End Fat Talk

via Kate comes this great website combating “fat talk” — the constant little comments that women make to other women about themselves.

I hate “fat talk.” It makes me uncomfortable when other women do it. I never quite know what to say — I don’t want to issue the knee-jerk response of “You’re not fat!” because that kind of implies that being fat is The Worst Thing Ever. I also don’t want to ignore the comment, because then the commenting friend walks away thinking that I think she’s fat, and for her, that is a Very Bad Thing.

And yet I’m the absolute worst when it comes to fat talk. Like many women I have a whole slew of body issues; my weight is always on my mind, and I feel like I’m in a constant battle with my body. I’ve started to make my peace with how I look, and I’ve started to accept the fact that I love physical activity and exercise, I love to eat (and I like to eat food that feels nourishing, clean and healthy), but my body is just a certain build and shape and I’m never going to be 5’10″ and 110 pounds. I can turn things I love — physical activity and food — into things I resent in order to be thinner, but it’s not worth it. I’ve done it, and it makes me unhappy. Deciding “I would rather be happy” sounds simple, but it’s psychologically challenging when for so long I associated happiness with thinness — as in, “I’ll be happy when I’m 20 pounds thinner.” I’m learning how to allow myself to be happy and not thin. It’s a process, though, and as I go through it I still find myself complaining to my friends about the way I look. I also have a group of friends who are mostly very thin — significantly thinner than I am. It can be very difficult to always feel like the “fattest” in the group. And when I spend time with women who are larger than I am, I also find myself feeling envious — of their curves or of the way clothes fit them or of their confidence or of whatever else they have that I don’t. I feel like I never measure up.

Part of the reason why Fat Talk is so harmful is that it’s a constant reminder that women have an obligation to look good, always. It’s our burden as women to present an attractive face to the world — to be ornamental and to decorate. It’s also about fat-hate and fat-shaming, but even for the not-fat among us, it’s that little whisper of you aren’t doing your job.

What’s especially difficult, I think, is balancing the need for honest conversation and support with the obligation to not do harm to other women. I want to be able to talk, even in feminist spaces, about body issues, but I also don’t want to engage in Fat Talk or trigger women who have have histories of eating disorders. Even more importantly (at least for me), I want to be able to have honest discussions with my closest friends — not in a vent-y “Blah I feel fat today” way, but in the intimate way we discuss everything else in our lives.

All of that said, though, it’s good practice to nix the Fat Talk. So that’s what I’m going to do this week. No Fat Talk starting now. Only positive body talk.

It’ll be a good exercise. Who’s with me?

Author: has written 5267 posts for this blog.

Jill has been blogging for Feministe since 2005.
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51 Responses

  1. Tek
    Tek October 19, 2009 at 8:45 am |

    ” It’s our burden as women to present an attractive face to the world — to be ornamental and decorate” I think this is the burden of a certain type of woman. As a fat, black lesbian I don’t think many people expect me to decorate, I think they expect me to remain invisible.

  2. Jadey
    Jadey October 19, 2009 at 9:00 am |

    I’m all over this! I’ve been working on cutting out “fat talk” from my life for a couple of years now. It’s not a cure-all for body woes by any means, but I feel like it’s helped keep some unnecessary stress out of my life.

    Although having looked at the website, I should say that I’m about as leery of the “healthy” ideal and “health talk” as I am of the thin ideal and fat talk. “Health” is a very quick substitute for “thin” nowadays, and something I’ve come to realize is that my understanding of what healthy looks and feels like is about as warped as my understanding of what attractive and desirable looks and feels like. Sometimes when I see people talk about getting away from hating their fat bodies (and I’ve done this myself), I see them quickly qualify by hating their (supposedly) unhealthy bodies and still do all the diet and exercise blah blah blah.

    I’m a big proponent of health at every size, but I’ve had it knocked into my head a few times lately (and I’m grateful for this) that it’s even more important to remember RESPECT at every size. (Not to mention that this focus on health above all else is ablist too.)

  3. Roadrunner
    Roadrunner October 19, 2009 at 9:12 am |

    About a year ago, I decided to stop talking about food using moral language. Food is not “good” or “bad” food, it’s healthy or unhealthy. I’m not being “bad” when I eat cheesecake, and I don’t say “I’ve been good today” if I had a salad for lunch.

