Let’s eliminate “Fat talk” as a social bonding tool for women.
I read THIS on the health and wellness section of the New York Times today — it’s a quick little piece titled ” Fat Talk Compels, but Carries a Cost,” that glances (albeit without much depth) at the phenomenon of women performing the all-too-familiar ritual of body-shaming themselves in order to establish rapport with one another.
Goes a little like this:
Woman A: I love your shirt!
Woman B: Thanks — I wore it because it covers the muffin top pretty well.
Woman A: Shut up — you’re tiny!
Woman B: Thanks, but honestly: I feel like a whale today.
Woman A: I hear ya. Me too — I hate these tree trunk thighs.
Woman B: Are you kidding? You have nothing to worry about — you’re so skinny.
Or maybe like this:
Woman C: I shouldn’t have eaten that ________, I can totally feel it going straight to my cheeks.
Woman D: Whatever, you look awesome — I’m the one who just looks at ________ and gains weight. I have cellulite……….everywhere.
Those exchanges = Fat Talk. To quote the NYT article:
“This exchange is what psychological researchers call “fat talk,” the body-denigrating conversation between girls and women. It’s a bonding ritual they describe as “contagious,” aggravating poor body image and even setting the stage for eating disorders. Some researchers have found that fat talk is so embedded among women that it often reflects not how the speaker actually feels about her body but how she is expected to feel about it.
And while research shows that most women neither enjoy nor admire fat talk, it compels them. In one study, 93 percent of college women admitted to engaging in it.”
A bonding ritual.
It’s true, though: it’s a friendship icebreaker for a lot of women — a way to *almost* compliment another person while (sneakily) decimating your own worth by 1) tying your value to your physical appearance, and 2) eviscerating your appearance in front of others to maintain an “I dislike myself” status quo that’s built upon a mutual (PUBLIC) disgust with ourselves. Yes, public. Because whether we really hate our backsides and upper arms, or whether we REALLY think our companion is absolutely perfect is not the point; the point is that women are expected to speak ill of themselves while reassuring companions of their physical “just-rightness.” Constantly.
Guess what we’re doing when we engage in this “no, I’m the uglier duckling” type of conversational volleyball? Self-objectification. I’m “no good” because of my belly. You’re “worth more” because of your tush. I’m expected to hate myself. You’re expected to build me up. I’m supposed to talk myself down. You’re supposed to berate yourself right back. I’m supposed to reduce myself to the sum of physical parts I dislike. You’re supposed to give back my value by validating that you’re worse-off.
It’s a pitiful sort of see-saw ladies hop on (and willingly!), because it creates friendships that bud, flourish, or mature based on a reductive, objectifying, negative cycle of self-harm.
Think you’re just being nice to your girlfriend during happy-hour chit chat? Think again. We’re doing ourselves a disservice. We’re doing women a disservice. We’re reinforcing objectifying ideology that tells girls and women — very early on — that it’s our job to draw attention to our physicality, while simultaneously reducing ourselves to the sum of our pant size.
I’ll enlist the wisdom of Caitlin Moran on this one — she has a guideline that helps her determine whether “some sexist bull**** is afoot.” It’s fairly simple: are men worrying about it, as well?
In her words:
In this case, I’m going to call this “Fat Talk” a bit of sexism that we inflict upon ourselves because — frankly — the boys don’t do it.
Oh sure, it would be entirely too unilateral to say it NEVER happens between buddies, but (to generalize) we simply don’t see men sitting around a table debating whether or not they should eat the pizza based on whether or not the guy next to them is eating the pizza. When they sit down over a beer, they don’t insult themselves. And if they do, rare is the occasion when the buddy feels the need to put themselves to shame in order to bolster the sense of well-being of the other guy.
To use the Jon Stewart test: he probably doesn’t begin a conversation with an old friend by deriding the way his Brooks Brothers makes him feel about himself.
To that end: I’ve made a pact with myself not to continue the volley. Not to lob the objectification back. Not to serve the ball of self-denigration across the net and expect someone to return the favor.
I am uniquely ME.
I am different than anyone else on this planet.
I am smart. I am resilient. I am beautiful. I am many things — I am NOT willing to negate those many wonderful, unique parts of me by insulting myself in order to play into someone else’s culturally conditioned conversation of self-loathing. I’d rather give woman-kind a boost (and objectification the boot) by refusing to engage in the type of conversations that reduce me to things like cellulite.
I’m proud of other women who decide to love themselves, too — and it’s more fun if we can eat that cake together, joyfully.