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Stop the fat talk

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My thighs are huge. I’m so fat, I need to lose weight. You’re so thin – I wish I had your body. How often do you participate in or hear this sort of chat? Recent research reveals four out of five women experience fat talk about their appearance or someone else’s each week. Yep, each week. And even though it may seem like harmless peer support, fat talk doesn’t help us feel better about ourselves. In fact, it has the opposite effect: fat talk is linked with decreased body satisfaction.

What is fat talk?

According to the Butterfly Foundation, fat talk is negative language and comments about appearance, shape, size and weight. CEO Christine Morgan says it reinforces thin beauty ideals.

“Behind fat talk is an inherent negativity. It’s not an objective way of talking about your body – it’s a negative way of talking where you use physical attributes to talk about your body,” says Christine.

“If we lived in a culture where fat was good – let’s say we all celebrated being fat – then it may not be a harmful thing. But the inherent meaning behind the word ‘fat’ is a belief that it’s negative. If you’re describing someone as fat, that means they’ve let themselves go.”

Why is it bad for you?

It’s easy to assume fat talk is no more than innocent banter. The thing is, it’s not. Instead of helping women feel better about themselves it reinforces negative body image and can have a damaging impact on quality of life and long-term  health.

Research shows that listening to or engaging in fat talk for a mere 3-5 minutes can lead some people to feel bad about their appearance and experience body dissatisfaction. 

But it doesn’t stop there. People with body dissatisfaction can become fixated on trying to change their body shape, which can lead to unhealthy food and exercise habits. 

“If you’re feeling incredibly dissatisfied with yourself, then you don’t look at healthy, measured ways of addressing your issues. You reach for the quick fix. And that will lead you into the latest fad diet, the extreme exercise, the cosmetic surgery to change what you look like,” says Christine.

How to quit fat talk

Kicking the habit isn’t easy, but cutting back on fat talk can reduce a lot of its negative consequences. It can help improve self-esteem and body confidence, and challenge the idea that thin is best. So how do you stop yourself and your friends from complaining about fat thighs?

“Tell yourself, ‘I am not going to describe my body in a negative way. I will use positive, encouraging, nurturing words,’” says Christine. 

“Secondly, ‘I will value my body for what it enables me to do, not for its shape or size. I will not determine my self-worth based on my body shape or size, but on who I am.’ Change the conversation – refocus on what your body can do, not what it looks like.”

When we hear friends engaging in fat talk, the Butterfly Foundation’s Fat Talk Free campaign asks us to shut it down and talk about the negative impact their words are having. 

If you or anyone you know is experiencing an eating disorder or body image concerns, you can call the Butterfly Foundation helpline on 1800 334 673 or visit thebutterflyfoundation.org.au

Words by Angela Tufvesson