    It’s remarkably difficult, but has really changed the way I think about food. Instead of “being allowed” to eat a brownie because I’ve had a salad, the relevant question for me when deciding what to eat is “is this healthy for me?” Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t, but at least I’m evaluating the food for itself–not as a punishment or reward for past behavior.

  4. oldlady
    oldlady October 19, 2009 at 9:15 am |

    “It’s our burden as women to present an attractive face to the world–to be ornamental and decorate.” Mary Wollstonecraft wrote about this three hundred years ago. And today the pressure to be a sex object is greater than ever.

    Tek: Old women are expected to remain invisible also, whether white or black or lesbian or straight or fat or skinny.

    End fat talk? I’d love it. But as long as society puts so much pressure on females, eating disorders, tummy tucks, and face lifts will continue to be the order of the day. This isn’t being liberated; this is enslavement.

  5. Linoleum Blownaparte
    Linoleum Blownaparte October 19, 2009 at 9:50 am |

    Only positive body talk

    How about no body talk? One of the problems with “positive” body talk is that it’s purpose is generally to counteract negative body talk, but in doing so it implicitly calls attention to negative body talk.

    The whole fixation either way is what’s so poisonous, and that seems to be where you were starting from in this post. Engaging on any level seems to be a no-win scenario.

    1. Cara
      Cara October 19, 2009 at 10:07 am |

      I really strongly disagree, Linoleum. First of all, combating negative social attitudes with silence doesn’t work. That’s why we don’t think that fighting rape culture by engaging in no talk about rape is a good idea. In fact, it’s a really bad one.

      Secondly, I see absolutely nothing wrong with talking about our bodies. We live in our bodies every day, for our entire lives. They bring us physical joy, and physical pain. I can’t really fathom why celebrating out bodies and talking about them positively might be considered a bad thing. Talking about bodies in universal or essentialist ways (i.e. real women have curves!) is certainly bad, but I think that talking about our bodies in non-shaming ways is an incredibly healthy thing.

  6. oldlady
    oldlady October 19, 2009 at 10:28 am |

    Jill, Jill-you are wonderful, but “failing at the decorative thing”? HOORAH! Let us ALL learn to fail at the decorative thing–that women should be perceived as DECORATIONS? Dear goddess, what a fate.

    How many animals do you think of as ugly? What is more beautiful than a leopard, an elephant, a cat, a bird, even a crocodile or a warthog? They are all living, beautiful creatures.

    And humans, being animals also, come in all sorts of sizes, colors, shapes. ARen’t we all beautiful too? Whose standards matter anyway? We’re all in this together–there are greater issues at stake here than whether to get a face-lift or not.

    Women and children the world over are still at greatest risk for poverty and poor health care. In this country we still don’t get equal pay for equalwork. How important is being ornamental and decorative in the face of all that?

  7. Morningstar
    Morningstar October 19, 2009 at 10:38 am |

    So in an effort to have an honest conversation that keeps things balancced: what happens when someone is getting over/underweight and simply refuses to acknowledge it because “they’re happy”? I’m not quite sure how to address that. For the past couple years, one of my sisters has been using been eating as a way to reduce stress, and it’s certainly hasn’t been healthy for her, but her response is simply that she’s “happy” with her weight. Maybe she is, I really don’t know, but either way this isn’t her natural weight so to me, it’s not something to be happy about. But maybe I’m wrong…?

  8. oldlady
    oldlady October 19, 2009 at 10:47 am |

    Jill, sorry if I misinterpreted! I should have known better. You are totally correct that it’s a ridiculous expectation. What makes me cringe is that this ridiculous expectation never seems to diminish in power.

  9. Weekday Roundup -FoBoBlo
    Weekday Roundup -FoBoBlo October 19, 2009 at 11:02 am |

    [...] What is “fat talk?” The constant and casual way women (and even men) are socialized to talk about their bodies in negative ways. So if you’ve been trying to bring positivity into your life, this is a good [...]

  10. Kaethe
    Kaethe October 19, 2009 at 11:12 am |

    I’ve recently found a way to deflect fat talk among those around me. Instead of going along with conversations about an ideal weight or any of that, I talk about how long my ideal height has been 5’6″ (I’m 5’3″), and how, despite my efforts to stretch frequently and eat “tall” foods, I just can’t seem to achieve it.

