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Monday, August 3, 2009

Fat Talk

By Guest Blogger Tanya Gunter, M.A. Ed., NCC, LPC - Child, Adolescent and Adult Therapist

What is it about becoming a mother that turns us into hypocrites? Is it the hormones? The lack of sleep? The futile attempt to cling to the few years of real freedom we experienced between college and parenthood? Could it be the final acceptance that yes our mothers were right and it is incredibly difficult to be all of the things we want to be in life…successful in our careers, gracious mothers and wives, best friends with all our peers, beautiful, sexy, look less than our age, strong, independent? Is this how the fa├žade begins? Wanting to have the neo-feminine “all” and learning that something has to give if we even stand a chance at sanity and happiness?

So like our mothers before us, we straddle the line of health, self-actualization and hypocrisy. Let’s take our focus on food and body image for example. For those of us who grew up during the aerobics boom- you know the space of time in the 80s during which Jane Fonda produced a new VHS tape every couple of months and Olivia Newton-John’s innocent voice was filling our clock radios with values of getting into shape and body talk- femininity and fitness got jumbled up with images of our mothers donning aerobics tights and leg warmers while they groaned about their needs to stop snacking and “watch their figure.” When Rod Stewart rang out his anthem “Do you think I am Sexy?“ we made the connection that “sexy” can be alternately translated as totally tubular, wicked, awesome or cool. Even though, Rod Stewart is “UGGGLY” when you are eleven, it didn’t take us long to realize that we too would like for someone to think we are sexy.

Just as it began for us with parents and culture, it now continues with our children. Like us, they learn what is acceptable, pretty and valued by cultural osmosis but also they learn from their parents - us. As parents, we watch our language, the movies and games we expose our children to and even sweat the influences they encounter on the school bus each day as they make their way home from school, but rarely do we consider how our own “fat talk” affects our kids. A generation later, we are passing on our “just two shakes a day” dogma to our innocent children who like us twenty years ago just want to figure out what it takes to be accepted. This is where our hypocritical side rears its ugly head. Many of us will reference our Christian upbringing when talking to our children by saying something like “God made you perfectly” or we will make a statement valuing their uniqueness like “you are the only you and that makes you special.” But what our kids hear is “God made YOU special but I have big hips and need to skip lunch in order to make up for the spinach dip at dinner last night.” They see us trying to look fashionable or thin, fit or curvy like _________ (you fill in the blank) and hear us swear as we pinch our waists and check our rear in the mirror. The message we send is “Uniqueness be damned. I should be skinnier.”

We use words like “bad” and “cheated” to describe our eating activities. We commiserate with friends about our “big thighs” and “nothing fitting in our closets.” We are on perpetual diets to the point that some of our children have never known us to not be dieting. As mothers, we are teaching our children that they too are condemned to a life of worry about how their body looks. We teach them that their value lies in how few fat calories they eat and how many inches they can pinch on their thighs.

It is funny when the two year old quotes Dad cursing at the football game, or when the big sister scolds her younger siblings “just like Mom” but when our ten year old asks how many calories are in her breakfast cereal, cuts back on her snacks and talks about her skinny jeans, how many of us will ignore the red flag she is waving? It is at this critical point that we have an opportunity to espouse the benefits of a healthy diet and active lifestyle by both comment and example, or by default confirm her already forming theory that smaller, thinner and self-sacrificing really is the American ideal. Did you know that 81% of ten year olds are afraid of being fat? Did you know that there are more women who suffer from anorexia and bulimia than are currently battling breast cancer?*

As women and mothers we have the power to reverse this trend by holding ourselves and each other accountable . Eliminate “fat talk” from your daily conversations and internal dialogues. At first, it may be surprising how much time you spend holding court over your relationship with your body and with food. When the habitual commentary or behaviors occur, you might try replacing them with a meaning phrase of verse that helps you refocus on your health or spiritual quest, like “moderation in all things” or “healthy is beautiful”. Socially you will also become more aware of the “fat talk” that permeates your interactions with other women. Don’t we as women have better things to talk about than how “bad” we are because we ate a pack of M&M’s? Let’s end the cycle of negative self-perception and hypocrisy. If we women really believe that we are influential and powerful members of American society, let’s stop talking about our butts and bellies and start teaching our children how to live healthy lives in the skin they are in. Let’s encourage them to follow their skills, talents and dreams instead of chasing a dress size. Let’s end “fat talk” - for our sake and theirs.

*Check out this video for more information:


farmer said...

Excellent post & video. Thanks for sharing this important topic with us.

Summer said...

What a great post. Thank you TSP for another thought provoking start to my day.

Anonymous said...

Wow - super topic. I don't think I realize how often I make remarks around my children that could damage their outlook on themselves. I am going to really pay more attention to the negative comments and focus more on eating healthy and staying active, but still not overdo it. Kids need to be kids without worrying about any of this!

Maythi said...

Wonderful post and great video. Thank you TSP for highlighting such an important topic. The statistics in the video are unacceptable. As parents, it is our job to promote strong self-esteem in our children, girls & boys alike.

Jen P. said...

Great post!!

JJL said...

I work with teenagers, and it is amazing to see how much "talk" like this can affect them. I think the number one component of a happy child or teenager is high self-esteem.

Rae said...

This is a much needed post -- the statistics are frightening. This post is such a wonderful reminder for us all to practice what we preach. Thanks Tanya!

Sara Hepler said...

Great post, Tanya! I couldn't have said it better myself. Fat Talk, Thin Talk, any kind of destructive talk that makes others feel less than is something we can all be more aware of within ourselves and in the lives around us.

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