It’s Not The End of the Road: Or Why I Still Promote Fat Talk Free Week Among My Friends

Published October 22, 2010 by Fat Heffalump

Yes, I know Fat Talk Free week is problematic.  Yes I know that it’s really aimed at and practiced by thin, affluent, young, white women and that it’s likely that it often leads to the suppression of real talk about fatness, fat acceptance and body positivity.  But I still promote it amongst my general circle.

Why?  Because not everyone is on the same page of the body acceptance book.  It would be fan-bloody-tastic if everyone was well entrenched and able to recognise that while it has useful elements, it also has problematic ones, and we need to keep those in check and question them as we go along.  But people are not like that, generally speaking.  Every day, I hear, read and see people around me who loathe their own bodies or those of others, are afraid of bodies that are different to theirs, who indulge in diet talk and fat talk, that are so deeply entrenched in the cultural norm of body loathing and fear that the concepts of acceptance and positivity that are so important to me, sound so radical, so unheard of, so “out there” to them.

I want them to leave that place of body loathing and fear, but as much as I push, and push, and push, they have to want to move to that way of thinking.  I can’t force other people to change, but I can encourage them to think.

Just as an example, I have a much beloved friend, who, no matter how many times I tell him that it is perfectly acceptable to refer to me as fat, can’t, or won’t, do so without following it through with “blow softening” superlatives.  Fat is just such a dirty word in our culture that so many people are deeply, deeply resistant to ever seeing it as anything other than a vicious insult.  It would be fantastic to wave a magic wand and change that, but it doesn’t work like that.

So while I do endeavour to introduce the people around me to as many clear messages about fat acceptance and body positivity, sometimes it’s just not getting through at full blast, and instead, I have to think of other ways to present the message.

Since I started practicing fat acceptance, I’ve watched the people around me slowly change their thinking around the word fat.  I’ve seen people who were very judgemental about other people’s bodies, their taste or dress sense, and their looks re-think their attitudes towards the judgement of others.  Admittedly, not everyone around me is doing so, some are absolutely resistant to the idea, but most of the people who care about me truly are listening to what I have to say and thinking about how their attitudes, words and deeds affect others.

Fat Talk Free week isn’t what I would recommend to most people who are open to learning about fat acceptance.  But to those people who are outside of the fatosphere, even that is a radical concept.  If I can get them thinking twice about that comment about the size of their butt, or calling some fat person on the telly “gross”, or judging others about what they wear, then I’ve achieved something.  If I can get folks changing the subject away from diet talk at the work lunch table, or think twice about a comment that they might pass on someone’s body in front of their children, then there has been some value to making them aware of Fat Talk Free week.

I consider it a stepping stone on the journey to body positivity.  Never the destination, but a step closer to where we need to go.

18 comments on “It’s Not The End of the Road: Or Why I Still Promote Fat Talk Free Week Among My Friends

  • I agree with you. While I also agree that ‘no fat talk’ week is problematic, we have to start changing the conversation somewhere before more than a sliver of the population can get involved with body acceptance, and this is a place to start.

    It’s easy sometimes in the Fatosphere to forget just how revolutionary it is of us to refuse to be ashamed of our bodies. But remember when we all found this special bubble? Most of us couldn’t get past the body shaming talk and the urge to try just one more diet even then. So how much harder is it going to be for someone who hasn’t even made the first step on the journey?

    In a world where I can’t watch an hour of television (and I watch a lot of television) without being subjected to at least ten minutes of diet program, diet supplement, diet book, or low-cal food advertisements; in a world where the thinnest women in the world are photoshopped into being thinner so they will look ‘healthy’ on magazine covers; in a world where fat is an insult rather than a descriptor; in a world where the First Lady of the United States is rigorously campaigning against growing children ever gaining weight… and people don’t think this is a harmful idea… in this world, just getting a couple hundred people to stop moaning ‘I’m so faaaaat and uglyyyy’ for a week is a freaking triumph.

    Let’s take it and build on it.

    • Absolutely Twistie. I think there’s a perception that you just wake up one day and you’re body positive. But for each and every one of us it’s been a learning and retraining of our thoughts over a time to come to a place where we are. And there is a whole spectrum of fat acceptance – from those at the very beginning who are asking questions to the true rad fatties who constantly push and shove at the boundaries trying to work all of this stuff out.

      The important thing is that we keep asking ourselves questions about our thoughts and beliefs on bodies, fat and health and growing and forming as we go.

  • I completely understand what you are saying. Many people don’t know what fat acceptance is. They have no idea about the ideas and realizations that someone like you have come to understand and live by, so you can’t just start talking to them about it like they are as well informed as you. It’s like a professor trying to teach a group of kids about philosophy. You can’t just jump in telling them about all these complex ideas because it will overwhelm and confuse them and probably convince them that you are just some nutcase. So you have to start with more simple ideas at first, once they start coming around to those, give them more things to think about, and so on. It took me a while to really “get” fat acceptance, and maybe me not being fat or having experienced what fat people do might have something to do with that. But just feeding them smaller ideas one at a time, I think, is going to be the most effective.

