implication there: losing weight = looking better. Good intentions or not, we’ve got to challenge that assumption.

2. It can be directed at others.

Most of the time we discuss Fat Talk in relation to the things we tell ourselves – that we’re too fat to do this or wear that, that we’re failures because we lack will power around cookies, that things would get better if we could just lose 5 pounds. But unfortunately Fat Talk can also be directed at other people, which is equally unacceptable.

“She’s too big to wear that kind of top.”

“She doesn’t have the body for that bathing suit.”

“Maybe if she’d lay off the Cheetos just a little bit…”

Even though it’s directed at someone else, it’s still Fat Talk. And just plain cruel. (I’m containing myself here; I have zero patience for those kinds of comments. :-x )

3. It hurts everyone.

Similarly, it’s important to remember that when you make negative comments about yourself, you’re not just hurting yourself; others are affected too.

Here’s my personal example. Someone close to me – who happens to be naturally very skinny – has a tendency to complain about how fat she is. Even though she’s directing the comments at herself, not at me, she is quite obviously smaller than I am. So if she thinks she’s fat, then – by logical extension – she thinks I too am fat. Fatter, even.

The point is this: don’t just stop Fat Talking for yourself. Stop Fat Talking for people around you too. You just never know who’s going to hear those words and be affected by them on a level you never intended. We’re all better off when the words that escape our lips are positive and encouraging.

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Please join me in this effort by spreading the word and by pledging to work on building yourself up instead of tearing yourself down. The time to put an end to Fat Talk is NOW.

Have you ever been the victim of Fat Talk? Either by engaging in it yourself, or by hearing it from other people?

How can you help put a stop to it?

33 Responses to “Three Lesser-Known Facts about Fat Talk”

  1. OMG YES! I’ve probably mentioned before that I once lost 45 lbs in about 6 weeks (maybe?) during a bout of severe depression and restrictive eating, and ALL I heard was how great I looked. I”d never been in so much pain in my life, yet everyone commented on how great my appearance was. It felt so harmful every time I heard it, and it only made everything worse.

    I’ve done it, too, I’m sure. I’m so aware and critical of my own appearance, so it’s super hard not to do it to others. But I’m conscious of the fact that it’s a negative thing to do, so I never speak it. Getting it to completely leave my thought process is a work in progress…

  2. Lauren says:

    AMEN KATIE!!!!!!!

  3. I just posted about this on my blog as well. I’ve been guilty of fat talk for most of my life, and some days I still find myself doing it. It’s a hard habit to break. When I have children I don’t want them to grow up self-conscious about what they look like, but I know that I need to lead by example.

  4. Awesome post!! I had no idea that this was fat talk free week!

  5. katie says:

    this is great katie!! I am actually writing a paper on this in class for my final grade this semester! we must END IT!

  6. Holly says:

    Amen, Katie!! It’s funny, but a co-worker of mine is EXACTLY how you described your friend. Naturally small and slender, yet is always complaining about how fat she is. I’ve tried and tried over and over to reassure her that she is BEAUTIFUL and that those thoughts of hers aren’t justified. Yet she keeps making them. :-(

    I’m not one to bring uncomfortable things up with others, but with my really close friends and family, I have talked to them about fat talk. I think it’s important for women to realize it harms themselves, other women, AND it’s very important to remember not to talk like this in front of small, impressionable girls!

    • Katie says:

      That’s so great that you’ve started a dialogue about it with your friends and family!

  7. Yay for Fat Talk Free Week!!! I need to write a post about this. I really amped up my working out this summer and was told in August that I looked really thin or like I lost weight. While I know its a compliment… you’re right, it makes you wonder “well what was I before?”. But what do you say? So I would start saying “Thank you, I feel stronger” or something like that, to try to convey the message that its not about my weight. What’s great about working with kids is that its giving me an opportunity to influence them about this stuff, and its actually working!

  8. McKella says:

    That baby lobster costume made my day.
    I’ve definitely used fat talk, but I’m trying very hard not to and encouraging others to do the same.

  9. YES!!! it’s time to put an end to this BS, I admit I’m a huge fat talker. I’m always insulting myself and for what!? I’m better than that, my self worth is not determined by the number on the scale. I would never tell my daughter she is fat or talk cruel about anyone else so why do it to myself? It all started when I was young (about 4?) I was overweight and I was on a bus with my mom and I was eating a snack and when we got up to get off the bus this older woman in the front grabbed my arm and said “honey, you don’t need that” that stuck with me forever. My mom didn’t hear it but at that very moment it caused a lifetime of insecurity and body obssession. It needs to end, no person should have to spend their whole life obsessing over how they look. I’m with ya on ending fat talk!!

    • Katie says:

      Thank you for sharing your story! I’ve heard many women (myself included) recall a single comment or criticism from childhood that stung so much it’s stuck with them for years. It’s crazy how deeply we can be affected by Fat Talk…all the more reason to end it!

