Let's face it, you're tired of dieting. You hate counting calories and carbs and fat grams. You're sick of the pressure to work out three times a week. Bottom line: You're tired of feeling fat.
But here's the thing: Fat is not a feeling. Happy, angry, sad -- those are feelings. When you say you feel fat, chances are you mean something else. And when you ask someone if you look fat, you're probably asking, "Am I good enough?"
Whether you're a size 2, 12, or 22, it's considered normal to hate your body. Society practically encourages it. But this discontent is really just a way of masking deeper issues such as insecurity, low self-esteem, or a longing for love and acceptance. By focusing on what others tell you are your shortcomings, you miss countless opportunities to feel connected, sexy, and powerful.
Do I Look Fat in This? brings good news: Life doesn't begin five pounds from now. In this book, acclaimed author and speaker Jessica Weiner provides real solutions to real problems, from surviving a closet meltdown when you can't find anything to wear, to how to cope with being bombarded by images of perfect-looking models.
With quizzes, guides, tools, and tips, Do I Look Fat in This? offers a step-by-step plan for creating a more fulfilling and positive life. You'll feel better about your job, your relationship, your family, your friends -- and most important, yourself.
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About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Who would have ever thought that three little letters could cause such fear, anxiety, and pain in someone's life?
I don't know one person who is not affected by those three letters. I don't know one woman who has never had a thought about how much she weighs or whether she is, or is getting, fat. Unless you're from a faraway planet called Self- Love, you grew up in a world where women are still valued, honored, rewarded, validated, and appreciated based on the size and shape of their bodies.
You can have the best parents, the most prestigious education, the most loving partners, the greatest friends, and you, my love, will still be susceptible to equating your worth as a woman to your dress size. And this isn't a new realization. We have always loved and hated women based on their beauty and their physical stature, and we have always loved and hated ourselves based on how easily (or not) we have lived up to these standards of womanhood.
Waiting to Be Skinny
I recently met a brilliant young woman at an Ivy League conference on women's issues. She had just graduated magna cum laude from her school, but she confided that she couldn't remember a damn day of her college experience. "Why?" I asked, utterly shocked at this statement. "Because," she said, "I have been waiting till I was skinny to enjoy my life. And it hasn't happened yet, so while I just finished my education at one of the country's most prestigious schools, I can't remember anything about it because I was too busy dieting, hating my body, and waiting to be skinny."
Are you waiting to be skinnier, thinner, more toned, more tanned, better dressed, more lovable, sexier, nicer, smarter, funnier, or wealthier before you really begin your life? Millions of us are. And it's a complete waste of time. Body obsession and the quest for perfection are destroying our lives, and we are willing partners in this destruction.
F-A-T = Feelings. Action. Thoughts.
That is how I've translated the word "fat." Feelings, action, thoughts. It reminds me that we are just speaking two different languages. The Language of Fat is the overall title for a general sense of uneasiness and dissatisfaction in our lives. We are not fulfilled in our jobs, relationships, friendships, or self-esteem, so we focus on the external -- because that seems more within our realm of control and influence. We have to think about what's going on inside, too.
Take This Quiz
- How many times today have you thought about what you ate or want to eat?
- How many times have you used the word "fat" in a sentence?
- How many times have you thought about the word "fat," whether about yourself or someone else?
- How many times today have you dreamed of a life that would happen five pounds from now? (When you finally get thin. Or when you get a new husband or boyfriend. Or when you have the perfect job. Perfect friends. Perfect family.)
- How many times today did you let the Language of Fat seep into your experience?
Odds are that if you were able to answer any of the questions above, you are speaking the Language of Fat and may not even know it.
The Language of Fat
Your health, wealth, family, relationships, and career are all affected by the Language of Fat and how you speak about your body. It seeps into other areas of your life because body image is about your self-image and about how you imagine your life should be.
The Language of Fat is about more than the word "fat." It is about more than just the fear of becoming fat. It is the nagging, brutal voice in your head that says your life isn't worth living until you look a certain way.
Remember, your life is worth more than the number of calories you eat during the day. Or the number of times you run around the track. You should design the life you desire. And before you can do that, you have to look at what's been holding you back, informing your decisions and opinions.
No one is immune to the power of this language. And it will take a collective effort from people willing to take action in their everyday lives to shift this language, to decode it, deconstruct it, and put a new language in its place. That's what we'll try to do together in this book.
