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Ashley Solomon, Psy.D is a psychologist who specializes in the treatment of eating disorders, body image, trauma, and serious mental illness.

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Tag: fat-talk

08 Apr

Fat Talk, Old Talk, and All That Other Self-Deprecating Talk

Ideas to Consider 4 Comments by Ashley @ Nourishing the Soul

 

These days, a few hours spent at a baby shower, a salon, or another female-dominated locale can start to sound like an episode of Real Housewives. From bemoaning the flab on one’s arms to debating the merits of Botox, groups of women often seem to have an endless supply of topics that share a similar theme — how darn flawed they are.

The fat-talk is almost a given, but what research is now revealing is that “old-talk” is sweeping in, and with similarly detrimental results.

Carolyn Black Becker, a psychologist at Trinity University, and her colleagues recently published an article in the Journal of Eating Disorders about the new wave of “old-talk.” They recognized that as the Baby Boomers have gotten older, the incidence of self-deprecication around age has increased. Not only that, but it’s correlated with body image disturbance and eating disorder pathology. A quick look at the magazine stand reflects this reality as well. Cover stories, ads, and products abound about how to look younger and hide the signs of aging.

While the large population of Baby Boomers might seem to be driving this phenomenon, old-talk is actually, well… old. Women – and men – have been lamenting aging for centuries. Perhaps it’s related to our fears of mortality, but chatting about the losses associated with getting older is one way that we connect.

And therein lies the problem.

My question is this: “Fat” or “old,” why is it that we have to criticize the realities of our physical selves in order to establish connection?

My guess is that these seem like safe topics in mixed company. With politics, religion, and sex usually on the taboo list, most women feel pretty safe talking about diets and their crow’s feet in just about any social situation. We figure that others can relate. Doesn’t everyone want to change themselves?

I suspect it also has to do with a key element in the way that women relate to one another. Ever cautious to come across as conceited or, heaven forbid, powerful, women use fat-talk, old-talk, and other self-deprecating talk in a delicate social dance. The dance says, “Don’t worry. I don’t like myself and I’m flawed. I’m not a threat, so you can trust and connect with me.”

Well, I personally think this dance is a little outdated. I’d like to see women establish connection in other ways, ones that don’t require negative self-evaluation. I don’t think it’s necessary to complain about my thighs or my sagging breasts in order to generate rapport with someone. I know this because I’ve focused on not doing it over the past several years (since learning more about fat-talk) and have managed to find plenty of things to talk about in groups of women.

So my challenge to readers is to do the same. See if you can’t go an entire day – or week – without fat, old, or negative self-talk. When you’re interacting with other women, share what you love about yourself or something that recently made you proud. Can you imagine the revolution that would transpire if we all committed to doing this? We’d feel better about ourselves and promote others in feeling better about themselves as well.

Now that’s the kind of talk I like to hear.

23 May

Are skinny women shamed as much as fat women? [And, does it matter?]

Advocacy, Current Events 56 Comments by Ashley @ Nourishing the Soul

For the “What I Wish You Knew” series over on Rage Against the Minivan, a blog I lovelovelovelovelove (in case you wondered), a reader submission addressed the topic of discrimination against thinner women. [Please note, the author makes explicit mention of weight, and the post could be triggering for some. Use your best judgment.]

Megyn shares her personal experience with food allergies that have caused her to be underweight and the subject of others’ critical stares and scathing comments. She makes some excellent points:

There is so much out there about loving your curves and accepting your body if you’re not thin. But what about us thin women? Is it ok to belittle and begrudge us? To make snide remarks and disgusted looks? Speaking badly of someone’s weight seems more socially acceptable of thin women than of heavier women. It’s hard to love my body when everyone else tells me I too should hate it and be disgusted. That I am wrong and not ok.

Megyn’s right. Discrimination against thinner women is not something that’s talked about very often. Society does seem to think that it’s okay to pour it’s commentary on how skinny women should “eat more” or “put on a few pounds” without a second thought. In fact, one of the very first posts on NTS addressed this issue, because I think it’s so important.

We all too often forget that creating a world in which weight stigma doesn’t exist means creating a safe space for people of all shapes and sizes. The truth is skinny women don’t all want to be that way. Some struggle with food allergies. Others with illnesses that have wrecked havoc on their bodies. Others may have been the victims of neglect or malnourishment in youth. And still others do struggle with eating disorders, but are no less deserving of respect. So, I understand Megyn’s frustration, dealing with health issues that not only cause her to have to eat differently, but to then be scrutinized for it.

