The end of Fat Talk

Next week, October 18-22, 2010 is Fat Talk Free Week, sponsored by Delta Delta Delta, the American women's fraternity, and its partners.
"I can't stand my hips", "I'm so freaking fat", "She should never wear a two-piece swimsuit" and the insidious "You look great! Have you lost weight?" are examples of talk the Tri-Delts would trounce. Fat Talk can be negative or positive, but each statement reinforces the need to be thin.

The week is part of the Reflections Body Image program, aimed at university-age women– the age when body-size distress is reinforced, if not begun. As the web site notes, ten million women in the US are dealing with eating disorders. 

Alison (a Tri-Delt alum and former Miss Florida who successfully overcame her eating disorder) says:
"...If you make a conscious effort to eliminate certain statements from your daily dialog, I guarantee you will feel better about yourself and set a positive example for your family and friends. Remember, your own self doubt can cause others to become self conscious of their own body image. Instead of tearing yourself down, put your efforts in more meaningful pastimes that will not only enrich your life, but the lives of those around you."

If it's not body, it's age

"Fight ageism; you are not getting any younger."
First we beat up on our bodies, then we live in terror of age, a double whammy of anxiety and despair. 

Among women past 50, I hear plenty of negative body talk, and, equally distressing, unconscious ageism in phrases like, "I asked my hairdresser to give me a style that doesn't make me look old", or "That colour is aging."

This poster, retrieved from, echoes my comment on someone's blog: you will get older if you are lucky; you will look older when you get there. I'm fed up with being told, "Oh, you don't look it", when I state my age, as if looking 62 is repellant, like physical evidence of tertiary syphilis. 

I know many of you reject Fat Talk, especially those who have raised daughters while making a conscious effort to model healthy body-image and eating.

All of us, whether we have daughters or not, can serve as an example.

I realized, reading their post, how I'd absorbed Fat Talk into my language, beginning in my teens. Next week–and from now on– I will not compliment my friend by telling her a dress takes off ten pounds, I'll just tell her how wonderful she looks.


Toby Wollin said…
Yep. Wonderful is good. My great good luck is that my mom broke the early death spiral in her family. Her grandmother died at 55, her mom at 62. She lived to 86. Ding! I'm a winner!! I get to see and be with my grandchildren, take walks with my DH for the next 30 years. Wonderful is good. Vertical is even better.Happy 'Great to be alive' Week!
Susan B said…
Bravo! Yes, we should all be lucky enough to achieve ripe old age, and look the part. Your comment about "tertiary syphillis" cracked me up, but so true!

As someone who was raised under a deluge of fat (and now, age) talk, it's such an eye opener to look at how pervasive it is, and to try to become more aware of and avoid it. Or to quote Sally Kempton, "It's hard to fight an enemy with outposts in your head."
Fat talk is one of the worst things about many largely female workplaces. It isn't the boss mistreating staff, or laggard co-workers who leave one all the work, or sexual harassers. It is us beating up on ourselves and each other.

I was pleased that people had noticed that I'd lost weight, but I had to lose weight - the menopause had sent my weight up to potentially dangerous levels and it had to be exercised off. (While I love food and wine, I'm not a big eater in daily life, and I'm scrupulous about healthful foods). But one of my best friends, who is turning 65, is one of those who remains always about a size 5. She is always imagining mythical "fat". It gets very annoying. I know she isn't doing it to make any of her chubbier friends feel like @%&+...

Ageing talk is a wee bit different. Of course we will age if we are lucky not to die an early death, but I do think that sometimes when we talk about a hairstyle or garment being "ageing", we mean it is mumsy and sad, or conversely cougarish, not because we have any illusion that a more attractive cut or garment will make anyone 50-something look 22.

That woman who makes a fortune with her stupid "How Not to Look Old" books cracks me up because I find the type of clothing, overstyled and overdyed hair and presentation of self is very "ageing" in the sense I am using it; it is somewhat pathetic.

Toby, most of my family has been long-lived, except for my father who was a very heavy smoker and died of lung cancer in his early 60s, after two heart attacks, phlebitis and other serious smoking-related ills. No, I've never smoked. But one never knows...
Marguerite said…
I've had a problem hip for the past year and had surgery this past week to repair the problem. I've been so hard on myself about weight creep/i.e.fat talk. I'm going to mindfully work on this negativity. Otherwise, I'm very blessed with good health overall. Focusing on the positives with enthusiasm as I begin a rehab program is essential to success. Duchesse, I'm so glad I found your insightful blog. I look forward to each new post.
Rebecca said…
This post couldn't have come at a BETTER time for me! I make the motion that we extend the WEEK to "Fat Talk Free LIFE".
Meg Mitchell said…
Great post and two important subjects for women of all ages. We need to get the dialogue out there and especially in the media and advertising. But I guess the most important dialogue is with ourselves. Thank you for reminding me to be aware of my own mind speak.
I met a co worker and her mother shopping last week and complimented the mom on how great she looked...she's 60 trim and trendy without being gaudy...and the mom had a very awkward moment saying no I'm fat etc...and as I looked on she sheepishly said thanks...

when are we going to embrace our bodies as they are and accept ourselves with grace?
Rubiatonta said…
About five years ago I decided that I was not going to "fat talk" any more. At first it was hard, especially when in conversation with other women -- I didn't want to judge them for doing it, but I also wasn't willing to be pulled into the vortex. So I came up with, "That isn't a topic I want to discuss -- can we talk about something else?" as a way of changing the subject as non-judgmentally as I could. It led to much more body-acceptance for me, and much more calm and happiness. In fact, my love and acceptance of myself (physical and otherwise), is one of the things that most of my friends, and Mr. Pants, love the most about me.

