The following blog is a guest post written by Dr. Sherri Theoharidis, staff psychologist and coordinator of the Eating Disorder Treatment Team at the UMKC Counseling Center. This blog is also posted here.
You catch a glimpse of yourself as you’re changing and find yourself zoning in on an area of your body that you “just wished looked better.” Your confidence today feels a little off because your new clothes “just don’t look as good on you as they did on the model in the ad.” You overhear two fellow students in line for coffee commenting, “I’m just going to get a coffee, no cream, I really don’t want to get fat, like so & so…have you seen her lately?” You turn on the radio and hear an ad for a local weight loss program with participants sharing that “their lives are so much better now.” You are checking out at the local grocery store and see the current celebrity magazine is “cellulite busting” again. AHHHHHH! Make it stop! Every day we are exposed to messages coming from all sorts of sources…others, ourselves, the media…that somehow reinforce the notion that only certain bodies are beautiful and acceptable, and differences and “imperfections” should be minimized. I am here to say, “RUBBISH!” What? “IT DOESN”T HAVE TO BE THIS WAY!”
In honor of Fat Talk Free Week that is being observed on many campuses in the U.S., as well as LBD-Love Your Body Day, also being observed at UMKC this week, I encourage everyone to become aware of “fat talk” and not only stop practicing it yourself, but change the subject, walk away, or better yet, educate and redirect the people in your life who practice it. Talking about weight, one’s body, or other’s bodies has unfortunately become a socially normalized practice and rarely seems focused on body acceptance, let alone “body love.” I agree, it is a rough climate right now. While the reality may be a collective experience of feeling self-conscious, and/or overly critical about one’s body, by talking about ourselves or others in these terms, we only reinforces these negative notions. It might be a long journey in “un-doing” the lenses in which many of us view the bodies of the world, including one’s own, but the first step is awareness. As we become aware of how much we might judge ourselves or others based on what our body “is not” or “should be,” we broaden our lens wide enough to see and recognize what our body “is” and “can be.” What a beautiful concept!
So, other than catching “fat talk,” refraining from it, and helping others do so, what else can you do? Great question!! LOTS! First, think about what we do when we love something. How do we treat it? With love of course! That is how to begin to Love Your Body…treat it with love and care. Think about its needs (sleep, food, exercise, nurturance, appreciation) and truly try to incorporate your lifestyle to meet and value these needs of your body. Think about how you talk to your body. One of the most common things people do is to make negative, critical statements to themselves about their body. As Bob Newhart said on his skit for MadTV, “STOP IT!” Seriously, I know it is not that easy. The first thing to do is become aware of when you’re being critical of yourself and your body. Perhaps you can write down some of the negative things you find yourself saying or focusing on. Now, think about how you feel when you say these things to yourself. Not good, right?! In fact, very often these statements may lead you to more globally feeling less confident (like our example at the start of the blog) or even sad, and defeated. Becoming aware of when you have these thoughts, and then stopping them in their tracks, and not allowing them to multiply is one way to begin loving your body. No trashing it (or even gently criticizing it!)! So, find a way to replace these thoughts with a more loving, accepting statement. While it initially might feel silly, believe me, over time it will help! How do you think those negative thoughts got so powerful…repetition! Begin repeating some positive, loving thoughts about your body. Thank your body for all it does for you. Appreciate what makes you uniquely you. Keep a list of 10 positive things about yourself (without mentioning appearance) to shift your focus to. Practice this with others as well…catch yourself being critical of someone else’s body or appearance. Choose to look for and acknowledge something positive.
So…as I wrap up I encourage everyone to widen the lens in which you view your own body and other’s bodies. Let that lens include acceptance, appreciation of differences and love. Let’s let our language reflect these notions and stop the “fat talk!” You can do it!