Talking about our body image issues is how we get past them, not being silent about them, says Lynn Beisner.
When I was in my late teens, Kellogg’s marketed their Special K cereal with an ad campaign that promised if you ate their magic flakes no one would be able to find an inch of fat on your body to pinch. I remember pinching my thighs, my stomach, my rib cage, and even my vulva. Even though I was well within the normal weight range, there was not a single area of my body, except my feet and hands, where I could not find a spare inch of flesh.
The influence of that advertising campaign on me just as I was entering womanhood is why I have mixed feelings about the Shhhhut Down Fat Talk video that’s currently making the rounds in social media. It was created in support of the very product that used to be all about fat-shaming.
On the one hand, I am delighted that Kellogg’s has changed its tune about fat. It isn’t an apology, but at least the same company that encouraged me to excise all but the tiniest bits of flesh is now telling me they were full of crap.
But on the other hand, the commercial is a poignant reminder of the real cause of fat-talk, and why it feels utterly pointless to tell women to stop saying these things about themselves.
As one woman says in the video: “You are bullying yourself.” The problem is not that we say hideously cruel things about ourselves. The problem is that we think it—all the time. Many of us are living with an abusive and ruthless bully, and we can’t just leave our abuser because she’s in our heads.
I know what many of you are thinking. “The bully is just the internalized manifestation of the pressure that our society puts on women to be thin and beautiful.” And you have a wonderful point, and indeed this is something that we, as a society, need to work on.
But here is the problem with making “Stop The Fat Talk” our entire solution: Bullies do not stop bullying just because you make one topic off-limits. They just find something else to pick on.
Recently, I read an article that encouraged parents to teach their children the following coping strategy for dealing with anxiety:
“Label your worries and fears as the ‘Worry Monster’ who is a bully who is responsible for making you (and all of us) think worrisome and scary thoughts. The Worry Monster’s job is to keep us from enjoying life. He gets joy from picking on children (and adults) and making them worried and scared. The more you talk about the Worry Monster and gang up on him with your allies, the weaker he will get and the sooner he will go away.”
I am not sure that the “Worry Monster” is a good description for the inner-bully that creates the thoughts behind fat-talk. It is more like our conscience, that inner guide to help us choose right over wrong, has become a mafia boss. I call mine “Toni Soprano.”
I sometimes wonder if I would be better off if Toni slept with the fishes. To be moral human beings, we need to have a part of ourselves that questions us, that asks us if what we are doing is really the best thing for all involved. Without some form of inner cross-examination, we develop moral rigor mortis.
But Toni doesn’t stop with helping me become more ethical. When I wake up in the morning she whispers, “God forbid you get out of bed and work. If you did, you might discover that you are a total fraud as a writer.” When I see my kids, she chimes in, “You notice that flaw? You made that. You screwed up perfectly innocent and good children.” And every time I pass a mirror, she screams: “Fatty, fatty, 2×4, can’t get through the kitchen door!”
The thing about Toni, and this could be good or bad, is that she’s easily distracted by shiny things. And by shiny things, I mean things that other people care about. The bigger the social pressure, the more “normal” something is considered by society, the more easily she’s distracted by it.
So when she goes for the jugular and calls me a cripple or a flake, I can dangle the shiny thing of fat in front of her. I can distract her from chanting, “You are a horrible person” in my ear by letting her berate my fat, misshapen hips.
Since I started calling my inner-bully “Toni Soprano,” my husband has adopted a new motto: “Death to Toni!” I love the sentiment, but it poses a practical problem. How, exactly, does a person go about whacking their inner mob-boss? Some people say that therapists make great hit-men.
But the last sentence in the article about the “Worry Monster” has me thinking that there might be a better way to break the power of our inner bullies:
“The more you talk about the Worry Monster and gang up on him with your allies, the weaker he will get and the sooner he will go away.”
We can talk about it, we can form alliances, and we can use those alliances to make our inner mobster an offer that they can’t refuse.
And that is why I think it is vital not to silence the fat-talk. We need to talk about what our inner bullies are whispering in our ears night and day. We need to make allies who will recognize a Toni when they hear one. We need people who will gang up with us, who will listen to us not only when we are castigating ourselves for our muffin-top, but also when our inner mobster gets down to brass knuckles and goes after us in the places we are most vulnerable.
So, fat-talk to me. I will not agree with your inner bully, but I will hear her out. I will ask you if fat is the shiny thing that you are using to distract her, or if this is where she exacts her pound of flesh.
Together we will gang up on her, and eventually she will go away. Bullies cannot withstand a united front of kindness.