Perhaps the comments she bears are born out of jealousy, discomfort, or simply our hyper-focus on others’ bodies. Whatever the reason, there’s work we need to do culturally and personally to address weight shaming.

So here’s where I disagree with Megyn:

I want you to know thin women are prejudiced against just as much as heavier women.

Perhaps I’m splitting hairs here, or playing right into the Pain Olympics (Waaa! We have it worse!). But I think that this statement is 100% untrue. To me, it’s like a white person saying, “I want you to know that I am just as prejudiced against as a black person.” I just don’t buy it. [Am I opening myself for a firestorm here?]

Everything that I know from reading countless research studies, following the HAES movement, working with patients across the full weight spectrum, and living as a person in a weight-focused world tells me that fat people have it worse. Period.

Larger folks are shamed at nearly every turn – in the workplace, at the grocery store, on the internet, at restaurants, on the playground, in the voting booths, and in their own families, as a start. While perhaps (and I say that tentatively), the comments are more underground when it comes to people we consider overweight or obese, the effects (in salary, opportunities, respect, etc.) are profound.

I think it’s important that we take a cold, hard look at the discrimination happening against larger people. We have to recognize privilege as it exists, or we are doomed to live blind and biased. That’s all.

Now that I’ve stated that fat people have it worse, I recognize that it’s not all that helpful to pit one side against the other, and that’s not what I mean to do. Really. It doesn’t make what’s happening to Megyn better. I just think that making the comparison doesn’t have to be part of her argument.

This actually shouldn’t be a battle of who is more shamed, because the real victims here are women in general. When fat people or thin people are shamed for their weight, we are all hurt. If we grow up fearing being anywhere but in the dead center of the weight spectrum, we perpetuate the stigmatization and we become terrified of letting our bodies find their natural rhythm.

My heart aches for Megyn and her struggle, because no one deserves to be stared down for their size.

What do you think?

[Speaking of not pitting people against one another, one of the best posts I’ve read recently also appeared on Rage Against the MinivanWhere Is the Mommy War for the Motherless Child? Go check it out.]

15 Oct

Five for Friday :: 15 October 2010

Five for Friday 11 Comments by Ashley @ Nourishing the Soul

Yesterday, Justin and I traveled about nine hours to run in the Baltimore Running Festival tomorrow morning. This has been many (many……!) months in the making and we are so thrilled for the weekend to finally be upon us. To me there’s nothing like a marathon. The excitement of the city is palpable, with thousands upon thousands of people collected in one place for a common purpose – to fulfill a dream. Whether it be walking in his first 5k or completing her tenth marathon to qualify for Boston, it’s incredible to see thousands of eager participants gearing up to accomplish something they never thought they could.

As I’ve mentioned, I’m running tomorrow to support Girls on the Run, an incredible organization dedicated to promoting the health and happiness of young girls in our communities. I’ll be proudly sporting my GOTR shirt and reminding myself of the thousands of young girls who are inspired daily by the programming they are offered. Watch this inspiring video and tell me you don’t want to support this program?

Meanwhile, Justin will be running the full marathon and trying to do it under three hours – a bit ridiculous, if you ask me! We’ll both be running with passion, and I ask for your thoughts tomorrow morning!

One more article of business before the Friday picks… Please don’t forget that both bloggers and non-bloggers are invited to participate in the new Self-Discovery, Word by Word series. You can check out the introductory post to get all the details, but all you have to do is share your thoughts on gratitude and then send me a link or paragraph to include in the round-up next week! I’ve adored getting to read everyone’s beautiful expressions of gratitude over the past ten days. Thank you all for participating!

Now, on to all the amazing things around the internet. The theme for me this week seemed to be empowering daughters and young girls in our lives (which was ironically not a conscious effort) I hope that you’ll check out my top five and leave lots of comment love for the writers. Just as I am doing through running for GOTR, these writers are striving to make a difference in the health and well-being of others. So support them and, of course, enjoy!