  • Good for you! While celebrating Love Your Body Day in my cafe this week I posted a sign on my door: “Welcome! We celebrate weight diversity here. Kindly refrain from diet talk, body disparagement and other unpleasantries. Thank you” and you’d be surprised how many people read it and laugh…LAUGH? Ouch! While others and I have had some great conversations because of it. Just now this lady read it before coming in and you’d have thought someone pooped into her cherrios! Man, I just don’t get it! But I am keeping it up for now. =0)

  • I agree with your post, and last year I did promote No Fat Talk week – I posted a video about it on my Facebook. But I can’t do that anymore. I just can’t. I’m not going to criticise people in my networks who do continue promoting the concept of no fat talk but for me, I feel like there are ways of reaching out to everyone — even those resistant to body positivity — without invoking the ‘fat is always bad’ trope. I guess for me, I’d feel more comfortable if we had a ‘body positive’ week or a ‘no body shaming’ week, because frankly it’s not just fatness that is talked about in problematic ways but for some reason ‘fat’ has become shorthand for ‘expressing poor self esteem’ and I’m really not okay with anything that reinforces that notion, however unwittingly. Having said all that, I agree with Twistie that FA is so new and radical to a lot of people and that anything promoting body positivity, even if it’s flawed, is far better than the other messages out there about bodies.
    Kath if you have time to join in the conversation about this over at my blog that’d be fab because ‘fat talk’ has come up in comments as well as my latest post and it’d be good to see your (differing) viewpoint shared if you feel like it.

    • I totally agree – I wish there were more balanced versions of body positivity campaigns. But I guess for me, while I see there are problems with Fat Talk Free week, I can also see it’s a toe in the door that can be used for those who really are a long way from where we need to get them. I think I consider it one of my arsenal of tools to hammer the message home.

      And yes, I will pop over to your blog eventually hon – I’m behind again on my fatosphere reading. Why are there so many great blogs out there that I just can’t keep up?!

      • Oh no worries, not trying to pressure you. I have given up keeping up with most blogs at the moment – my feed reader is WAY out of control so I’m just following links on twitter when I have spare moments. Not ideal but that’s life for you.

      • This is why I have a small folder in my Google Reader called “Never Miss”, with about 20 blogs that I just can’t miss.

        The rest I periodically wipe over to “Mark as Read”.

  • I am glad to read you bringing up this topic! the vast, vast majority of women/girls have never even heard of size acceptance, fat acceptance, health at every size, and many of the concepts that are “common knowledge” in the fatosphere.
    They only ever hear the omnipresent “thin! thinner! thinnest!” message, over & over & over until it seems like the TRUTH.
    ED often grows out of the terrible fear of being fat ( BTW a gut-kicking wow, for the extreme fat hatred your Google search found!), and “Fat Talk Free” week grew out of trying to tackle ED on campus (where it often flares up out of control when young women move away from home for the first time.) There are many, many voices trying to speak out for body diversity, size acceptance, and just plain being OK with who you are. Different voices reach different audiences, and unfortunately, “fat talk” IS shorthand for body bashing among the girls I teach, and most likely, the culture at large. Sometime, a new message in the old language is the only way that someone can hear the message at all.

    • Exactly elizabeth. Not to mention that this message, the End Fat Talk message is NOT where it stops. It’s the first message that goes against the hundreds, no thousands of messages that they hear telling them to be ashamed of their bodies, to play that societal game of body loathing and shame.

      I figure if you can get that door open a crack, you can keep working the broader concepts through, bit by bit.

  • (first time reader here, hi) So I know this is a really old post and that you have more than likely posted about this issue more recently but my I am really way too tired at the moment to go back and find a more recent post to pose this question which just occurred to me.

    I support the Fat Acceptance movement 100%, and have done so for a few months now since first discovering the concept on another FA blog whose name escapes me right now. I’m personally crap at articulating my thoughts a lot of the time and couldn’t keep up a blog if my life depended on it so I’m more of a lurky-commenty-dinner-table-conversation-deraily sort of supporter.

    ANYWAY my question is about the use of the word fat in reference to fat people when you are actually a skinny person. I’m a small girl – short, skinny, small boobs, all that stuff. I’m just wondering what your stance is on people who are not fat themselves using that word as a descriptor for other people. I usually stick to the euphemisms even though they make me uncomfortable unless the person I am speaking or referring to is someone who I personally know to be a supporter of FA (and I don’t know many such people, if any at all). Obviously I can’t use the word fat in reference to myself to show my attitude toward it because I am objectively not so. Related to that I worry that because I am not directly involved in any way with the experience of living in a fat body, that people may assume that I am using ‘fat’ as an insult. Related to THAT is the fact that because of all of this my support for FA is largely a very quiet one. I do not have experiences or move in circles that prompt me to be overly vocal about it. All of my friends or at least all of the friends with whom I interact on a regular basis, are straight sized and know/care little if anything about FA. The extent to which I display my stance on this stuff is by not participating in body shaming/diet talk with my girlfriends and if the topic happens to come up in conversation I will defend fat people to the best of my ability. I guess what I’m taking forever to say is that I’m not really ‘out there’ about FA, I’m still learning about it and as a straight sized person my day to day experience is nowhere near as steeped in FA issues as that of a fat person.

    SO basically what is your view on people who are not fat, referring to people who are fat, as fat, in the context of fat acceptance. Assuming that the straight sized speaker is an FA supporter, but that this fact may not be known or obvious to the fat people they are speaking to or about, and that these same fat people may or may not subscribe to FA themselves. I hope at least some of this makes sense.

    • The answer is very easy Bec. You don’t use any words to describe someone’s body, be they fat, thin or in between, unless they invite you to. People are more than their bodies. There is no real purpose in pointing out someone’s body shape or size, so why do it, unless that person gives you the words they prefer to describe themselves.

      I am very happy with people calling me fat, but that isn’t going to be right for the next person. Let them tell you how they wish to be referred to.

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