  10. christina says:

    what a great week this should be! the baby in the lobster costume is hilarious.

  11. i used to engage in it and it truly hurts me now to hear others say it! you’re right – it really does hurt everyone!

  12. I think one of the most insidious aspects of fat talk is that women bond over it…whether it’s fat talking about ourselves or others, it becomes a source of sharing, or fitting in, which feels good and so it continues. Geneen Roth, in Women, Food & God, wrote this: “Women can’t imagine a world in which they stop dieting or trying to fix the size of their thighs…. They have whole friendships built on commiserating about the 20 pounds they have to lose and the jeans that are too tight and the latest greatest diets. They fit in by hating themselves.”

    • Katie says:

      Yes, yes, yes! I’ve written a post about this in the past. I’ve had women tell me they won’t stop fat talking because then they’ll become the outcast in their group of friends. To me, that is all the more reason to start being more self-aware and reflective about this sort of thing. Do we really want friendships based on mutual self-loathing? Do we really want to bond over that?

  13. Dorry says:

    Love these camouflaged examples – they are all SO TRUE and relevant. I’ve definitely engaged in my fair share of fat talk over the years and agree that it must come to a stop! For all of us. It isn’t as harmless as the tone we usually hear from fat talk. The words are dangerous and memorable and have a negative impact (like you stated) on everyone.

  14. I just had a fat talk moment last friday. It was in an effort to bond with some new girlfriends, and I knew it was a mistake once the words left my mouth. We were playing a “girls night out” drinking game and some of the questions led to answers that invited fat talk.

    Hmmm I think I might have to toss a few cards to remove fat talk temptation.

    • Katie says:

      Did you see Karen’s comment above? She also mentioned the way that women bond over fat talk. It’s crazy how common it is!

  15. Shawnee says:

    I’ve stopped talking about weight issues at work. I realized that it may effect my teammates even though I am talking about me and not them. When I first started working, I did it all the time. I made comments about my weight and how I couldn’t eat all the sweets in the office, I noticed it made others more self consious around me. I don’t want to be that person. I am trying to reverse the damage I have done to myself and the people around me.

  16. Giant ditto to this whole post! One of the things that irks me the most is my friends who make rude comments about random strangers’ weights. Why do people feel the need to put others down like that? If they’re a close friend or family member I have no problem in telling them off, but I feel a bit uncomfortable doing it if I don’t know the person saying it that well. I wish I spoke up more often in those cases!

  17. thetreadmilldiaries says:

    Another great post that can raise awareness regarding an important issue. I have to admit to engaging in fat talk directed at myself at times. I need to work on being better about not doing this.

  18. Sarah says:

    I struggle with fat talk. As a perfectionist, I struggle when I don’t live up to my standards of perfection. I’ve improved by using your baby picture technique, Katie, that you blogged about earlier. It helps me remember that I’m more than that stupid number on the scale.

    • Katie says:

      I’m so glad that technique has been helpful to you! It’s worked wonders for me too.

  19. Becca says:

    OMG – lobster baby is so cute!

    Your third point is excellent. I’ve always been bigger than my friends, and hearing them criticise their bodies is really, really hurtful.

    I tried to remember the first time that I joined in the fat talk, and I think it must have been at the start of secondary school. When sitting on chairs, we’d all lift up our knees and rest on our toes, so that our thighs wouldn’t “look fat”, as if that was the worst thing that could happen. Goodness knows where the idea came from.

    I have no idea how to stop – I’m terrible when it comes to calling myself names. I had forgotten about your baby picture idea – I’ll definitely have to give that a try.

    • Katie says:

      You should! It’s worked wonders for me! And if you start just by focusing on not Fat Talking out loud, eventually you might find that it stops or slows down mentally, too.

  20. Cara says:

    Thanks for the wonderful info, Katie! I am definitely going to share this with all the beautiful women in my life. Well, and men too – that’s gotta be another little known fact – that they must fat-talk sometimes too!

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  23. Hope says:

    I’ve definitely got the “You look great! Have you lost weight?” question a lot. Mostly whispered to me! I’m with you, I think that the people that ask this really are well-meaning, at least I think the people that asked me were.

    Sometimes it actually kind of makes me sad to think that in order to be considered more acceptable to myself, I had to lose the weight. And at the same time, while I’m at a more acceptable body weight to society, I’m still not completely “acceptable” because my thighs are probably bigger than the average chicks, and I’m still considered “overweight.” Hm. Just thinkin’ out loud..

    • Katie says:

      Thinking out loud is always allowed! :)

      Perhaps the problem is that weight/body shape seems to be what determines someone’s acceptable-ness (?!) in the first place. I constantly have to challenge my own assumption that I’m more acceptable or worthy when I look “better,” but I need to remember that that perspective isn’t coming just from me…it’s the message I’m receiving from society every day, you know?

  24. Amen!
    You are so right about all those points and I know that I engage in them all too. It’s really something that I have to work on

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