Now I find that it's more or less the norm for me not to do it, even with a mother, a sister, and a grandmother who "fat talk" fairly often -- and they're all healthy and in good shape. (My gran, as I've mentioned, is 97!) What's hardest for me, is the moral judgments: "I'm going to be bad and have a cookie," etc. To which I quietly reply, "It's only food, you know."

I'm hoping that I'll be able to deal with "age" talk in the same way -- since I view myself as a perpetual 17 year-old, there's not the temptation!
Marguerite said…
Hostess, How many times have we all been in that same situation, complimenting someone only to be have it deflected. Then everyone feels bad. Such a shame.
Duchesse said…
lagatta; I have less forbearance than you and would (after x number of incidents) hand the friend who goes on about how fat she is a BMI table for her height/weight (and I know BMI is a contested measure). I'm so damn annoyed with that BS and figure giving factual info might be a first step.

Ageist talk has many trojan horses. One can look frumpy or sad at any age, but what I am talking about about is the pervasive terror women have of looking a nanosecond older than they are. There are entire blogs devoted to it, and the authors seem oblivious.

Marguerite: Welcome. Rehab is such hard work; wishing you steady progress.

Rebecca: I'm with you, for life!

Meg: Yes, first with ourselves but then, speaking up with the voice and wallet.

hostess: Women my age were deeply loaded with this stuff, and some have not had the opportunity to cast it off. I was taught to accept compliments by a group of 30-something co-workers!

When someone says, "This isn't a topic I want to discuss because..." I always want to know why- to understand the need behind the "no".

When a bunch of women get into Fat Talk, humour can help; I sometimes say something like, "I'm not enjoying hearing the complaints, because it just might take all this fabulousness we possess down a notch."

I'm going to guess you were a more self-aware 17 than I was; at 17 I was dating Iggy Pop, among other boys- and captive of my illogical and quite unformed thinking.
Unknown said…
I was raised in constant fat talk and diet/sinning talk ("ooh, we sinned today and had a single Hershey's kiss" - people, that isn't a sin, it's just food - stop demonizing the food).

However, oddball I am, I've grown into a (pudgy, graying) professional office dweller obsessed about 99% of the time with work and my discontent with work and almost never think about fat, age or appearance at all.

That does NOT mean I'm a happier person - just utterly tormented in another part of life.

If it isn't one thing, it's another, right?
LPC said…
Despite a few years of bulemia when I was young, at some point I decided that my body was fine. Sure I wish my belly didn't have a dimpled layer of chub, but still, on the whole, whatever.

Aging, I keep trying to own it, and people keep trying to say no. If I say I am 54 and I feel age creeping up, I don't want people to deny me. I don't want to be told, oh you are not told. I want to hear, you are aging, and that is OK. It's not the same as youth.
Duchesse said…
Artful: Accept or change, there are but two strategies. For age- which we cannot change- there is acceptance (which includes sadness, grief and chagrin). For work, change seems to me the most hopeful door.

LPC: You might like this post, which I wrote in 2007: to express my annoyance with just what you've described.
Unknown said…
Some phrases I've used:
"You're looking well/healthy!"
"You look happy!"

I agree with Rebecca--let's keep that ball rolling! 3 weeks is what it takes for something to become a habit...
Mardel said…
Hmm, I think I lost my comment. Whatever. I seem to lose a lot and that is fine.

I'm all for ending fat talk and age talk. I honestly think people look better as they age most of the time, and certainly the most beautiful and impassioned faces seem to have their fair share of wrinkles.

I had already vowed to stop this on my blog, and I have to thank you for calling me out on this, but I think many of need to be more aware of the hidden meaning in compliments and statements that we take for granted.
Duchesse said…
Snowlynx: These are compliments I'd enjoy hearing. Right now I also enjoy hearing (especially from Le Duc) that I look beautiful or (as he said last evening) chic. So I still value beauty or aesthetics and sensuality... just want to own that. And I think that's accessible to all, at any age or size.

