Excerpt reprinted by permission from Jessica Weiner, the author of Do I Look Fat In This? How I Filled Up On Life…And How You Can Too!
Decoding the Language of Fat
Who would have ever thought that three little letters could cause such fear, anxiety, and pain in someone’s life?
I don’t know one person who is not affected by those three letters. I don’t know one woman who has never had a thought about how much she weighs or whether she is, or is getting fat. Unless you grew up on a faraway planet called Self-Love, you grew up here in a world where women are still valued, honored, rewarded, validated, and appreciated based on the size and shape of their bodies.
You can have the best parents, the most prestigious education, the most loving partners, the greatest friends, and you, my love, will still be susceptible to equating your worth as a woman to your dress size. And this isn’t a new realization. We have always loved and hated women based on their beauty and their physical stature, and we have always loved and hated ourselves based on how easily (or not) we have lived up to these standards of womanhood.
Waiting to be skinny
I recently met a brilliant young woman at an Ivy League conference on women’s issues. She had just graduated magna cum laude from her school, but she confided that she couldn’t remember a damn day of her college experience. “Why?” I asked, utterly shocked at this statement. “Because,” she said, “I have been waiting till I was skinny to enjoymy life. And it hasn’t happened yet, so while I just finished my education at one of the country’s most prestigious schools, I can’t remember anything about it because I was too busy dieting, hating my body, and waiting to be skinny.”
Are you waiting to be skinnier, thinner, more toned, more tanned, better dressed, more lovable, sexier, nicer, smarter, funnier, or wealthier before you really begin your life? Millions of us are. And it’s a complete waste of time. Body obsession and the quest for perfection are destroying our lives, and we are willing partners in this destruction.
??? Take This Quiz ???
- How many times today have you thought about what you ate or want to eat?
- How many times have you used the word “fat” in a sentence?
- How many times have you thought about the word “fat,” whether about yourself or someone else?
- How many times today have you dreamed of a life that would happen five pounds from now? (When you finally get thin. Or when you get a new husband or boyfriend. Or when you have the perfect job. Perfect friends. Perfect family.)
- How many times today did you let the Language of Fat seep into your experience?
Odds are that if you were able to answer any of the questions above, you are speaking the Language of Fat and may not even know it.
Thou Shalt Not Be a Fat Woman…Ever!How old were you when you first heard the world “fat”? When did it become the very thing you designed your life around not becoming?
We are socialized early on to understand that girls should want to be slim and pretty, not fat and ugly. Seems logical, right? Who in their right mind wants to be fat and ugly? But what is missing in these descriptions are the millions of other things we can be in our lives.
Let’s get smart about this. The Language of Fat is not just really about the word “fat.” It starts with this word, the most emotionally recognizable word for women in this country, and it spreads into other words, into a deeper and sometimes more subtle language that can keep us from ever knowing we are speaking it.
The girls who torment other girls probably don’t even realize they’ve been fed a steady diet of body-loathing terms in their young years on this Earth. Before we understand the meaning of a word, the energy associated with the response it brings has an impact on us. The girls know that the word “fat” is just something no girl wants to be.
They’ve probably heard their mothers speak it, perhaps when getting dressed or preparing dinner. Maybe they’ve heard their mothers ask their fathers or stepfathers, “Honey, do I look fat in this?”
No matter how, they learned it. They mimicked it. They use it and they watch it get them a result. They may continue to speak the Language of Fat everyday and may spend their lives poking, prodding, and praying never ever to become fat themselves.
Remember, the fear of being fat isn’t only relegated to women with preexisting weight problems. The notion of not becoming fat occupies a lot of time and space for women of all shapes and sizes.
Becoming fat is a realistic fear for women, one that controls entire lives and millions of daily activities. This is not uncommon; all women have some sort of fear about this issue. It’s almost like its one of the Ten Commandments, or a federal law.
The good news is, we have power over the Language of Fat. We can dissect it, understand it, and then choose to change it so it no longer takes over our lives. The first step, though, is to recognize that you speak it. The next step is to be willing to do something about it.
You can challenge the language by looking beyond the words and actions and into the intentions. Sometimes it is so easy to stick with the status quo and not rock the boat by asking, “Is this language really the best use of our time?” The feeling of being left out of the group is overwhelming. But we don’t have to speak in surface dialogue about food, fat, or weight. There is so much more to talk about and to bond over.
You don’t have to speak the Language of Fat just because it is the predominant language.
Language habits won’t change overnight, but you can begin to change yours immediately just by being aware.