Note from Rebecca: In honor of Fat Talk Free Week, I invited my friend Constance Rhodes to share some of her thoughts on fat talk. Constance is a powerhouse of faith, faithfulness and determination. She is the Founder and CEO of FINDINGbalance, the leading Christian resource for daily help with body image and eating issues, advocate, mentor, wife, mom and friend to many. Thank you, Constance! I appreciate you and your courageous heart.
How do you define fat talk?
Anytime we are making negative comments about the size of other people’s bodies or our own, with an emphasis on the larger size of a person being undesirable.
Where and when do you most often hear fat talk?
When I tell people what I do (i.e. help people with eating and body image issues) they often make derogatory remarks about their own weight, which is sometimes awkward and generally unnecessary. I also hear this talk frequently whenever women are gathered together and food is involved.
How do you respond to fat talk?
I either simply don’t engage with it or I engage with a twist, such as asking the person, “Do you have issues with weight that you’d like to talk about?” This can go one of two ways – either they clam up and move on or they start talking with me about their fears and anxieties in this area. Either result is generally more productive than letting the conversation continue as it was.
What do you think are the roots of fat talk?
I think it’s been going on for so many generations that it is hard to even find the roots. But most assuredly a key root is the belief that one’s weight says something about a person, and if it is a larger weight, it is generally assumed to say negative things. Pointing toward someone else’s weight can be a way to deflect concerns about our own, or to try to control the problem of overeating/overweight, such as when children are instructed not to eat too much or “you’ll get fat like so-and-so.”
How have you struggled with fat talk in your life?
I went through a few years of struggling with binge eating, during which I gained a lot more weight than was normal or healthy for me. I felt fat and ugly and could think of nothing else. Once I lost the weight those negative voices continued screaming at me, warning me not to lose control or I would be fat again. So it’s a topic I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about, in more ways than one.
What self-talk helps ground you in your true worth and value today?
Sometimes it’s just very practical. When I start feeling “fat” because I’m on my period or I’ve had a few too many rich meals lately, I have to be practical and tell myself that I have a ways to go before that would ever be the case. Beyond that, however, I have to ask myself what I really believe is attractive. Do I really want to be known for being a certain weight, or do I want to be known for the quality of my character? I think about other women who I admire and respect and I realize that my appreciation for them has nothing to do with their body size. Most importantly, I’ve got to continually be reminded through scripture, prayer, and spiritual conversations that the God of the universe created me and is far more interested in who I am than what I look like.
How do you see FINDINGbalance as an antidote to the “Fat Talk Culture”?
For the last eleven years we have been building a culture at FINDINGbalance that promotes the wellness of the person over whatever size they happen to be wearing. We know that bodies come in all shapes and sizes, and that what is “fat” to one is “thin” to another. Most importantly, as the leading Christian resource for daily help with these issues, we are trying to send out Christ-centered messages on a daily basis to combat the self-centered, negative ones so many of us are bombarded with.
How have you seen the connection between disordered eating and fat talk?
Often, many eating disorders are fueled in some way by a desire to change your body. Fat talk reinforces weight stigma and also creates problems that may not even be present. The more we say a negative thing about ourselves, the more we believe it. Since our nature is to work on the things we think need to be better, if we are constantly telling ourselves we are fat, then we are constantly going to be pushing ourselves to lose weight. Wherever you are on the weight continuum, whether overweight, underweight, or somewhere in-between, if negative self-talk is the loudest voice in your head it will be impossible to have a normal relationship with food and your body.
When those are undernourished and in the throes of an eating disorder, it is hard to shake the loud critical voice. How do you encourage those in this space of shame and self-loathing?
The key is to not be the only voice in your head. Which means you’ve got to come out of isolation into community where the lies of the critical voice can be fought out in the open. This might mean seeking out a counselor, plugging into a small group (we have tools for this at our site), sharing your struggle with a trusted friend, parent or advisor, entering a treatment program, or some combination of these things. Ideally, this would include at least a key person or two who can share God’s truth with you. For those who have faith, reading scriptures and praying on your own is a good discipline, but without healthy community the truths won’t sink into your soul in a practical and long-lasting way.
You are married and have three adorable children. How do you encourage your kids when they are struggling with their worth and value and fall into negative talk about themselves?
My kids are 12, 9, and 6, and as a former disordered eater and now wellness activist, you can imagine I’ve been pretty proactive on this front. First, we do not allow any fat talk in our home. The kids know they are not even allowed to say that word. We also don’t consume media that objectifies women’s bodies. This includes things as seemingly benign as shows on the Disney Channel, as well as commercials, movies, magazines or other materials that present women in sexual or objectified ways. And I never make negative comments about my body in front of them, so as far as they know, the body is not something to be worried about. I have yet to hear one of them say something negative about their bodies. I do, however, see them trying to hitch their value to their accomplishments from time to time. We talk about this openly, and I am constantly watching and guiding as it occurs. When they get older, you can check back with me to see how it’s gone…
Do you think fat talk is worth trying to combat? Many say it is pointless…
I think it’s worth it, but I also think if the only step someone takes in this direction is simply stopping engaging in it themselves, that’s a huge start. It can seem overwhelming to fight such a huge cultural problem, but taking one “next right step” at a time still adds up and can lead to greater changes in the long run.
Constance Rhodes is the founder and CEO of FINDINGbalance, the leading Christian resource for DAILY help with eating and body image issues. Sign up for her free Daily Vitamin eDevo at findingbalance.com/dv.