What Happened to Penny
The word "fat" became a weapon to me when I was in grade school. It was the word girls used to wound one another. And it was the worst reason for rejection from a guy. It was the ultimate and most decimating cut-down. Nobody wanted to be called fat. Not the kids who really were or the girls who never would be. "Fat" could mean a lot of things. Undesirable, messy, ugly, out of control, stupid, lazy, unpopular. Once you were called fat, it stuck with you like gum on your shoe; you might be able to get the majority of it off, but there would always be a trace of the sticky stuff there.
For girls it meant complete girl failure. I remember seeing a gaggle of prepubescent girls circle a new student named Penny, who had just blown us all out of the water with her perfect score on a spelling test. She was smart and she knew it -- a deadly combination for those of us already hating ourselves at an early age. Girls with poor self-esteem can smell confidence like dogs smell fear, and then the mission is clear: Do your best to destroy the girl in the group who actually likes herself.
And so they formed a circle around Penny one day after gym class and unleashed upon her the most devastating of offenses: "Penny is so...fat." It was simple, and it did the trick. Penny became pegged as the girl with a weight problem. The girl who was smart but fat.
The only time Penny had the chance to reverse her girl curse of being fat came when she had stayed home from school for a week because she had mono. When she returned, she had lost a lot of weight. There was no way anyone could call Penny fat without looking really lame. Penny relished her new post-sickness body for a few days, but soon she began to return to her normal self. And then the teasing resumed. Because, in the hierarchy of the preteen world, once a group finds its "fat victim," it sticks with him or her until all torment and torture are complete.
The crazy thing about this story is that I can't even tell you if Penny actually had a weight problem. Not that it really matters, anyway. But I don't remember what Penny looked like; she was just the smart new girl in class who got a perfect score on her spelling test. However, as soon as the fat blanket was thrown on her, all I remember is her embarrassment at becoming a social pariah.
Forty percent of elementary school girls are on a diet.
Thou Shalt Not Be a Fat Woman...Ever!
How old were you when you first heard the word "fat"? When did it become the very thing you designed your life around not becoming?
We are socialized early on to understand that girls should want to be slim and pretty, not fat and ugly. Seems logical, right? Who in her right mind wants to be fat and ugly? But what is missing in these descriptions are the millions of other things we can be in our lives.
Let's get smart about this. The Language of Fat is not really just about the word "fat." It starts with this word, the most emotionally recognizable word for women in this country, and it spreads into other words, into a deeper and sometimes more subtle language that can keep us from ever knowing we are speaking it.
The girls who torment other girls probably don't even realize they've been fed a steady diet of body-loathing terms in their young years on this earth. Before we understand the meaning of a word, the energy associated with the response it brings has an impact on us. The girls know that the word "fat" is just something no girl wants to be. They've probably heard their mothers say it, perhaps when getting dressed or preparing dinner. Maybe they've heard their mothers ask their fathers or stepfathers, "Honey, do I look fat in this?"
No matter how, they learned it. They mimicked it. Now they use it and they watch it get them results. They may continue to speak the Language of Fat every day and may spend their lives poking, prodding, and praying never ever to become fat themselves.
Remember, the fear of being fat isn't only relegated to women with preexisting weight problems. The notion of not becoming fat occupies a lot of time and space for women of all shapes and sizes.
Becoming fat is a realistic fear for women, one that controls entire lives and millions of daily activities. This is not uncommon; all women have some sort of fear about this issue. It's almost like it's one of the Ten Commandments, or a federal law.
It's a Bonding Thing
Most likely, no one's ever told you that you don't have to speak the Language of Fat. Women bond with this language, and through the bonding we send the message that this kind of thought process and obsession is normal. We are normalizing body hatred in this country by continuing to speak the Language of Fat.
The fear of becoming fat may be irrational, but it causes you much stress in your life -- and the lives of those around you -- because you continue to speak the Language of Fat.
What does being "fat" mean to you? What does it mean in your relationships? In your career? In your family? What would happen to you if people perceived you as fat?
Decoding the Language of Fat is not rocket science. It is about listening -- to yourself and to others -- and asking deeper questions. The notion of "fat" means different things to different people. "Fat" can be a catchall phrase for many other emotions. It's much easier going through the world as a woman saying, "Ooh, I don't want to be fat," rather than, "I am frightened of being unloved or abandoned." Hearing the first of those statements, we all nod our heads in knowing approval, but at the second statement we run in the other direction -- because the poignant fear feels all too real.
