For the last few weeks the message has been clear: Stop the Fat Talk!
From newspaper and magazine articles to TV commercials, we're being told to stop talking about fat. We shouldn't talk about it with our friends, mention it around our kids or even think about ourselves. Talking about fat is never a good thing.
But I disagree.
My issue isn't with what the articles are saying, in fact, I've even written similar articles myself and I even dedicated a chapter to ending fat talk in my book, but I've come to realize that our goal shouldn't be to eliminate talking about fat, but to change the conversation around it.
I absolutely believe that we need to permanently silence that voice in our heads that's constantly telling us that we need to lose weight in order to be more attractive, more interesting, more relevant and accepted in society. That voice is a cruel, heartless bully who is causing significant damage to our self-esteem and overall well-being. But the thing is, spewing weight insults at ourselves and talking about fat are not the same thing.
Fat as a noun is fine, it's when it's used as an insult that things get nasty.
The Telegraph published an article in their fashion section today and used a quote from Jennifer Lawrence as their heading. The quote was, "The word fat should be illegal." Taken out of context, I think it's a pretty bizarre statement to make. Why should the word fat be illegal? It's not offensive unless we make it offensive. The article goes on to share Jennifer's opinion on how using the word fat on TV as a way of insulting people, should be banned. OK, that's different. That makes much more sense. I have to admit that I was not impressed when I was watching an episode of the tween program, Jessie on The Family Channel last week, and heard two fat jokes in the span of no more than three minutes. It bothered me.
Fat jokes aren't funny. Period.
Criticizing people for how they look or what they weigh is not okay and it's also not okay to criticize ourselves for stomachs that aren't flat enough, thighs that aren't thin enough or arms that aren't toned enough. THAT kind of fat talk definitely needs to go.
However, it is dangerous to confuse damaging fat talk with the kind of fat talk that is actually quite important.
Often times, when a parent approaches me with concerns that their child is starting to show signs of body image anxiety, the conversation will start with something like "My son/daughter has been talking about their weight a lot lately and is stressing out over how much they weigh."
Then they continue by saying one of two things. Either they say:
"I completely understand why they're feeling that way since I am always worrying my own weight and I know they hear me call myself fat and I realize I shouldn't do that because it's just setting a very bad example."
" But I have no idea where these thoughts are coming from since we never talk about fat in our house. In fact, I've made it clear that that word is not even allowed in our home. We NEVER talk about it!"
Aye, there's the rub.
In one home, the word fat is always used in a negative way and in the other home it's never used at all, yet the message the kids are getting is the exact same: fat is bad.
Is never talking about fat really the answer? I don't think so.
By forbidding it in the house and trying to eliminate it from their vocabulary the word is being given way more power than it deserves. Fat is not the enemy.
Fat is an essential nutrient, much like vitamins, minerals and amino acids. We need it to do things like protect our organs, make hormones and build healthy cells. Of course there are some fats that are healthier than others and like most things in life, moderation is key, but the last thing we want to do is make it out to be some big, bad, scary monster that our kids should be afraid of. Fat doesn't need to be feared.
When a parent asks me what to do when their child comes homes from school and asks, "Mom, am I fat?" The first thing I say is, "Don't panic and don't make it a big deal."
My next piece of advice is to simply say, "Nope. Your body is where your body is supposed to be." Then you can point out all the amazing things their bodies can do to explain the importance of what their bodies can do over how they look.
We don't want to make it seem like being fat is the worst thing you can be. J.K. Rowling said it best when she said, "Is fat really the worst thing that a human being can be? Is fat worse than vindictive, jealous, shallow, vain, boring or cruel? Not to me."
If you feel that your child is overweight, there are ways to acknowledge it without damaging their self-esteem and even help strengthen it.
Try this: instead of banning fat talk from your home, invite it in with the understanding that the second it starts to get mean, it will be asked to hit the road.
Fat isn't offensive, using it as an insult is.
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