    With my daughters I strive not to talk about looks or bodies at all, except to say that some clothes look more comfortable or practical on them. No doubt I’m failing, but I try not to say anything that reinforces the idea that girls need to look good, only that they need to feel good and be able to do the things they want to do.

  11. Linoleum Blownaparte
    Linoleum Blownaparte October 19, 2009 at 11:22 am |

    @ Cara. Point taken.

    To be clear, I wasn’t saying never speak of bodies again, but just for the week suggested by Jill. Basically a breather from having to endlessly deal with the bullshit either way. To use your rape analogy, I wasn’t suggesting not talking about rape, but rather not talking about the victim’s “responsibility” for being raped; in other words, not engage in victim blaming.

    Body conversations seem to turn bad very quickly; the fat/ugly-shaming being another kind of victim-blaming. Attempts to validate wind up arguing the wrong point, or going off-point. It’s a royal pain-in-the-ass. A week-long break from that could be valuable.

  12. Thomas
    Thomas October 19, 2009 at 11:32 am |

    It is among the hardest of things to level with others about our own insecurities. But by taking them out, placing them on the table and addressing them directly, it is sometimes possible to get others to do just that.

    Well done, Jill.

  13. JulieBelle
    JulieBelle October 19, 2009 at 12:23 pm |

    I am very interested in discussing this topic. I often find myself in uncomfortable positions when people (often women) feel that it is okay to talk about MY body or verbally make comparisons with me because I am thin, and that is considered inherantly a compliment. I don’t feel comfortable having my body or weight commented on, often by strangers, but am too often at a loss as to how to transition out of “fat/thin talk.” Often, this sort of talk can be used to push me to the margins of a group, with comments such as “oh well you’ve never had to deal with stretch marks, of course YOU wouldn’t understand.” I think fat talk is as much a bonding ritual among women used to tap into a “shared” experience as it is a way to vent insecurities.

  14. ShelbyWoo
    ShelbyWoo October 19, 2009 at 12:44 pm |

    Morningstar:

    Most of your “concerns” can be answered through some basic Fat Acceptance 101. Might I also suggest you listening to and believing what fat people (especially your sister!) tell you about themselves. Start with those things. And, don’t worry about how to tell your sister she’s fat…trust me, she already knows.

  15. jane
    jane October 19, 2009 at 12:57 pm |

    I also don’t want to engage in Fat Talk or trigger women who have have histories of eating disorders.

    Thank you for this. I feel like this is one of the things about Fat Talk we don’t talk about. Eating disorders aren’t a visible problem. Especially now that I’m recovered, I’m not “read” as ill. And when women around me do Fat Talk, it can be incredibly triggering.

  16. Morningstar
    Morningstar October 19, 2009 at 1:45 pm |

    I don’t understand what Fat Acceptance 101 means, Shelby. I also never said I want to tell my sister that she’s fat, where did you get that from?

  17. Hot Tramp
    Hot Tramp October 19, 2009 at 1:45 pm |

    JulieBelle, I’ve had the same experience. Fat talk absolutely is a bonding ritual among the women I’ve encountered, because it’s assumed that all of us want desperately to be thin. It’s socially awkward to shut down fat/thin talk — especially when you’re thin! Maybe you could smile a little and say “I’m sorry, this is just a quirk of mine, but I really don’t like it when people talk about my body, or when they say bad things about their own bodies. Can we talk about something else?”

  18. Trabb's Boy
    Trabb's Boy October 19, 2009 at 1:51 pm |

    Morningstar,

    I can understand you worrying that your sister is doing something unhealthy, but health encompasses many things, including stress tolerance and other mental health matters. Your sister is probably in the best position to judge what she needs in life, healthwise, and there is nothing better you could do for her than offer her respect for her own choices and unconditional love. There are limits, of course. If she were really doing something life-threatening, like getting addicted to hard drugs or developing anorexia, or even if she gained a hundren pounds above her usual weight in a very short period, there would be good reasons to assume she was no longer able to evaluate her health issues reasonably, but just basic weight gain and use of chocolate to reduce stress sounds well within the normal range of behaviour.

  19. Jadey
    Jadey October 19, 2009 at 1:55 pm |

    Morningstar, you referred to people not “acknowledging” their weight, which sounds a lot like, “Don’t you realize you’re FAT?”

    Fat Acceptance 101 refers to the basic concepts of the fat acceptance/anti-sizest movement. In this case, that there is nothing wrong or abnormal about eating, being fat, and being happy. With regards to your sister, stress is far worse on the immune system than not meeting someone else’s conception of an ideal weight. Why not respect her autonomy?