Step One: Cutting the Fat
The good news is, we have power over the Language of Fat. We can dissect it, understand it, and then choose to change it so it no longer takes over our lives. The first step, though, is to recognize that you speak it. The next step is to be willing to do something about it.
- You can challenge the language by looking beyond the words and actions and into the intentions. Sometimes it is so easy to stick with the status quo and not rock the boat by asking, "Is this language really the best use of our time?" The feeling of being left out of the group is overwhelming. But we don't have to speak in surface dialogue about food, fat, or weight. There is so much more to talk about and to bond over.
- You don't have to speak the Language of Fat just because it is the predominant language.
- Keep listening.
- Language habits won't change overnight, but you can begin to change yours immediately just by being aware.
Young Girls Are More Afraid of Becoming Fat Than They Are of Nuclear War, Cancer, or Losing Their Parents
My daughter is ten and overweight. She gets teased a lot at school for being "fat" so I try not to use the word "fat" around her at home. Instead, when we talk about her weight, we talk about her not wanting to be "pudgy" or "chubby." Are those better words to use?
While I applaud Rita's effort to try to choose nondamaging words to share with her daughter, the new words she's chosen mean essentially the same thing. Just because you aren't saying the word "fat" doesn't mean you aren't passing on the fear of becoming fat. Even though Rita uses other words, they still carry the notion that there is something wrong with her daughter. Rita wants to make sure her child is not teased by others and is the healthiest little girl she can be. So she must be extra diligent in the language she uses, especially with her daughter.
We have to talk to kids in terms of inner value and not outer appearance. The most important approval for any child is from his or her parents. Fill children up with other descriptive terms: loving, witty, smart, kind, sincere, sensitive, bubbly, funny, strong, and heroic. We can never hear enough of those words.
You Are Your Toughest Critic
Worrying about any aspect of your appearance to the point where it is alienating friendships and relationships is problematic. Some of us haven't yet learned another way to communicate our needs. Incessant worrying about how you look and what other people think of you isn't vanity as much as it is a way for you to keep yourself powerless and playing the victim. When you evaluate your self-esteem and self-worth based on what others think of you or on group approval, you essentially give up anything unique and individual about yourself. You are, in fact, wasting a lot of time by focusing on approval from the outside world.
This sort of constant worrying and insecurity takes a toll on friendships. We like to have friends who can also give us something in return. Are you able to be there for your friends, or are you too busy hijacking the conversation, asking them if they think you're pretty? If I were your friend, I would want you to enjoy being the person I became friends with in the first place. And I would need you, as my friend, to be present and alert in our relationship. Consider the following:
- How much time is wasted in your life feeling insecure, needy, and focused on appearances?
- How much time is spent on enjoying your life, being with friends, and discovering more parts of you?
- How much of your time with friends is spent on asking them to reinforce your self-esteem, or on them asking you to reinforce theirs?
Perfect Doesn't Exist
People can tell you that you're the prettiest girl in the world, but that won't make you any more secure.
Who sent the memo to girls that it would be our responsibility to grow up hating how we look or worrying so much about what other people think? It shouldn't be this way, and it doesn't have to be! You can choose to no longer be tied to dieting and self-loathing. It will take courage to create another way of looking at yourself and the world, but it's worth it. No one really has a perfect life. Everyone is struggling with something in his or her own way. The answers don't lie in what you are eating or not eating or how much you are working out. The answers are not found in celeb magazines or the greener grass of Hollywood. If you don't feel like you are living the life you want, you have to be willing to do something to change that. The change won't come from an external validation or a magic diet. The world is wide open to what you have to offer. (If your sense of being unfulfilled has led to feelings of depression or hopelessness, I suggest seeking some professional help as well.)
You have to play an active part in this world by putting your time and energy into being the best version of you.
Obsession with diets and exercise programs is common among women. We feel in control when we diet, but that feeling is false and fleeting. Dieting is the biggest culprit in the Language of Fat. It starts us on a journey of shame, blame, guilt, and restriction. I do believe in finding a balance for yourself in life, where you are moving and feeding your body so that you feel strong, vital, and clear. But the ultimate goal should be clarity and peace -- not a certain size or number on the scale.
