Talking about our bodies is like an unwritten rule in female friendship – we do it constantly and automatically. You know how it goes: “I feel fat in these jeans,” “I’ve put on so much weight,” or “Gosh, my skin looks awful today.” We asked body expert Jess Weiner to put together an action checklist to help challenge the negative “body talk” conversations that many of us get caught up in when we’re talking to other women.
If you’re not guilty of these kinds of put-me-downs, then you’re in the minority. A recent study published by the Psychology of Women Quarterly of college women found that 93% engaged in this type of talk – dubbed “fat talk” – and a third did so regularly. And this study found that those who complained about their weight more often – irrespective of their actual size – were more likely to have lower satisfaction with their bodies. When we talk in this way our daughters pick up on the type of language we use and the topics of conversation we engage in. To their ears it may start to sound like our physical appearance is how we judge and value ourselves. Is this how we want our daughters to evaluate themselves?
“Words can have a huge impact on our self-esteem and constantly talking negatively about our bodies can reinforce the idea that there is only one type of body shape that is beautiful,” explains Weiner. “It’s a pattern we have to break if we want our daughters to grow up to be confident about the bodies they’ve got.”
Body talk doesn’t just refer to body-bashing. Talking about appearance, even in a seemingly positive way, can contribute to low self-esteem by placing undue attention on physical looks. By telling a friend they look great and following up with, “Have you lost weight?” you’re reinforcing the stereotypical view that skinny equals beautiful.
By spending hours discussing gruelling exercise or diet regimes and your fluctuating weight, you’re implying that weight is the primary factor in what it means to be fit and healthy.
A mere 3 minutes of fat talk can lead women to feel bad about their appearance and increase their body dissatisfaction according to Adverse Effects of Social Pressure to be Thin on Young Women: An Experimental Investigation of the Effects of “Fat Talk”, a study in the International Journal of Eating Disorders. So making the effort to cut it out should have a significant impact on how you feel. In turn, your daughter will pick up on the more positive language and be less likely to put herself down.
The words we choose to use when talking about our bodies can damage our self-esteem, but happily, they can also improve it. By focusing less on weight and body shape in your conversations, greetings and compliments, you can break the habit of reinforcing beauty stereotypes.
Why not try out Jess Weiner’s action checklist and see how much better you and your daughter feel about yourselves?
Here are some tips from body image expert Weiner to get you started:
Your words have power: Use your words to show your daughter that you believe there’s more to life than appearances. By making the change yourself, you’ll help her to do the same and show her there’s more than one way to be beautiful.
Take the one-week challenge: Challenge yourself to a week of no fat talk, inspired by “Fat Talk Free Week” – it might be hard at first, but if you tell your friends and family what you’re up to, they can support you and even try it for themselves.
Tell your friends you’re bored of the body talk: Be on red alert next time you meet up with a friend. If she starts any fat talk, tackle the issue head on by reassuring her but also alerting her to the negative impact of her words, for example: “I adore you and it hurts me to hear you talk about yourself that way.”
Focus on the fun talk: Avoid the fat talk pitfall when discussing diet and exercise by drawing out the emotional and health benefits. For example, regular exercise requires real commitment and dedication, and eating a balanced diet can give you more energy. So if your friend has started a new exercise regime try asking her how it’s making her feel, whether she feels stronger or is even sleeping better. This will ensure the conversation is broadened into a wider discussion about health and wellness.
Replace the negative with the positive: If you start to fall into the body talk trap, try turning a negative into a positive. Take a body inventory and think of a replacement positive statement for every negative word you usually speak.
Love your body – It’s the only one you’ve got: appreciate your body for what it can do. Use it to feel energized – go outside for a walk and enjoy the fresh air, do some gardening or take the kids out for a bike ride.
Tackle your own harsh words about others: Remember that how you talk about others counts too. That means no more criticisms of how other people look, like “Hasn’t Jo gained weight recently?” Not only will your daughter subconsciously pick up this negative behavior, she’ll also interpret it to mean that bigger can’t be beautiful.
If You’re Fat, then I’m Humongous a study by Psychology of Women Quarterly:
Fat Talk Free Week website:
Article date: 27 June 2013
Review date: 27 June 2014
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