Fat talk: Have you considered that what you say about your body could hurt others?

Fat talk: Have you considered that what you say about your body could hurt others?

Fat talk: Have you considered that what you say about your body could hurt others?

Updated 23 October 2017, 8:30 AEDT

You'd never intentionally say something cruel to your fat friend, family member or colleague.

It's not often that a trending story about a fat person doesn't leave me feeling worse about the state of the world.

So you can imagine my surprise when earlier in the year, there was a public outcry in defence of fat people.

It came after Mamamia boss Mia Freedman revealed private requests made on behalf of author Roxane Gay, who was in Australia to promote Hunger, a book about Gay's life and identity as a fat woman.

It wasn't just that Freedman disclosed these requests, but that she did so in a tone-deaf and fatphobic manner.

Her treatment of Gay was atrocious, and the outcry against Freedman was widespread and swift.

As a fat woman in Australia, I was genuinely surprised that so many people came out in defence of a fat person, because in my experience that simply never happens.

I was also astonished that so many people were taken aback at Gay's treatment, seemingly unaware that fat people face this kind of dehumanising and awful behaviour every single day.

Taking up space

For the crime of simply existing in my body, going about my day, moving through the world, and taking up space, I encounter revulsion, discrimination, hatred, and abuse.

I cannot describe how much of my time and energy is taken up trying to make myself smaller, trying not to impinge on anyone else, trying my best to avoid receiving the look of disgust that affixes itself to stranger's faces as we cross paths.

But at some point, I realised it doesn't matter how conscientious I am or how much effort I put in, people will dismiss me, judge me, and hate me anyway.

There is no way I can act that will appease the people on the internet who wish death upon fat people, or the man who flicked a cigarette at me and called me a "fat bitch" as I simply walked down a Sydney street.

These people are not alone in the hatred for all things fat; they are simply more overt.

What is your experience with fat talk? We're keen to continue the conversation. Email us at ladies@abc.net.au

A moral failing

We're all taught that fat is wrong, a moral failing. Women especially are taught that being fat is the worst thing you can be in life.

These lessons, they start when we're young. They happen everywhere and can involve anyone.

If you're not sure what I mean, let me share with you some scenes from my life.

I recently discussed these with Yumi Stynes and Ally Garrett in the ABC podcast Ladies, We Need To Talk.

'I think you've had enough of those; you don't want to grow up and be fat like your aunty!'

My aunt said this to me when I was seven. I wasn't fat yet. We were at family Christmas lunch.

My brother had just grabbed a handful of jelly snakes from the bowl, and I was choosing my favourites.

Her comments made me feel like I had done something wrong, but I couldn't quite understand what it was.

Maybe she was trying to warn me, or even save me, but all she did was help set me up to feel bad about food, and wrong in my body.

That's the through line with this sort of thing, whether it's about yourself or someone else — it's not going to make someone stay thin, or get thin.

'This size 10 doesn't fit. I am so fat, I want to die'

I heard this often when I went clothes shopping with my friends in high school. An experience that was a particular form of hell for me, because I was a fat teenager.

None of the clothes everyone liked fit me. So I would tail along, never trying anything on, and nobody else suggesting I do.

There were the discussions of how fat everyone felt, how they needed to lose weight before summer, how they didn't want to go up a size because it would be the end of the world, how having a bigger body would destroy their lives.

This happened while I was standing there, their peer and friend, much fatter than they would ever be.

All the while my tenuous belief that even though I was fat I was still worthy of love and respect was worn down with each remark about their own bodies.

There was always a clear message. Being fat as a teenage girl was the absolute worst thing you could be.

They were taught to hate fatness more than they hated hurting me. They were taught to be scared.

'If I had cancer, at least I'd be skinny'

I heard this at a party while I was at uni. I was very drunk on cheap white wine, lying on a friend's bedroom floor, with several other drunk young women.

A friend of a friend told us that she had been sleeping with a guy we all knew, but he didn't want anyone to know about it.

She said this was because she was fat, and he was embarrassed about his attraction to her.

I'd heard this before. Lots of men feel ashamed that they might have the hots for a fat woman. It's seen as pathetic to stoop that low. Why would you do something so disgusting?

So fat girls and women enter relationships where they can easily be made to feel less than disposable, or like they should be grateful someone will be with them.

The conversation pressed on, and this woman got more and more upset about how fat she was, and how unattractive she was made to feel.

She ended up in tears, and said that in her darkest moments she had hoped she would get sick, because if she had cancer at least she would be thin.

She wanted to have cancer, instead of being fat.

I was lying near her on the floor, living in a body much bigger than hers.

Her words made me feel worthless, like maybe I shouldn't bother even being alive.

'No, I can't have cake, I'm on a diet'

"I'm trying to lose weight for summer"; "I put on two kilos, I'm so disgusting"; "I need to lose weight before I go back on Tinder."

These comments are just everywhere. In every workplace. In every friendship group. Women being so hard on themselves and their bodies, not considering how the negative self-talk might be affecting everyone around them.

As a fat person, you are subject to insults and abuse from people who think you're disgusting, and don't care if you feel bad.

You also have to deal with not being able to buy clothes, catch a flight without stress, and all the other ways the world is not set up for you to live in it.

You deal with all the shitty ways you're represented in the media.

You deal with discrimination from doctors, and employers.

Be kinder to yourself, and each other

The part that wears you down most is hearing the insidious fat-hating stuff from the people you care about.

It's making fat jokes. It's being served smaller portions than your brother so you don't put on weight. It's the judgment dressed up as unwanted health advice.

It's the insidious nature of the beast, the power of fat-hate that you encounter day after day.

It starts early, and it never seems to stop. We tell ourselves that the worst thing we can be is fat, that it's a kind of moral failing.

If all of this is true for them, even though they are thinner than you — there's only so long you can hold out, before you start to believe they hate you too.

I know that friends and the people around me, those who participate in negative self-talk about fatness or their own bodies, aren't trying to hurt me.

They are simply products of a society that has taught them that their bodies are wrong, and that fatness is especially wrong.

It has taught them to be scared of being fat; it has taught them that self-worth is inextricably linked to how thin they are.

All I ask is that we try to be more thoughtful, and that we try to consider how we can begin to break this cycle.

The first step, I think, is being kinder to yourself. Negative self-talk might help you feel better in the moment as you seek camaraderie, or reassurance, but it only has negative effects in the long run.

None of what has been described actually helps people remain thin, or get thin.

All it does is create a ping-pong effect of negative feelings about our bodies.

We teach our girls to be focused on worrying about getting fat, instead of being healthy and strong.

And we teach fat people that they aren't worthy of respect, or love.