Last week I had a Groupon to “get my hair did”. It was not a good experience, as it took 4 weeks from my initial phone call to get in, and I got the most mediocre highlights of my life. But this isn’t about how I feel ripped off and will never go back. In making small talk with the hair stylist, something she said really bothered me (actually lots of things she said really bothered me), and yet I didn’t say anything. We were talking about a wedding she’d been to last summer, and she was telling the story about the creativity of the bride. The bride led a Zumba class wearing white spandex the morning of the wedding with her bridal party. I was thinking, “wow, that sounds so fun.” But what came next was a statement that many, probably most people, wouldn’t think twice about. Something so entrenched as a norm for our society, that we hardly notice the self-loathing and lack of confidence it creates.
“She’s small like 105 lb’s, and could totally pull it off. Very few people can pull off spandex, especially white.”
The thought of whether she looked okay in her spandex didn’t even cross my mind. Her weight played no part in me loving this bride’s style, I didn’t care, and now I was stuck with these images of what is and is not acceptable when it comes to white spandex . It upset me that this was what the hair stylist felt the need to say, as if in my mind I was thinking, “OMG, I hope she has the body to pull off something like white spandex.” And then I thought about what someone who feels the need to say this must feel about herself. It’s a statement meant to illustrate, “I’m secure,” but does exactly the opposite. It’s a statement someone makes when they don’t want to sound resentful or jealous, they are self-conscious about their own body, and feel the need to let people know, “I know what is and isn’t acceptable.” And I immediately felt compassion.
This is called “fat talk”. This is the type of language that perpetuates a culture which defines a woman’s worth by her looks instead of her intelligence, by her jean size instead of her kindness, by the amount of time she spent working out this week rather than the hard work she puts into her career or caring for her family. In the last two years, I have done quite a bit to cut this talk out of my own vernacular. I don’t tell people how good they look and instead tell them how good it is to see them. I don’t comment on whether or not I notice that someone has lost weight, and I certainly don’t say “thanks” when someone notices that I’ve lost weight.
It’s hard. Even though I’m not joining in “fat talk”, and I’m trying very hard to not let my worth be defined by my weight and looks, I still find that I am judging myself and can improve on this. I suspect there will always be room for improvement. Yet I have come a long way in this journey of self-acceptance and love. Every time I have a negative thought about my weight, my shape, or my general physical appearance, I remind myself how kick ass I am, and those negative thoughts lose their power. My biggest motivation to get over it though, is my beautiful little girl. I need to show her how possible it is to love one’s self, physical flaws and all. She will learn the skill of seeing beauty where others see imperfections. She will be kind, she will be compassionate, but most importantly, she’s going to love herself.
I’m at a point where I recognize “fat talk” the moment I hear it for what it is, and I always reflect. I’m not at that point where I can tell strangers and acquaintances about “fat talk”, tell them how their language is more harmful than helpful. I think if I were to go back to get some more mediocre highlights, I would be able to talk to this hair stylist now and let her in on the ways she is beautiful, because I see the beauty in her as another woman, as a mother to a mother. And maybe I will. I hope that my ability to reflect thoughtfully will help me gain insight so that someday I am able to find the words and the courage to say something against “fat talk” in the moment.