These jeans make my butt look huge. She’s really let herself go. You look great — have you lost weight?
If you live in the U.S., the chance that you have heard or said any of these comments is extremely high. If you’re a girl, the odds increase even more. This week these comments are banned — temporarily, at least.
Monday marks the official start of Fat Talk Free Week, a week dedicated to discouraging negative body image comments and increasing self-esteem. As part of the Reflections Body Image Program, Fat Talk Free Week get support from some familiar Northwestern faces.
“This was launched in conjunction with Tri Delta and promotes healthy body image,” says Weinberg junior Elizabeth Henderson, a Tri Delta sister who spearheaded this year’s Fat Talk Free events at Northwestern. “It’s something we’re really proud of.”
Northwestern’s ban on “fat talk” took place last week, but other schools nationwide, including University of Virginia and University of Southern California, kick off Fat Talk Free Week recognition today. The common goal? Start a body-loving revolution independent of size and improve self-esteem campus-wide.
“We want to eliminate the thin ideal from our campus,” says Henderson. “It’s a new frontier.”
Tri Deltas throughout the country are raising awareness of Fat Talk Free Week and in doing so, according to the Reflections website, hope to “help participants resist the ultrathin, unrealistic ideal standard of female beauty prevalent in today’s society.”
In preparation of bringing this change to Northwestern, Henderson attended Reflections’ training program over the summer. During two sessions, attendees discussed the origins of society’s body ideals and how to challenge them. But messages about body image don’t just stem from social views: Self-criticism can also be detrimental to physical and mental health.
“Negative thoughts mean negative words, which means negative emotions,” says Dr. Jenny Conviser, a clinical psychologist specializing in eating disorders with a practice in Evanston. “It’s true that words can impact our well being and influence our actions.”
But as the Fat Talk Free Week campaign aims to expose, words can be the source or the solution to negative body image. Case in point: Last week in Norris, Tri Deltas encouraged Northwestern students to celebrate a part of their bodies they love by writing a positive comment about it on a huge banner. The banner is currently hanging outside the Tri Delta house as support of the Fat Talk Free mission.
The Reflections program encourages participants to actively challenge the body ideal, thereby embracing bodies as they are. But in a culture in which “fat talk” is considered normal, phasing out negative body image may be a bigger obstacle than anticipated.
“It’s such a cultural norm and it’s so pervasive, that it can appear usual,” says Dr. Conviser. “It’s really hard to change these attitudes. It could take a lot of time and work.”
Fat Talk Free Week is the first step in what Henderson hopes will be a cultural attitude adjustment. Though Tri Delta’s work with Reflections is not the sorority’s main philanthropy, she would like to see Fat Talk Free Week become a more integral event.
“We’d love to see it emphasized more,” she says. “The program as a whole is growing and we want to incorporate its lessons in our sorority.”
However, the lessons extend beyond just Northwestern’s campus. Reflections, with the help of Tri Deltas across the country, aims to alter cultural standards of beauty, starting by eliminating negative self-talk. And although Dr. Conviser acknowledges the difficulty of ending “fat-talk,” she, too, hopes that society can change its ways of thinking about body image.
“In some cultures, ‘fat’ means you’re wealthy or loyal,” she says. “It doesn’t have to be a negative word — it could just be a scientific word.”
Let the revolution begin.