Wednesday, December 18, 2013

All the Fat that's Fit to Talk*

There has been a lot of research on "fat talk" and increasing talk about it being harmful. "Fat talk" is shorthand for hating on your body. And usually fat is denigrated in the process. There is even a Fat Talk Free Week, which typically results in an awareness video every year.

But ever since the fight about fat talk rose to the surface, fat activists have been questioning it. The word fat isn't inherently bad. Fat activists use it all the time...proudly. Saying we need to stop 'fat talk' usually implies we need to stop saying the word fat.

In fact, Jennifer Lawrence recently said it should be illegal to call someone fat on TV.

And it's no coincidence that it's mainly women who are already thin are the ones who can speak out about fat talk. This is part of the huge problem with fighting beauty ideals. When someone like Jennifer Lawrence gets called fat, we are legitimate in empathizing with her...because we know she's not fat. It's therefore cruel and not true and undeserved. If I remember my Mimi Nichter correctly, she talks specifically about how fat girls cannot engage in fat talk. People cannot reassure us, and engaging in fat talk only draws attention to our fat bodies. Fat talk is a way of bonding with other girls/women, but fat girls can only do the reassuring, not the fat talking.

The fight against fat talk isn't even about fat people--and that's really frustrating, actually. No one is fighting against shaming our bodies. Society still thinks it's proper to shame us. As proof, please note that Michelle Obama just appeared on The Biggest Loser for the 2nd time. Not to mention that the U.S. Postal Service partnered with The Biggest Loser a few years back. Not to mention that the show The Biggest Loser EXISTS.

No, the fight against fat talk is an innocuous everybody-is-beautiful fight. Don't get me wrong, we should fight against people's uncritical and casual body hatred--even more importantly, we should fight against the culture of body hate and the societal structures that support it.

More evidence that the fight on fat talk is no friend to fat people is the latest Special K commercial:

According to the commercial, "93% of women fat talk. We believe it's a barrier to managing their weight."

Yes, that's correct. We need to end fat talk because it is a hindrance to weight loss.


When 'end fat talk' is co-opted by a corporation known for fat shaming and promoting the weight loss uses of their products, we KNOW ending fat talk is not about fat people.

If you look at the website they have created, you can see that they are using FAT SHAME to promote this campaign:
-Fat talk weighs down all women.
-Join us and tip the scales toward positivity.

While fat activists don't own all the fat puns (even though we would like to), talk of "weighing down" sure brings up images of fat shame. This is even more explicit given their focus on how fat talk hinders "weight management success."

They are making money off of anti-body shame WHILE FAT SHAMING.

They aren't the first company to co-opt feminism or fat activism. In fact, I guessed that the commercial was either for Jenny Craig or Weight Watchers, both who have co-opted fat activist language.

This is why this 'feel good' activism is dangerous. It feels right to say how horrible it is for these women to fat talk and hate on their bodies. It feels like good is winning. It feels like someone gets it. It feels like someone cares.

Rest assured, Special K does not care about fat people. And the fight against fat talk will continue to seem like it's about fat people while continuing to maintain structures that oppress us.

*The title is a reference to Natalie Boero's article, "All the News that's Fat to Print."

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