    If you want all the science and glorious, accessible discourse behind this movement, check out the Shapely Prose FAQ, which has all kinds of edifying links.

    1. Cara
      Cara October 19, 2009 at 2:09 pm |

      I don’t understand what Fat Acceptance 101 means, Shelby.

      Try here.

      You’d think it would go without saying, but clearly it does not: a thread about ending fat talk and learning to accept our bodies as they are is not the place for “but what if someone is really fat?” and “but sometimes fat people are unhealthy!” type concern trolling comments left in the interest of keeping the conversation “balanced.” Others have answered it rather eloquently thus far, and that’s awesome of them. But the fact remains that it’s just not the place. It pops up every single time there is a conversation that even remotely touches on fat acceptance. It’s a rough equivalent of “but sometimes women make false accusations!” on threads about rape.

      So, seriously, back on topic.

  20. Sheelzebub
    Sheelzebub October 19, 2009 at 2:30 pm |

    So in an effort to have an honest conversation that keeps things balancced: what happens when someone is getting over/underweight and simply refuses to acknowledge it because “they’re happy”? I’m not quite sure how to address that. For the past couple years, one of my sisters has been using been eating as a way to reduce stress, and it’s certainly hasn’t been healthy for her, but her response is simply that she’s “happy” with her weight. Maybe she is, I really don’t know, but either way this isn’t her natural weight so to me, it’s not something to be happy about. But maybe I’m wrong…?

    Far be it for me to start in on someone about this, but–

    I’ve been very underweight. For a long time, it was really difficult for me to put weight on and keep it on. It’s only been over the past few years that I’ve been able to get up to a normal weight (and holy crap, I look and feel a lot better now).

    It used to irritate the ever-loving fuck out of me to hear lectures from well-meaning people about how I was “too thin” and that I should eat more. HEY, THANKS! TOTES HAD NO IDEA!! Cause my doctor never, ever points this out to me! And I totally don’t notice it when I look in the mirror or try on bathing suits and see my ribs sticking out. Or when, you know, people say shit about my body. Why, I’ll just get right on that eating thing, cupcake.

    Now, if that was rude and alienating to ME, someone who was underweight, I can only imagine they would much worse for someone who is fat and therefore pilloried by this culture. They already know they are fat–they don’t need you to inform them of this. They already hear the lectures about their health, and they get a shitload of insults and nasty treatment because they are fat. They already deal with institutional bigotry because of their size (unlike me or others who have been underweight). So no, it’s not helpful.

  21. ShelbyWoo
    ShelbyWoo October 19, 2009 at 2:39 pm |

    I also never said I want to tell my sister that she’s fat, where did you get that from?

    Uh, you asked: “what happens when someone is getting over/underweight and simply refuses to acknowledge it because “they’re happy”?” then went on to talk about your fat sister. You asked a silly question and I gave a silly response. Here’s a more direct answer: You don’t need to worry about making sure someone “acknowledges” their weight because they, even the fat ones, are already know. Another person’s weight is none of your business, even if it’s your sister.

    Several other people have already answered your question on Fat Acceptance 101, so I won’t add more to it unless you’d like some more resources.

  22. chava
    chava October 19, 2009 at 2:46 pm |

    With respect, I think Morningstar has a point in that if you honestly suspect a loved one *does* have an ED, as their friend/family member, you have a responsibility to reach out to them. Of course, there’s a fine balance between legitimately reaching out and concern trolling–and since I don’t know her sister I have no idea what side of the line she falls on.

    In any case, that process of reaching out would go a lot smoother if we would end “fat talk,” and realize that there is a vast difference between “Oh, but don’t you *realize* how thin/fat you’ve become” and a genuine concern for a loved one’s physical/emotional health. Moreover, I don’t think anything in the original post or the “fat talk” website suggests that if you suspect a loved one has an ED you should stand back and do nothing.

  23. Jadey
    Jadey October 19, 2009 at 2:53 pm |

    Back on topic!

    In addition to positive body talk, I’ve also been trying to practice positive body, well, image, I guess is the best way to put it. When I was a teenager, I avoided looking at my body at all costs. I just didn’t want to know. Now I try to take a bit of time to look at my body, especially naked (just before or after a shower usually), and see it in a neutral and/or positive accepting way. Just to get to know it and try to see it as honestly as possible, without thinking “Oh, I need to fix that bit up” or “Man, I hope no one ever notices that!”