Mardel: I have a post on beautiful wrinkled faces all ready to go! As I said to hostess, this programming got deeply embedded in us boomers, and it comes back into my head very often.
Demi-pointe said…
I am very often told I am so thin, so lucky to be thin, etc. That I look so young, that I can't possibly be a mother of 20-something year olds. My friends understand how uncomfortable this makes me. I cannot respond with - "can I now talk about your weight", or "you look so much older than your age, which I haven't figured out because what is the difference even though you have calculated mine". My family laughs when I told them I asked a hairdresser if he could dye my hair gray (this was just 2 years ago and he told me he couldn't though now we see younger people dyeing theirs). Being met by comments about one's appearance is oppressive. I am reminded of Deja Pseu's post about not being obligated to look pretty.
How about "The end of You Look..." - after all they are only looking at you through their eyes.
Frugal Scholar said…
Excellent points. And yet....I am in more and more situations where the other women look a lot younger than I do, even though they're the same age. It sometimes feels strange to be the only one who hasn't had plastic surgery.
Duchesse said…
Demi-pointe: "Being met by people's comments is oppressive" is a reaction I understand; how dispiriting to feel endlessly dissected and judged. (Some women do this to other women with just a look.)

I'd like to keep the sincere compliment in the world; my friend Barbara wore mysterious, beautiful 1930s art deco bracelet when we met yesterday, and I admired it, and intend to keep doing so in those situations.

Frugal: Are you saying it's always b/c of surgery or treatments? I'm surprised. How any women I know? Not many having surgery, maybe 3-4? They like their injections and facials. (I haven't anything.)
Susan said…
On some level, I'm fascinating by the process of aging. I think I am actually embracing my hair turning white. I try to embrace my body as well, but ever mindful of not eating out of anxiety or boredom--or because it's there. I think being aware of what you are doing is the most important thing--and perhaps that extends to what you are writing or saying.

I have a close friend who is probably a size 2 at 5'8". She is so critical of herself. She doesn't like her knees (which are lovely), her arms (which are slim), etc. I finally told her that if I felt like she did, I wouldn't be able to leave the house. There is a lot to be said for confidence.
Duchesse said…
Susan: The early stages of aging are indeed interesting, the very old stage (as I observed in my parents) sheer challenge- "not for sissies" as they say.

You comment about your friend is largely why I started this blog: to say, enjoy life, you are lovely as you are, don't worry about your knees (perfect or not).
Maggie said…
I do think some of the age jokes and comments are done out of fear. The thinking may be...if you look years younger, than you have more years to live. It's hard to pinpoint just when we each realize our own mortality and feel time rushing by. It's a scary thing for us all. One day your life stretches out in front of you seemingly forever, and the next you see your destination lurking in the distance. So maybe the fat talk and age defying talk and products are just for the sissies scared to get old.
Duchesse said…
Maggie: Appreciate how you've recast my view with your own clear words. Trying to "look young" feeds the fiction somehow we have more time. Also think that the reason we receive ailments and losses in old age is to teach us that the time to leave the party approaches. Very few of us would want to leave while feeling fine.
Susan said…
I began to realize my own mortality during a couple of years when I lost several childhood girlfriends to death. Their terminal illnesses really changed my life. First, my husband and I decided to do certain things now and not put them off. (Fun things.) Also, I began thinking more about growing older and what plans need to be in place.

Also, becoming a grandmother has been a real milestone. I am now part of the older generation---and no one refers to me as "one of the kids" anymore.

In most gatherings of lawyers and spouses in my husband's law firm, I am the oldest wife. That has been a sobering realization.
materfamilias said…
This post deserves so much more of a comment than I'll be able to manage in a current time crunch -- but I can't not comment. It's just so worthy, as your many readers are observing. Having been the youngest of most groups I hung out in for decades (a year ahead all through school, having my kids young), going back to university in my late 30s reversed all that. Through my 40s, I was routinely told by gradschool classmates that I didn't look my age. Then at some point, that stopped, and I'd catch myself waiting expectantly for someone to say, Öh, you can't be 52. . . and waiting. . .
Teaching young adults, I find that they really have no idea of who might be what age over 30 -- it all seems like distant and foreign terrain to them, whether 40 or 70.

I'm conscious of my own Age Talk, but I'd defend it, to a point, by saying that I draw attention to it rather than ignore an elephant in the room. But mindful of your post, I'm going to be careful that I'm not apologetic about it, or self-deprecating. Around 50, I began pointing it out when I could, rather as a point of pride. I really feel as if I've been lucky to have so far lived a rich life, to be at a point where I know and have done a few things, and I'm glad you've reminded me not to be self-deprecating about my age.

As you see, it's very true what I tell my students about editing. It takes time to be brief. Sorry this has sprawled out of control, and thank you for a great post!
Duchesse said…
Susan: To suddenly be part of the eldest group is indeed a transition.

materfamilias: I'm going to do a post on Age Talk, thanks to your inspiration. For now, will just say one of the things that I dislike most is people's rapid assurance that I don't look (or dress, think etc.) my age.
Fantastic post. My mother died at 33, I bet she wished she'd have gotten old!

I would much rather be told I look fresh or rested than young.

Whenever someone tells me that I've lost weight (which I haven't) all I think in my head is "so your mental picture of me is much bigger than the reality" which is not particularly complitmentary!
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