What is Fat Talk? I'm so glad you asked.
adjective & verb
1. describes any statement that reinforces the thin-ideal standard of beauty and contributes to men and women's dissatisfaction of their bodies.
According to Mimi Nichter (the glorious professor who coined the term), Fat Talk refers to negative body-related comments that often occur during conversation with others.
You know the scenario: a friend/family member makes a self-deprecating comment about his/her/their body and then we respond by uttering an equally – if not more- self-deprecating statement about our body, and eventually we somehow find ourselves in a really messed up (but somehow socially acceptable?) body-shaming standoff in the Wild West of hating ourselves?
For those of you not well-versed in the ancient art of Fat Talk Fast Draw, infamous examples may include:
“Do I look fat in this?”
“You look great, have you lost weight?”
“I’ve really been doing well on this diet, you should try it”
“I can’t eat that - it will make me fat!”
“She/He/They are too fat to be wearing that!”
“You’re so thin! What is your secret?”
So why do we do this?
Well, there are a few reasons.
The short answer is we’ve been taught to.
In Westernized societies, Fat Talk has become a means for individuals to bond with one another, an opportunity to express personal concerns about one’s weight or shape, and gain reassurance from the people around us.
*We’ll save diving into the why we’ve been taught to for another post coughthepatriarchycough
In fact, Fat Talk has become so normalized that one could argue that it’s actually become an expectation.
You know that scene in Mean Girls, where Regina George (Rachel McAdams) tells Cady Heron (Lindsey Lohan) that she’s “like, really pretty”? Due to the fact that our glorious Cady has spent the majority of her childhood growing up in Africa with her zoologist parents (aka relatively unexposed to these Westernized ideals), she replies with a sans-self-hating “Thank You.”
Regina, intrigued by Cady’s shockingly simple response, presses further, asking “So you agree, you think you’re really pretty?” as if interacting with a moderately confident female is the most fascinating experience of all time (and priming her for a full on bully experience, but that’s another post).
The point is: Women (not only, but often) tend to have such a hard time talking nicely about themselves, that uttering a simple “thank you” in response to a compliment can feel actually impossible sometimes.
And Fat Talk is bad because?
Fat Talk has been linked to a whole host of negative outcomes, including increased negative body image, low mood, depression, anxiety and increased body dissatisfaction and internalization of the thin-ideal (you know, the two of the greatest risk factors for developing an eating disorder).
As if that’s not enough, Fat Talk not only reminds you how badly you feel about yourself, engaging in it actually contributes to feeling worse!
Okay, so what can you do about it?
I’m so glad you asked! Here are 3 tips to fighting fat talk:
1) When someone gives you a compliment, say “Thank you.”
I know, some cutting edge psychological advice being offered up here, but seriously, uttering these two simple words is powerful and can stop negative self-talk before it starts (not to mention contributing to changing pervasive body-shaming culture).
2) Don’t let your friends/family/random strangers off the hook when they engage in Fat Talk about themselves.
My personal favorite* is to respond in the third person to any kind of Fat Talk going on by saying, “Don’t talk about my best friend/mom/bus driver that way!” This is my favorite for two reasons:
a. It confuses the person engaging in Fat Talk why you are suddenly referring to them in the third person.
b. It lets them know that you care about them enough to not let them say messed up things about themselves.
*Shout out to my husband for teaching me this one.
3) Don’t let your friends/family/random strangers off the hook when they engage in Fat Talk about others.
My go-to response to hearing someone comment negatively on another person’s appearance is to affirm their comment in the completely opposite (positive) way. Example:
Fat Talk: “OMG, look what he/she/they are wearing”
Anti-Fat Talk Response: “OMG he/she/they are killing it! YAS! SLAY!”
Look, the bottom line is: life is already hard enough. In a world of 24-hour news cycles and videos of screaming goats, there is a lot to worry about all of the time.
So maybe we take feeling obligated to negatively talk about ourselves and others off the table? Just for a minute? Maybe instead we experiment with taking a break from body-shaming ourselves and others, and instead use that energy to lift each other up/high-five/cure cancer/do anything else?
After all, loving yourself in a world that tells you not to is basically the most punk rock thing of all, and who doesn’t want to be punk rock?
TLDR: Friends don’t let friends Fat Talk.