  24. Lucy Gillam
    Lucy Gillam October 19, 2009 at 3:05 pm |

    Morningstar, in general, when it comes to weight gain, I’d suggest minding your own business. I don’t mean that quite as snidely as it sounds, but believe me when I tell you: no one paying any attention right now can possibly be ignorant of the potential health implications of weight gain (except maybe in overstating them). Your sister knows she’s gaining weight. She’s almost certainly hearing plenty of criticism, whether direct or indirect, about it. One more voice expressing “concern” isn’t going to turn a switch in her head.

    It’s possible that I sound a little frustrated, but one of the most annoying things to me about being overweight is the people who assume I must not know it can have health implications, must not have tried working out just a few minutes a day,* must not realize that I’m putting Ranch dressing instead of fat-free vinaigrette on my salad. And none of them have the faintest clue how insulting that is.

    *An hour, usually, thanks.

  25. gudbuytjane
    gudbuytjane October 19, 2009 at 3:20 pm |

    @Jadey

    Now I try to take a bit of time to look at my body, especially naked (just before or after a shower usually), and see it in a neutral and/or positive accepting way.

    I do this a lot, it’s very helpful, and definitely helps me not engage that voice in my head which is critical of my weight and my body. I struggle with seeing photos or reflections of my self, but I’ve come a long way with it, and this kind of neutral or positive self-awareness is part of that process.

    I feel particularly frustrated that I don’t just hear the cultural commentary about weight, but as a trans woman I am extremely conscious of the way we gender size too (small = “girly,” large = “manly”). I am used to hearing friends make these comments, and it feels very similar to the fat talk syndrome (your size 10 shoes don’t indicate you have “massive man feet,” really. And what exactly does that say about me, then?).

    I suppose that’s one way I keep myself from engaging my fat talk: I remember that it isn’t just me imposing fatphobic cultural ideals on myself, I’m doing it on anyone within earshot.

  26. Melanie
    Melanie October 19, 2009 at 5:08 pm |

    One thing I’ve notice in particular as a chubby girl, is the interactions I have when I go to clothing stores. As any woman who considers themselves chubby knows it’s virtually impossible to find clothes that fit in a mainstream store. When I ask the salesperson if they have any larger sizes or clothes for chubby ladies I invariably get, “You’re not chubby!” Like to consider oneself chubby is degrading or means that I have low self esteem. Bitch please! I love my body, chubs and all. It is not time for a pep talk, just keep clothes in stock that fit ALL body shapes. Same goes for people who are on the thin side. Why should they have to shop in the kids’ section?

    The garment industry definitely reinforces this type of talk and I despise it.

  27. amandaw
    amandaw October 19, 2009 at 5:44 pm |

    (this comment is left in the “when I say ‘you,’ I really mean ‘me’” vein, just exploring things I’ve done in my past)

    Mantras are excellent tools for cultivating positive self-image (of any sort). The thing is, you have to actually say it. Out loud. At least once a day (preferably multiple times).

    Look at yourself in the mirror. And instead of looking for what doesn’t measure up (to any standard), look for something that’s pleasing. If you aren’t in a positive mood… find the least-displeasing thing, and find something positive to say about it. Out loud. And do it at least once a day.

    If you still aren’t comfortable with that, try watching for things you like in *other women.* And remark on it, silently, to yourself. Don’t make it about a specific body, just enjoy the beauty of the human body. After enough time, hopefully some of that body-positivity for humankind will rub off, at least a little, on your own image of your own personal body.

    This isn’t relevant to eating disorders. This isn’t going to cure anything. It’s not a solution to the systemic problems that create poor body image in us in the first place. It’s just one tool that might help if you’re making an effort to improve your body image. But once you cut out the negative self-talk (a task itself)… it can be a good place to go, a good thing to try.

    It’s not just fat talk, although that is where we as women tend to go first and most often when expressing displeasure about our appearance. Any negative self-talk at all — it all feeds each other.

    We are all amazing people, and we deserve to feel better about our selves. And fuck all the societal noise that leads us to believe that any problem is with our body and not with the society that isn’t pleased with it.

