As a female college student and an English major, I find it very vital to use my strength in words for the benefit of my peers. Held significantly close to my heart, body positivity is a topic I frequently touch upon. Issues with body image are the most detrimental forces against females in college. Body dysmorphia, eating disorders, low self-esteems and acts of body shaming flood every realm of college campuses.
However, what most girls fail to realize is that we often subconsciously justify body negativity in our everyday speech. These issues seem romanticized in pop culture, however, each girl who struggles with personal image problems has unknowingly participated in acts of body shaming. Whether putting down yourself, or putting down someone else, fat talk promotes both body negativity and the presence of body dysmorphia on college campuses. The first step in ending fat talk is acknowledging its use, and the second step is abolishing it entirely. Listed below are easy ways to eliminate fat talk and promote body positivity.
Stop Using Skinny as a Compliment
This is both my biggest pet peeve and the most under-acknowledged form of fat talk. Using “skinny” or “thin” as a compliment not only promotes body negativity, but also promotes the idea that being skinny equates being beautiful. Stop commenting “skinny mini” or “omg so skinny” on Instagram pictures. Stop telling people their outfit makes them look “thin” or that they “look thin today.” Newsflash: Healthy is beautiful and healthy comes in all shapes and sizes! Instead of commenting on how thin someone looks, tell them that they look beautiful no matter how they are posing or what they are wearing.
Do Not Put Yourself Down in Order to Lift Others Up
Ladies, we all do it. Uplifting our friends by degrading ourselves is not an effective way of complimenting! For example, when a friend says, “Ugh I look so fat in this,” and you say, “You think you’re fat? Look at my muffin top!” you are both promoting negative body image and diminishing your own self esteem! Simply respond by saying “wear whatever makes you feel confident” or “I think you look gorgeous.” Reverse fat talk, don’t justify it by knocking yourself down.
Turn a Shameful Remark into a Meaningful Compliment
In the words of John Mayer, your body is a wonderland. It does so many wonderful things to keep you living, yet we constantly focus on superficial “flaws.” If you ever look down on your body for being imperfect, remember that perfection is unobtainable. Unhappy about the size of your legs? Remember that their strength keeps you moving. Thinking about the width of your stomach? Remember that it stores the nutrition that keeps you alive. Uplift your friends if they are feeling self conscious. Help them realize that the body just encases the beauty and strength you hold inside.
Change the Subject
A lot of the time, when people make negative comments about themselves or others, we either ignore it or subconsciously agree with them. The easiest way to combat this is to shut down the remarks immediately. For instance, if someone says, “My friend has really put on pounds this semester,” respond by saying, “You shouldn’t talk about your friends like that.” The speaker will most likely feel uncomfortable and change the subject. If she tries to justify her comment, initiate a shift in conversation yourself. Being able to recognize the casualty and prevalence of fat talk in everyday conversations makes it much easier to shut down.
Promote the Importance of Good Health
Women of all ages do the most absurd things to their bodies while striving to fit beauty ideals. More times than not, these efforts put our bodies at risk. Skipping meals to fit into dresses, overexercising before a big event, indulging in fad diets, and shaming ourselves for eating snacks justifies the presence of mental illness. Eating disorders and body dysmorphia are ever-present mental illnesses on college campuses. Sadly enough, most young women do not realize when their fight for appearance ideals becomes a mental problem. If you hear your friends talking about unhealthy eating habits, or shaming others for their habits, call them out. Put your knowledge from seventh grade health class to good use. Good health is not a body type. A beautiful woman is healthy, happy, and encourages others to follow suit.
As a facilitator for The Body Project at Virginia Tech, I watch the light bulb of understanding flick on every student’s face as soon as I address common types of fat talk. I cannot sit here and say that I am fat talk free, however, I can proudly state that I make a conscious effort to eliminate it every single day. Stopping myself from making negative comments, shutting down my friends when they body shame themselves or others, and promoting positivity to everyone I meet are all ways that I combat fat talk. Love yourself, uplift others, realize your worth, and acknowledge the beauty of everyone you meet. Body positivity is not a social movement, it is a way of life.