Guest post by Amber Karnes
“Oh my god, my cellulite is disgusting. I'm not even GOING to the beach this summer. I am so fat.”
“You think YOU look bad? You should see my boobs, they're nonexistent, yet somehow my arms are flabby. Gross.”
“Yeah, well the lights in this dressing room are showing every zit and freckle on my face. My skin SUCKS.”
I'm at the mall, in a dressing room trying on bathing suits. I'm trying to focus on the things I actually like about myself in this moment, but hearing these other women's voices fly over the top of my dressing room stall, it's like I'm hearing some horrible radio station broadcast that I did NOT tune in to.
Thanks for tuning in to the YOU LOOK TERRIBLE radio show! Our goal this hour is to make you feel like complete shit, and bum you out about your body as MUCH as possible. First up, we've got an exclusive interview with three friends at the mall dressing room who look TOTALLY AWFUL in their swimsuits!
We've all been there. A friend mentions how much she hates her fat thighs, and we're right there with our own comment about how much our flabby arms suck, or how our ass is so big that it MIGHT start knocking lamps off tables. Maybe we joined in to be polite and not awkward, or to feel solidarity with other women, but whatever the reason, participating in “fat talk” or other body-negative talk really serves no purpose. Unless your goal is to destroy your own self-esteem or the self-image of those around you, I urge you today: ditch the fat talk. Why? Here are a few things to consider:
Don't be such a downer, man
A study published in Body Image: An International Journal of Research revealed that if a woman talks negatively about herself, those around her tend to add their own critical self-talk to the conversation – even if they had just described their own body image as “positive” or “high.” Think about that! Even if you're around women who are feeling okay about themselves today, just by mentioning one of your perceived body flaws, you can throw your girlfriends into their own spirals of self-loathing. Gross!
Even if you think you're “being polite”, joining in on this sort of conversation serves no purpose, and brings others' body image perception down into the dumps. You're not building cameraderie. You're not making yourself more likeable by self-deprecation, you're just adding to the negativity!
Stop asking “have you lost weight”
You see a friend you haven't seen in a while. She is so happy to see you and as you embrace, she exclaims, “Oh my gosh! Have you lost weight?!” You panic. You haven’t' lost weight, in fact you've probably gained a pound or two since she saw you last. The thought spiral starts: I haven't lost weight. I probably should though. Is she trying to be nice? Does she think I need to lose weight? Maybe I look terrible and she's trying to drop a hint that I should hit the gym.
Asking “have you lost weight” is a lose-lose situation. It sets up the other person for failure. If she has lost weight, you're reinforcing the societal standard (thinness equates worth/beauty, everyone should be trying to get thinner at all times) and implying that she’s only succeeding if her answer is yes, she’s lost weight. If she hasn’t lost weight, it implies that you think she should have lost weight, or at least should be trying. You're implying that something about her needs to be fixed. That her body size matters to you in the first place.
If what you mean by “have you lost weight” is really “you look great” – then just say that instead. Tell your friend she looks great. Compliment her style, her radiant smile, her bubbly personality, her successful career, or what a great mom or friend she is, not her body size.
Your friend is enough, just as she is today. You are enough, just as you are. Nobody’s body needs to be fixed or changed. Commit to ending the “fat” talk, starting with yourself.
5 tips to ditch the fat talk today
Commit to ending fat talk. Pledge to yourself that fat talk won't come out of your own mouth. From this day and henceforth, ban self-deprecation, discussing diets, commiserating with friends who are putting themselves down, or asking someone if they've lost weight from your vocabulary. It has to start with you.
When a friend starts fat talking, don't join in. Change the subject. You'll be able to decide how to approach the conversation depending on the friend. Maybe you can be frank with them: I decided to stop putting myself down or engaging in fat talk, and here's why. Let's talk about something else! or maybe Ugh, diet talk is so boring. Tell me more about your garden that you planted this summer! or even, Girl, don't hate on yourself so much! I'd kill to be as good at my job as you are at yours. Tell me again about that project you kicked ass on recently!
Compliment the things you really value. Appreciate behaviors, talents, passion, style, individuality, awesome parenting skills, or what a great friend they are. If you were to write down 10 things you appreciate about your friends, I bet it wouldn't be how slender they are. Think about why you love your friends, and tell them.
Reframe your thoughts. If you see a girl wearing something and think, “She's too fat to wear that,” reframe your thinking instead. Try to think something about that person that can offset the fat talk in your head. Maybe, “I wish I had her confidence” or “She really knows how to express herself.”
Dress with confidence. Instead of focusing on changing your body size or shape, dress the body you have today and dress it well. Selecting colors or styles you love, having a signature piece of jewelry or a tattoo that shows off your spunky personality, or altering off-the-rack clothing to fit your body are great ways to make you feel wonderful that have nothing to do with losing weight or changing the way you look. Many times “feeling fat” is caused by the way clothing fits. We assume something is wrong with us, instead of just altering the clothing (a mass-produced item that doesn't fit MANY women) to look great on our individual, wonderful bodies.
What do you think?
Have you participated in fat talk? Do you notice that it affects your self-esteem? Have you considered the impact of fat talk when it comes to friendship? How will you reframe your thoughts and the conversation to ditch the fat talk? Tell us in the comments!
Amber Karnes is a self-employed designer, web developer, writer, marketer, and creative project overlord who lives in the Virginia mountains with her husband and a very grumpy Boston terrier. She is a yogi and yoga teacher, and blogs at Body Positive Yoga about her discoveries, struggles, reflections, and breakthroughs in the journey of making peace with her body through yoga, and helping others to do the same. Amber's also into cooking, hiking, knitting, reading, and loves a heavy deadlift. Find her at Body Positive Yoga, or follow her on Twitter.