  28. snowviolet
    snowviolet October 19, 2009 at 8:49 pm |

    I appreciated reading this a lot.
    The other night Shakira was on SNL, and as I watched her perfectly gorgeous body writhe around… I was overcome by this subconcious feeling that since her body is ‘so perfect’ and mine is so so ‘not perfect’, that she was actually a better person than me. Yes, my subconcious mind completely dismissed ANY other aspect of my being, and put this complete stranger, albeit a toned thin one, on a higher level than me, thus rubbing in the shame of my complete failure. I caught myself… and gently corrected myself… but *that* was my knee-jerk reaction after 40 years of being a woman in this society. I’m so pissed that I’ve been culled to think like this… despite it’s poison… and I have to make an effort to believe differently. Pfft.

  29. Happy Feet
    Happy Feet October 19, 2009 at 11:11 pm |

    I had a similar experience to some of the other posters, of the flip side of the ‘fat talk’, from a skinny teen’s perspective. It illustrates that requisite of the negative self-comparison: you need to have someone else you can loudly proclaim to hate for their oppositely-attributed body, ensuring that girls remain divided against each other, and themselves in whatever shapes their bodies will go through throughout life -because chances are, they’ll change – that perfect bar is always on the move.

    As a skinny girl, I had all the other girls telling me how immoral I was for being thin (because I clearly did it to make them feel bad about themselves). So part of my desperation to gain weight was not just that I wanted to “look healthy” (the irony! the irony!) but I wanted to be able to gain enough weight that I could obsess about losing it and bond with the other girls. And be, in my mind, A Real Woman ™. And that’s awful, that the self-hate of fat talk is part of the “positive” bonding experience of girls, and one of the things I thought about as defining womanhood.

    Now that I have gained enough weight for strangers to stop commenting, I find that, yeah… you aren’t even allowed to acknowledge that weight can change at all! I would tell people I gained some weight and was really excited about buying new clothes to fit my curvy new form, and people would get angry because I was NOT FAT (“Hmm, I gained some weight” – “you’re not fat!!!” “Uh… I lost some weight?” – “don’t talk about that, you’re not fat!” So now I just say “I outgrew my clothes” or “my pants changed size” with an earnest look on my face like I genuinely think I had a growth spurt or don’t know what could make my pants change size.

  30. Dominique
    Dominique October 20, 2009 at 12:33 am |

    how about something truly revolutionary: just doing stuff you like, and not caring what you look like doing it. Just feeling good. Whether it’s physical activity, or hobbies like knitting, gouache painting, photography, singing: just doing it.

    It shouldn’t be revolutionary at all. It should be what we do. It should be natural.

    Your doctor say something about a real concern, like blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes? Fine. Then you deal.

    That’s what guys do. All the time. We should give ourselves the right to do the same damn thing. (Especially given the shape of most of the guys who make fat-shaming comments… like, look in the mirror, bro).

  31. Splinch
    Splinch October 20, 2009 at 11:41 am |

    I decided to stop being self-conscious about the way I look when I was 17. It was a very intentional decision, largely a result of being very involved in dance and spending a lot of time in tight clothing in front of mirrors. And I determined that I really didn’t want to let those mirrors take over my life, because, basically, I deeply subscribe to some amalgamation of ideas that is summarized by “don’t judge a book by its cover,” and out of a sort of pre-feminist insistence that what is important about me is what I do or say, not how I look. (Pre-feminist because at the time I didn’t associate it with feminism or with gender at all.)

    It’s not 100% successful, meaning that of course I still think about it sometimes – although usually, as someone said above, it is when I am made uncomfortable by other people trying to have ‘fat talk’ bonding with me. But I do think that overall, this strategy has actually worked tremendously well, just to tell myself to forget about it and move on to other things. It’s become ingrained.

    I’ll totally admit that I have an innate advantage to doing this, in that I’m a pretty average size. And I’m white, and otherwise generally conform to many mainstream norms of appearance. But I’m no supermodel, and I see women all around me, larger, smaller, much more beautiful, or otherwise, still criticize themselves constantly. I just want to shout at them, (in my older, more rabid feminist version of that 17-year-old), “Don’t let the patriarchy do this to you! Your body is just fine! Just stop allowing this to be important and you’ll be happier for it!”

  32. smmo
    smmo October 20, 2009 at 6:23 pm |

    Well I think the balance is the hardest thing. It is very tempting to go to the “no talk of bodies ever”place. I will say I have a “no talk of bodies ever” rule with non-feminists. It is just too exhausting.

