If you’ve read Tiny Beautiful Things, the collection of responses by The Rumpus’ self-help columnist “Sugar,” aka Wild author Cheryl Strayed, you’ll probably recognize this quote:
“Stop worrying about whether you’re fat. You’re not fat. Or rather, you’re sometimes a little bit fat, but who gives a shit? There is nothing more boring and fruitless than a woman lamenting the fact that her stomach is round.”
Well, damn.That was Strayed’s response to a question about what she would go back and tell her 20-something self. This was the very first thing she wrote and it’s incredibly powerful.Of course I’ve heard all the same body image mantras of self-love and acceptance that you have. We all have — over and over again — on “Oprah” and beauty blogs and magazines and Pinterest boards.But do those mantras really resonate when one of your friends brings up her bloated stomach and how she can’t fit into her favorite jeans?
If you’re anything like me, I’m guessing that as if on cue, you and your other friends all chime in about equally if not larger thighs, legs, and ass. I’m guessing you bemoan your laziness and gluttony. I’m also guessing it all seems relatively harmless in the moment. After all, it’s a give and take, a bonding ritual among women.
However, my behavior changed when I read Strayed’s quote about how there is nothing more “boring and fruitless” than fat talk. There was the word I was looking for: boring. I had become so bored by listening to me and my friends complain about the same body “problems” over and over again. After all, how many times can we talk about our thighs, legs, and ass? About our laziness and gluttony? There are really only so many adjectives for the word “fat,” and we exhausted them all by sophomore year of college.
My interesting, thoughtful, and intelligent loved ones deserve stimulating chatter about Ebola, “American Horror Story,” Bill Maher, gluten-free diets, books, Jennifer Lawrence, even the weather — anything but shallow and repetative fat talk. And yet time and again, usually after dinner, we end up discussing our current gym and eating habits, even though we know it’s not necessary. It just seems like the natural flow of conversation at that point, even if it’s a waste of perfectly good conversation.It’s worth remembering that fat talk not just conversation filler; it’s actually detrimental to us.
“Fat talk seems to have unintended consequences,” pyschologist Renee Engeln-Maddox told YouBeauty in a previous piece about fat talk. “Women think it will make them feel better, but it actually seems to make them feel worse.” That same piece noted that research has shown people who fat talk often have lower self-esteem and may be more at risk for “eating disordered behavior.” Unbeknownst to us, we have been harming each other, or at least, putting each other at risk by complaining about our bodies.
The psychological consequences are worrying, but I’m more disheartened when I think of all that precious time I’ve wasted with friends and family. For every minute I spent discussing my body flaws, I lost a minute talking about something that can help is grow, learn, and laugh together. When I look back on my friendships, I don’t want the only thing I remember to be us knocking ourselves down, but rather laughing about our terrible dates and praising each other’s accomplishments. Since I read that Cheryl Strayed quote a few months ago, I have tried to change.
Whenever chatter starts to get “fat,” I make a positive comment and try to change the topic immediately. I remind myself I’m better than that and more interesting — and so is my company.That being said, I realize stigmatizing fat talk is, in itself, not the most direct means to get us to stop harping on our perceived imperfections. The best action would be to dig to the root of the issue to get women to stop hating their bodies in the first place. Still, if we all become a little more embarrassed about it, and knew our friends would yawn, roll their eyes, and start twirling their hair in boredom, maybe we would get that time back — back to talking about Jimmy Fallon’s latest skit, or Hillary Clinton’s presidential chances, or even what we’re going to go as on Halloween. It might seem little, but it will keep fat talk out our minds and mouths for those extra 5, 10, or 15 minutes. And eventually, (hopefully) even longer. Maybe even, one day, for good.