Let's Stop the Holiday "Fat Talk"by The Perfectly Unperfected Proj
We’ve made it through Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday. But we’re just kicking off the worst season of the year for “fat talk.”
Starting with the preparations for Thanksgiving, the conversation revolves more than ever around food: What we’re eating, how much we’re eating, how much we’re planning on eating and how much weight we might gain.
There’s no time of the year where overeating is more encouraged, not least because everyone seems to be doing it.
One of the assumptions we make is that when the weather gets colder and the holidays draw closer, people are inclined to worry less about their bodies. After all, unless we’re headed for a tropical vacation somewhere, most of us aren’t going to be in swimsuits any time soon. And we have the promise of a future New Year’s resolution to take care of however many extra pounds we imagine we’re going to put on. This is supposed to be the season of indulgence, a time to take a well-deserved break from focus on the body.
But in many years of working around body image issues as a professor and youth group leader, I’ve found that the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas can be even more stressful than bikini season. For young people with body anxiety, the social expectation to eat (and over-eat) can be enormous. More than ever, this is the season where we display devotion by baking and cooking for our friends and loved ones. Teens in particular can feel overwhelmed by the pressure to demonstrate gratitude by eating; at no other time of the year is refusing to eat more emotionally charged for everyone involved.
The answer isn’t to tell ourselves (and our teens) that they can “worry about it later.” Neither is the answer to engage in “fat talk,” such as swapping stories with colleagues and friends about how much was consumed at the last party or lamenting how tight our pants have become. Of course, beating ourselves up emotionally for the fat talk doesn’t help either. Repression is a lousy solution.
In terms of practical steps, it is helpful to avoid the temptation to verbalize self-disgust with how much you’ve eaten. This is especially important when children are in earshot. Leaving aside the question about whether it’s a good idea to stuff ourselves or not, it’s helpful to commit to making sure our kids aren’t forced to cope with our feelings about our own overeating.
At this time of year more than any other, it’s also important to reiterate to our kids that food isn’t love. As exciting as it can be to be friends with family, celebrating the holidays, eating is not the real reason we come together with each other. In healthy families, it should be possible to refuse to over-indulge without hurting the feelings of well-intentioned bakers and cooks.
When we teach kids that cleaning their heaping plates is the best (even mandatory) way to display gratitude, we set them up to associate food with people-pleasing - and the refusal of food with rejection. That’s not a good way to inculcate healthy eating or healthy body image.
So whatever we eat, and however much weight we gain or lose, it’s worth committing this holiday season to ending “fat talk” and the destructive association between eating and love. That’s a resolution best made at least a month before New Year’s Day.
Dr. Hugo Schwyzer is a professor of history and gender studies at Pasadena City College.
He is co-founder of the Perfectly Unperfected Project and a director of Healthy is the New Skinny, and has lectured and written widely about body image, sexuality, and self-esteem issues to audiences across the country and around the world. He is the sex and relationships editor for the Good Men Project.
The Healthy is the New Skinny and Perfectly Unperfected Project campaigns run workshops for moms, dads, and other caring adults who want to know how to be allies to teens who are struggling with body image issues. Contact them for more information.