Okay, okay. I know I’m late for Fat Talk Free Week, which was last week, but isn’t this a message that needs discussion ALL the time? I’ve always had a problem with the “I feel so fat today” or, “You’re not fat. I’m so fat!” talk. We should all have a problem with fat talk! And now that I’m a mother to a beautiful little baby girl, I care about this issue more than ever.
Truthfully, I never felt comfortable in the socially required dialogue in the junior high girl’s bathroom. [Enter girls: Girls look in mirror and dissect each others’ non-existent flaws.] The girls I saw weren’t fat at all! They weren’t ugly. They weren’t too skinny. Their hair was just fine, even beautiful. It all seemed so confusing to me. Weren’t we all trying to look good? Wasn’t that the cause of all our pubescent angst? Why would I spend an hour in the bathroom at home trying to look good for school only to cut myself down in front of all the other girls once I got there?
Maybe it’s because I used to watch my mother stand in front of the mirror and swear at her fat rolls until tears rolled down her cheeks. She would pinch her belly skin and shake it violently, as if she was trying to tear it from her body right then and there. Then she’d look at me and say something like, “Look at your skinny long legs and flat belly. Get away from me. I can’t look at your right now. You’re the reason I’m fat!” (The craziest part about that was that I thought my mother was beautiful, as all little girls do of their mothers. I found it very confusing.)
I was skinny as a kid and teenager. And with a mother who was angered at the mere sight of my thinness, I didn’t dare utter the phrase, “I look fat.” I heard plenty of fat talk from my mom and friends but there was no way I was going to do it myself. But then it turned out that NOT participating in fat talk at school only served to ostracize me (even more than I already was — I was beyond a geek). The girls told me I was vain and prideful. Don’t get me wrong. I didn’t walk around saying I was pretty. (In fact, I thought I was ugly.) But just the fact that I didn’t use fat talk made me stand apart. And as anyone who survived puberty can attest, the tribe does not look kindly on different.
And that’s when I realized that there’s two kinds of fat talk. There’s the kind that I saw my mother do — an unnerving, private or public, visceral self-hatred. And then there’s the kind in groups — where the goal was not necessarily to recite a script you believed (although plenty do) but sometimes just to make sure you were properly humble. It was a way to make your own power less threatening. (And there’s the reverse-fat-talk: When you say something like, “You look great. Have you lost weight?”)
The truth is, nobody needs or deserves fat talk. It becomes a cycle wherein you believe the negative words you are saying about yourself and your own body image plummets. And while changing it starts with ourselves, the village can grow it or kill it. And it’s about the village almost more than ourselves. It’s a mirror that the village holds up to show us how powerful, beautiful and socially contrite we are. Do you fall in line? Are you too proud? Do you hate yourself just enough to seem even more pretty?
And I think it goes even further than that when we consider that many young girls learn to equate beauty with brains. Little girls find out that being “ugly” is a synonym for being “stupid.” So when you look at that context, all the fat talk then becomes a weapon we use on ourselves to not just devalue our physical beauty but our entire being.
I know for myself, I am making a very conscious effort to end fat talk in my life and my household. I don’t ever want my daughter to see me in a similar scene as I had with my mother. She deserves to grow up in a home where she is not only loved, but never made to question that her body is great just the way it is. I know that there will be plenty of influences outside our home, including her friends, family members, TV and more. I can’t protect her from all the fat talk in the world. The best I can do is try and be a good role model myself and give her the tools she needs for the world outside our door.
So, how ’bout it world? Let’s all help the little girls (and the grown women) out there. Life’s too short to waste time hating ourselves or anyone else because of the reflection in the mirror.