Can We Change the Subject, Please?
Sometimes I want to scream!! If I hear one more beautiful woman say she is ugly or fat again, I might just hurt someone!! All of my hot, attractive girlfriends think they are ugly and fat. This is insane. It's as if they have been programmed to think like robots. None of them really believe they are pretty. Why is it like this and what can we do about it?
What are women talking about besides diet and weight loss? What else are we encouraged to discuss? Every article I read, every story on the news, every piece of advice passed between friends seems to be aimed at some way to change and shift our bodies, to take away from our mass and strength and to make us small and amenable. Sure, there's nothing wrong with wanting to be the best version of you -- but that is not the language I hear women using. I hear them berate themselves, belittle themselves, sabotage themselves -- and sometimes they don't even know it. They are just repeating what is patterned for them in their lives. And sometimes we do know it but lack the courage to break free from it. Right now the pendulum needs to swing back to talking about life in terms of feelings, emotions, and experiences, not food, fat, or weight. Women should be able to talk and bond over a range of things -- the least of which should be what they weigh.
Within our culture women are encouraged to pick apart their bodies. Entire industries are built around keeping us dissatisfied and separate from our glorious true selves. Speaking the Language of Fat is like an internalized form of slavery for women. The ideal, perfect image we strive to be is our master, and we are oppressed by the debasing thoughts, dialogue, and actions we take as we attempt to fulfill an image that doesn't really exist. It is not an attainable goal to be perfect, to be the best, the most loved, the nicest, the thinnest, the ultimate girl in the world. It's impossible. Those are fictional titles made up to sell us things, to keep us distracted from living full lives in the moment. There is no perfect woman.
How many minutes of your day are wasted in slavery to the Language of Fat?
Your brain is composed entirely of fat.
Walk Your Talk
I am so proud of my girlfriend, Shelly. She has survived a lot in her life, and her most recent triumph is over the bulimia that she started experiencing when she was just fourteen years old. For her it all started with "casual dieting" and then progressed into a full-blown eating disorder. I see her struggle daily with her weight and her food choices, but I also see her consistently decide to fight this disease. I never understood how much this body obsession could sweep into your life and almost steal it from you. She collapsed two years ago after a bad binge and ruptured her esophagus. She lost a lot of blood and we thought she was going to die. Now, two years later, she is a completely different person. And we both try our best to never utter another word in the Language of Fat again. I know her story may sound extreme, but it all started with her first diet and her
first plunge into the irrational fears of being too fat.
There are millions of women -- and men -- in this country whose lives are held hostage by the Language of Fat. The good news is, we are going to tackle this issue head-on, with truth, courage, levity, and a little action!
We cannot do everything at once, but we can do something at once. -- Calvin Coolidge
In order to make a change in your everyday life, you need to be willing to walk your talk, to take action, to at least make the effort to make small steps. That can mean:
- listening more
- reaching out
- challenging your core beliefs
- standing up for yourself or others
- getting educated on a topic
- caring enough to take responsibility for yourself
Begin to build what I call a toolbox for life. In this toolbox you will gather new coping techniques, bits of knowledge, and practical, tangible tools for making changes in your life. Unfortunately, the toolbox doesn't come fully stocked. You have to build and collect these tools one by one. They come from your life.
1. Recognize that the Language of Fat is not really about food, fat, or weight. Recognize that it is really all around you, in subtle and not so subtle ways.
2. Commit to keeping a notebook or journal to explore this issue. I find that writing things down really helps attain clarity, and it will be one of the primary tools to have in
3. Begin listening to the language around you and to the language you speak. Do you find yourself repeating a phrase or word that has a negative connotation? Begin to write
down the most commonly repeated phrases.
4. For three days keep track of the number of times you use the words "fat" and "ugly." Also keep track of whom you say these words to. Do you say them to yourself? A boyfriend?
5. Begin to record some of the emotions that come up when you are speaking the Language of Fat. You don't have to be any more specific than writing down "pissed," "hungry," "hurt," whatever.
6. Decide if you are willing to take a deeper look into your own use of the Language of Fat. If so, get ready to recommit your willingness on a daily basis.
7. Go easy on yourself. It's just the beginning.
In the following chapters we'll start to translate some of the Language of Fat's most common phrases. You'll learn how to identify them, understand and translate them, and deny them their power.
Text copyright © 2006 by Parallax Entertainment