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  • This post technically wasn’t this week, but it really resonated with me. And since I make the rules on my own Five for Friday, I’m including it! So what is it? Sarah Wilson talked about the simple act of asking the question, “Are you okay?” I can recall so many points in my own life when that short phrase meant the world to me.
  • Marianne Schnall on Adios Barbie, a fantastic body image site, let down her hair in a post about battles with her mane. She talks about loving yourself for you who you are and teaching your daughters to do the same.
  • Over on Pigtail Pails, a blog and store that empowers girls to “redefine girly,” Melissa talked about fat talk, sharing some startling statistics and featuring a moving video based on Dr. Robyn Silverman’s book, Good Girls Don’t Get Fat.
  • Empowering Girls is a blog and resource that “empowers girls to fly high!” Read this awesome post about how our beliefs impact our girls’ identities. This is great information for both parents and those considering how thei own identities might have been shaped.
  • Michelle from Eating Journey celebrated the one year anniversary of Exposed, a movement she started to inspire others to reveal themselves fully and put aside body-shame. Here’s a quote I loved from her post:

What I can say is that being Exposed is about being raw with who you are, letting your spirit be at peace and marinading in the beauty of what body you have been given.

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Reader Comment of the Week :: Margarita on The meaning of food choices

…I love asking all those questions to get at the deeper meanings that food has for us (not always, but oftentimes). And your example of associating ice cream with safety and comfort is so familiar to me. For me, there are many foods that evoke past memories. For instance, when I eat certain Russian foods, memories just flood into my mind. Some foods remind me of my grandma (like potatoes made on the skillet with mushrooms) or of my dad (shrimp with spaghetti). It’s really neat to think about!

As always, make sure to share what great things you’ve been reading or writing this week! Have a great weekend!

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01 Sep

End fat talk… like, now.

Advocacy, Current Events 20 Comments by Ashley @ Nourishing the Soul

“I could NEVER wear skinny jeans with my legs!”

“I would do anything to lose these last ten pounds. Uhgg! My stomach!”

“Why not have another donut? There’s no way I’m getting into a swimsuit anyway.”

Take a moment and consider your reaction to these statements. Are they familiar to you? Do you find yourself saying things like this? Do you hear your friends or coworkers talking like this? How do these statements make you feel? Do they lift you up? Do they cause you anxiety? Close your eyes if you need to and feel the emotional weight of these phrases.

This type of communication is called “fat-talk” and it’s what Denise Martz, PhD, of Appalachian State University, researches. You can read an awesome interview with this clinician and researcher over on Weightless, a blog by the lovely Margarita Tartakovsky, MS about body image, the skinny fad, and freedom from numbers. What Martz tells us is that interview is fascinating, saddening, and hopeful. Two things she says are that normality of fat-talk has been somewhat accepted and expected in our culture and that it may be a function of fitting in, or an attempt to do so.

Have you ever engaged in fat talk as a means of relating to or connecting with a group?

When I asked myself this question, my immediate reaction was, “No, I would never do that!” But then I decided to take more than three seconds to consider this and challenge my own infallibility. Once I started thinking about it, I realized that I actually do engage in fat-talk… like, all the time! I became cognizant that I make derogatory remarks about my body (e.g. bemoaning my small chest)  or compare my own to others (e.g. lamenting the fact that I will never be able to pull off capris, while my friend is rocking them). I realized that often I do it to be comical or to fill the empty space with a new acquaintance.

blog-fat-talk-free-logo Once you start paying attention, you’ll notice that fat-talk flows off of our tongues with a disheartening ease. The tricky thing about fat-talk, however, is that it isn’t always obvious. For example, seemingly positive remarks like “Oh, I wish I could eat whatever I wanted and look like you!” or “You’re a rail!” can still be hurtful to the recipient. And like I said in this post on being body-talk free, such comments create a culture in which we focus too heavily on weight and size.

Now for the good news! Martz also tells us that, despite our perception that fat-talk leads to acceptance, women tend to prefer other women who say positive rather than negative things about their bodies. Hallelujah! While pleased, I can’t say that I’m surprised by this finding. I notice that I am much more attracted to individuals (of both sexes!) who exude confidence in themselves. There is of course a fine line between confidence and being an arrogant jerk, but fortunately I am usually surrounded by the former. I notice that when I’m with women who love their bodies and feel comfortable in their own skin (like, fortunately for me, many of my best girlfriends), I feel so much more at ease in my own. For my girlfriends, I think that we all feel better about ourselves because we’ve created an environment in which fat-talk is not the norm. And it just feels good.

Hopefully you’ve created such an environment among those closest to you as well. If not, now is the time. It’s important to let others know that fat-talk is not good for you, it’s not good for them, it’s not good for our young people, and it’s not good for our culture as a whole.

You can add your voice to the the initiative by joining the End Fat Talk facebook page and signing the pledge to be Fat Talk Free for the week of October 18th.

How have you observed fat-talk in your own life? Are you going to sign the pledge?

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