    I do worry that we’ve conflated the meanings of “beautiful” and good.” You go through the bonding ritual with other women where she says “I feel ugly” and you say “you’re not ugly, you’re pretty” and the whole underlying assumption is ugly=bad and pretty=good. The fact is, most of us are going to fall short of beautiful and all of us are going to age out of pretty and somehow this has to be OK. So maybe the next time a friend says “I feel so ugly” I might try not to default to “you’re pretty” but to ask her why she feels that way, or what she means by that word.

  33. charlotte
    charlotte October 21, 2009 at 4:19 am |

    I cut the fat talk about 6 years ago and since then I have finished puberty, been eating healthy (as in I F-ing LOVE butter but I don’t eat fast food), and also I have been having a lot of sex. So it is really annoying and awkward when people (women and men, my age and older) tell me that I’ve lost weight, usually in the form of a compliment, sometimes in an ambiguous tone, and rarely as if they are worried. Actually, even the last group of people complimented me first before worrying. Anyway, who the fuck gives a shit if your weight fluctuates, and more importantly, how dare you assume that I take that as a compliment? Was I not thin enough before? What if I really did have an eating disorder? Maybe I can’t afford money for food. This weight thing in our culture needs to stop. It is ridiculous, demeaning, backwards, and a million other negative things.

  34. julia
    julia October 22, 2009 at 12:01 pm |

    I have huge trouble w/ the same things that Jill mentions here, as well as what JulieBelle and others allude to.

    My usual response to someone saying they’re too fat is to tell them I’m sorry they’re not happy with their body. Sometimes, if they’re someone close to me (like a friend/roommate), we’ll talk about their/our health more generally (sleep, stress, food, season changes, etc.). I don’t think it’s possible to always love one’s body, but I think it’s also important to figure out why one’s not so happy with it so that one can address it (societal pressures? Fuck those! Not getting sleep or exercise? Maybe reassess?).

    When I’ve seen discussions of “fat acceptance” they far too often turn into a “real body” contest wherein some women (usually thin, occasionally big busted) are disparaged as not “real.” People with eating disorders leading to low weight or those who have had plastic surgery are somehow seen as less of women than those who are obese or unaltered. Who are we to judge why someone is how they are or what they choose to do to their body? Better to stand together against the divisive pressures telling us that we are not real women/people and that the real woman/person is always over *there*.

    I’m a real person. I’m 4’10″ and I rarely wear shoes that I can’t wear to run for the bus or walk a mile. I’m 36-24-36 and don’t know how much I weigh. I hate clothing sizing with a passion. I think that even when one knows it’s silly, it’s hard not to internalize and translate the message of “we don’t carry your size” to “we don’t acknowledge your existence or importance”. I like clothing and I dress for me. I don’t like people telling me that I am or am not certain things because I don’t fit in with their stereotypes. I would be no less of a real person if I did fit all their stereotypes, or if I rewrote those stereotypes.

  35. Zoe
    Zoe October 22, 2009 at 2:03 pm |

    I’m definitely with you, and have been for some time. I can’t tell you how frustrating it is to hear other women in my office talk about how “fat” they are (for the record, there are no fat women in my office, at least not by MY definition). Also, I am someone who is naturally fit and somewhat slender, but I totally effed up my body with anorexia and then Binge Eating Disorder for many of my adolescent and early adult years. When I was 19, I put on about 50 pounds in just a few months through disordered eating and negative body image. Now that I’m mentally healthy, my body has been going back to its normal, healthy size without any conscious effort or self-torturing on my part (basically, I eat whatever the heck I want, and I stop eating when I’m full, which seems pretty basic but can be incredibly hard to grasp for people with eating disorders). Unfortunately, this has been getting me a lot of attention that I’m not sure how to handle. Co-workers and acquaintances keep telling me I look “amazingly skinny” and asking me how I do it. It is very hard to explain to people that the best way to look great is to be happy with yourself, and that, in my case, I gained that confidence at 160 pounds…being 140 pounds makes me feel healthier and more active, but I started feeling beautiful a long time ago.

  36. Jen
    Jen October 23, 2009 at 11:29 am |

    “I’m never going to be 5′10″ and 110 pounds.” ???

