When you’re among female friends, have you ever noticed how often the conversation turns to the topic of body shape or weight? You might mention the reason you’re passing on the cheese plate is that you have a few kilos to lose before your holiday. Perhaps you get into a discussion about someone you know who has lost loads of weight doing keto or fasting or some other plan.
Engaging in ‘fat talk’ is very normal and seems harmless enough, but the consequences can be far more damaging than you might think. A survey found that engaging in, or being exposed to negative body talk increases body dissatisfaction and yet 27% of women’s social interactions (according to this survey) involved fat talk and 70% of women made negative comments about their own and other women’s bodies.
The conversation isn’t always negative. Frequently, when we catch up with a friend we haven’t seen in a while we say things like, “Wow. You look great. Have you lost weight?” But if you think about it, even when you give a compliment, you’re reinforcing the social conditioning that a particular body shape (i.e., THIN) is the ideal, not to mention that a woman’s value is in her appearance.
The amount of conversation that revolves around body shape and weight is a good indication of the mental energy we devote to thinking about how we look, how we’d prefer to look or what we can do to change our appearance in order to feel more satisfied. Surely there are more interesting things about us. (And what’s the message we’re sending our daughters?) If you know this is something you’re guilty of, you might try putting some boundaries in place to limit the ‘fat talk’ you engage in, either to yourself or when you’re with your friends.
1. Ban body talk
Try going a day and then a week without mentioning your body, weight or appearance or commenting on anyone else’s. A funny thing happens as soon as you put a ban on something – you begin to notice how often you have the urge to do it. Use this as an indication of how much mental energy you’re wasting on body thoughts/talk and a useful starting point to break the habit.
2. Become a ‘no fat talk’ zone
If you notice conversations are always turning to the subject of dieting and weight, start steering things in another direction. Depending on how comfortable you are, you might even tell your friends you won’t be participating in body talk anymore. You’ll all feel better for it and you might even inspire your friends to ditch the fat talk too.
3. Appreciate what matters most
Your self-talk is repetitive and habitual so it can be hard to immediately turn off the fat talk. If you’ve always trash talked your own body, try focusing less on how you think it looks and more on appreciating what it does. You don’t have to immediately embrace your cellulite or love your stretch-marks but you can acknowledge that your arms allow you to hug your kids and your legs carry you through life every day. Appreciating your body for its function is a great step away from our fixation on the thin ideal and learning to focus on what really matters – which is that your body is merely the vessel through which you share your gifts with the world.