News & Politics

Women Should Cut Out the "Fat Talk"

The nasty comments women make about their bodies are uncomfortable and harmful.

Via Kate comes this great website combating “fat talk” — the constant little comments that women make to other women about themselves.

I hate “fat talk.” It makes me uncomfortable when other women do it. I never quite know what to say — I don’t want to issue the knee-jerk response of “You’re not fat!” because that kind of implies that being fat is The Worst Thing Ever. I also don’t want to ignore the comment, because then the commenting friend walks away thinking that I think she’s fat, and for her, that is a Very Bad Thing.

And yet I’m the absolute worst when it comes to fat talk. Like many women I have a whole slew of body issues; my weight is always on my mind, and I feel like I’m in a constant battle with my body. I’ve started to make my peace with how I look, and I’ve started to accept the fact that I love physical activity and exercise, I love to eat (and I like to eat food that feels nourishing, clean and healthy), but my body is just a certain build and shape and I’m never going to be 5′10″ and 110 pounds. I can turn things I love — physical activity and food — into things I resent in order to be thinner, but it’s not worth it. I’ve done it, and it makes me unhappy. Deciding “I would rather be happy” sounds simple, but it’s psychologically challenging when for so long I associated happiness with thinness — as in, “I’ll be happy when I’m 20 pounds thinner.” I’m learning how to allow myself to be happy and not thin. It’s a process, though, and as I go through it I still find myself complaining to my friends about the way I look. I also have a group of friends who are mostly very thin — significantly thinner than I am. It can be very difficult to always feel like the “fattest” in the group. And when I spend time with women who are larger than I am, I also find myself feeling envious — of their curves or of the way clothes fit them or of their confidence or of whatever else they have that I don’t. I feel like I never measure up.

Part of the reason why Fat Talk is so harmful is that it’s a constant reminder that women have an obligation to look good, always. It’s our burden as women to present an attractive face to the world — to be ornamental and to decorate. It’s also about fat-hate and fat-shaming, but even for the not-fat among us, it’s that little whisper of you aren’t doing your job.

What’s especially difficult, I think, is balancing the need for honest conversation and support with the obligation to not do harm to other women. I want to be able to talk, even in feminist spaces, about body issues, but I also don’t want to engage in Fat Talk or trigger women who have have histories of eating disorders. Even more importantly (at least for me), I want to be able to have honest discussions with my closest friends — not in a vent-y “Blah I feel fat today” way, but in the intimate way we discuss everything else in our lives.

All of that said, though, it’s good practice to nix the Fat Talk. So that’s what I’m going to do this week. No Fat Talk starting now. Only positive body talk.

It’ll be a good exercise. Who’s with me?



Jill Filipovic is a New York-based freelance writer and a law student at NYU. More of her writing is available online at her blog, Feministe.