    Psssh. I’m 5’10″ and I’d be thrilled to get back down to 180! ‘Cause honey, at 180 I LOOK GOOD! :)

  37. Running Up that Hill « recon(figure)asian

    [...] puts enough limits on women that we do not need to perpetuate that amongst ourselves. We need to end fat talk. We can start by saying to each [...]

  38. Midday open thread | The Latest Liberal Blogs

    [...] over at Feminste, Jill has a superlative piece about weight, self-talk, friend talk and [...]

  39. Jillian
    Jillian October 24, 2009 at 4:09 pm |

    I am SO glad you wrote about this, Jill (we have the same name!) I have a personal experience pertaining to how negative ‘fat talk’ really is.

    When I was a senior in high school I suffered from anorexia for a year and a half. I was never “fat”, but I was always compared to my friends who were skinnier than I was by other students (high school can be cruel). So, I decided to stop eating all together. I lost about 20 pounds (I’m 5’6 at about 140lbs. and went down to 120 during that time), and everyone seemed to notice my weight-loss which then fostered a series of compliments from not only my peers but adults in my life as well. I remember distinctly one of my mother’s friends commented, “You look so amazing! How did you get so skinny?” It made me feel good about myself. So, I validated my condition as being necessary to look good and that not eating wasn’t really THAT bad. I equivalated anorexia with dieting. After a while my friends noticed my lack of eating, and they launched a campaign to get me better. While the support was lovely and I started to eat again, the food immediately made me gain weight. Suddenly, the compliments stopped coming. I was no longer ‘so skinny’ and, therefore, not worthy of praise. This made me feel worse than I had previously felt, and I knew I had to somehow get skinny again. However, my friends were intent on me eating. I came up with clever ways to escape their eye and slip into the bathroom to throw up. If someone caught me I would claim I was sick and go home. I became terribly bulemic, and the disorder still haunts me to this day. I assumed if anyone knew I was skinny because I was anorexic/bulemic, my thinness would no longer be okay, and that is the problem. It’s a complete double-standard. We are told to be unnaturally thin by normal means. Eating disorders are private, and how do any of us know what goes on behind close doors? Yes, I was skinny, but I was huddled over a toilet throwing up my dinner seven days a week. We need to reevaluate the way we assess beauty. It is literally killing us. ‘Fat talk’ needs to stop.

  40. nainam
    nainam October 24, 2009 at 7:32 pm |

    I had a pretty great body until I retired, then put on about 30 unwanted pounds. Complained to my doctor and he asked: “What were you doing when you thought your body was best?”

    “Single parent of 3 kids, working full-time, paying the mortgage, –doing all the housework and cooking and laundry and lawn work–for starters,” I admitted.

    “What are you doing now?” the doctor asked.

    “Sleeping late, sometimes swimming but mostly reading by the pool, playing bridge, eating out with my husband and having a lot of fun,” I admitted.

    “What would you prefer, your former body and lifestyle, or the way you are now?” he asked.

    I guess you all know what I answered, right before I left his office with a big grin on my face.

  41. zuzu
    zuzu October 25, 2009 at 10:20 am |

    I’m never going to be 5′10″ and 110 pounds.

    With a few exceptions, it’s not realistic or possible to be both 5’10″ AND 110 pounds. Even that Ralph Lauren model who was Photoshopped to hell and back weighs more than that at 5’10″, and she’s professionally thin.

  42. Alas, a blog » Blog Archive » Open Thread — She (Link) Farms edition

    [...] End Fat Talk. Please, please end it. [...]

  43. meerkat
    meerkat October 26, 2009 at 8:32 am |

    “Psssh. I’m 5′10″ and I’d be thrilled to get back down to 180! ‘Cause honey, at 180 I LOOK GOOD! :)”

    I’m 5’10″ too and I suppose I might look good at that weight (I must have weighed it at some point between my birth weight and now but I doubt it was at a height of 5’10″), but why are we implying that you and I don’t look good at our current weights? Not that I think I look good or anything, but in the spirit of no-fat-talk.

  44. Joy-Mari Cloete
    Joy-Mari Cloete October 26, 2009 at 8:56 am |

    I’m gonna try this from today onwards. And yes, body shaming is a ritual among women.

    It’s also so difficult to emphasise that I call myself fat but it’s really just a descriptor. Could it be that people don’t really want to be associated with ‘fat’ people? And when someone who looks as ‘normal’ as I do, claim they’re fat, these people get cognitive dissonance?

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