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Tired of watching women pick themselves apart in front of the mirror, 24-year-old blogger Caitlin Boyle scribbled a note on a Post-it — “YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL!” — and slapped it on the mirror of a public bathroom. With this one small act, a movement was born. Women of different ages, races, lifestyles and geographic locations began posting encouraging notes of their own. The messages are chronicled in Boyle’s new book, “Operation Beautiful: Transforming the Way You See Yourself One Post-it Note at a Time.”
This excerpt from “Operation Beautiful” highlights the damaging effects of “Fat Talk” and explains how to break free from it.
The real deal with Fat Talk
Fat Talk isn’t about being overweight. In fact, Fat Talk has nothing to do with your size at all.
Women engage in Fat Talk for a variety of reasons, as it allows them to “express emotions, seek social reassurance, create an in-group with friends, excuse certain eating behaviors, and manage impressions,” according to Dr. Denise Martz, a clinical psychologist who has spent more than 20 years studying body image, eating disorders and Fat Talk.
Fat Talk is habitual, meaning that women often don’t realize they’re doing it. Fat Talk has become a knee-jerk reaction to eating an overindulgent meal, trying on bathing suits, or even getting dressed in the morning.
Fat Talk triggers unhealthy behaviors, whether the comments are consciously processed or not, putting yourself down verbally creates reverse inertia in all aspects of your life. Instead of inspiring you to get healthier, Fat Talk will motivate you to overeat, skip your workouts and stay involved in toxic relationships. Additionally, even if you don’t hear your own Fat Talk, your friends and family will, and it harms them emotionally, spiritually and physically as well.
Women use Fat Talk to bond socially. Women Fat Talk with their friends, and mothers Fat Talk with their daughters. Fat Talk is contagious, and if one woman does it, the next may feel compelled to engage in their behavior, too. “Fat Talk has become a form of chitchat,” says Dr. Susan Albers, a psychologist who specializes in relationship and weight issues. Dr. Albers has observed that women will often mirror a friend’s Fat Talk. “We tend to follow other people’s leads, particularly those who are close to us.”
Fat Talk is also a coping mechanism. Our society places pressure on us to look a certain way, and when we don’t, we often react by shaming ourselves with Fat Talk. The behavior is an unhealthy and unproductive form of venting. Through Fat Talk, we can express our fears or insecurities, and other people usually accept this Fat Talk and respond with praise, which reinforces the behavior (for example, one girl says, “That model is so skinny; look how fat I am in comparison!” and the other girl responds, “You aren’t fat; you’re tiny!”).
Fat Talk allows us to hide our true emotions. Instead of admitting we feel sad, guilty or lonely, women often pick apart their physical features.
Fighting Fat Talk
Fat Talking is a bad habit that you can break. Here’s how:
Healthy living is the culmination of many positive choices. Instead of beating yourself up over one indulgent meal or skipping a workout, consider your lifestyle in terms of a week or a month. If you’ve truly fallen off the healthy bandwagon, and slipped back into unhealthy behaviors, carefully evaluate why this has occurred and what positive lessons you can learn from the experience. Remember that each meal and each day is a new beginning, so start implementing more positive choices right away! Also, negative self-talk only reinforces your unhealthy behavior, so cut yourself some slack and remind yourself that your journey is not about perfection but progress.
Consciously correct yourself if you Fat Talk. “Replace negative self-talk with balanced, believable thoughts,” advises Dr. Joy Jacobs, a body image expert who serves on the Professional Advisory Panel for Families Empowered and Supporting Treatment of Eating Disorders (F.E.A.S.T.).
Stop your Fat Talk in its tracks! In addition to consciously correcting yourself, try wearing a rubber band around your wrist and give it a firm “snap!” whenever you feel a negative thought creeping in. Think of it like coating your nails in spicy polish when you’re trying to stop biting them! The rubber band technique is a gentle physical reminder of the internal damage you are doing to yourself when you Fat Talk.
Identify the real issue behind your Fat Talk. Is it really about your body or is it about something else entirely — like an emotion you’re having trouble expressing? Many women use Fat Talk as a way to express sadness or frustration. Find a more positive outlet for your emotions, such as talking to a friend, writing in your diary or exercising.
Make a list of your positive qualities — both inside and out — and tape them to your bathroom mirror so you can read it whenever you need a boost. Do not be ashamed to celebrate your amazing qualities!
Refrain from making judgments about yourself or other people based on appearance. Realize that complimentary statements about someone’s looks (“You look great! Have you lost weight?”) can be just as damaging as Fat Talk. Focus on personalities and achievements, not dress size.
Help others to help yourself. Post an Operation Beautiful note, call a friend, or volunteer at a charity. “I wish that women would put more effort into taking care of themselves, taking care of each other, and trying to make the world a better place instead of Fat Talking,” says Dr. Martz.
Reprinted from “Operation Beautiful” by Caitlin Boyle by arrangement with Gotham Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., Copyright © 2010 by Caitlin Boyle. For more information, visit OperationBeautiful.com.