by Rebecca Guzelian
Fat talk perpetuates and normalises body shame
How does it make you feel when someone close to you tells you they feel fat?
As a woman in my mid-20s, this is something I experience every day – from my friends, family and others around me. And now, I have to see it on Facebook. Facebook encourages women to tell their friends just how much they hate their bodies, through ‘I feel fat’ statuses and emoticons.
I was 19 when I began using Facebook in 2007. Though I wanted to think the worst of my adolescent years of body insecurity were behind me, I found my insecurities heightened through this popular social media platform. One of the best things Facebook has provided is a sense of connection, a feeling of belonging and a way to experience events in the lives of those close to us. But with this comes the ability to look closely at other people’s lives, and equally have our own lives placed under the spotlight. We can often find ourselves drawing comparisons between our life, and the lives of those appearing in our daily newsfeeds.
But it’s not just about these personal experiences. As a counsellor in the field of eating disorders, I spend a lot of time talking to people about the way they feel about their bodies – how much they hate their bodies, how dissatisfied they are that they can’t look the way they want, how hard they are working and how much time they are spending trying to change their bodies, and how this is ruining their lives. I also spend a lot of time speaking to concerned loved ones, carers, teachers and health professionals who see the pain of disordered eating and body shame up close, yet can struggle to help.
Since 2013, Facebook has enabled users to choose ‘fat’ and ‘ugly’ emoticons as part of the ‘feelings’ feature of status updates. Having these word choices normalises the use of derogatory descriptive terms in the place of real feelings. How can a person feel ‘fat’ or ‘ugly’ when these aren’t actually feelings? ‘Fat’ and ‘ugly’ are adjectives. Of course these adjectives are also judgements, placed on us by society to make women, (and increasingly men), feel negatively about their bodies. When someone says “I feel fat” what they’re really communicating is their feelings of unattractiveness, unhappiness, embarrassment and insecurity about their body. These feelings are most commonly a response to unrealistic, culturally promoted ideals of thinness and beauty.
Normalising this kind of language is especially harmful to young people. Body image is consistently rated as the biggest issue of concern for all young Australians. Research shows this kind of ‘fat talk’ increases body shame and disordered eating and lowers self-esteem –all risk factors for developing a clinical eating disorder. Facebook use is also associated with increased risk of developing an eating disorder, along with other risk factors including weight concern and anxiety.
As someone who has experienced the effects of this kind of language, both personally and professionally with clients, I’m asking you to rally with me in urging Facebook to remove the ‘fat’ and ‘ugly’ emoticons and options from status updates.
Change petitions launched globally today
Rebecca and seven other young women across the globe have launched parallel change.org petitions today urging Facebook to remove ‘I feel fat’ statuses and emoticons.
The women represent Australia, Mexico, USA, UK, Ireland, Germany, Brazil and Argentina The petitions are supported by Endangered Bodies, an international initiative dedicated to challenging body hatred and promoting self-acceptance.
The women say Facebook must act because:
+ Body image is consistently rated as one of the biggest issues of concern for young Australians. It is well documented that fat talk perpetuates and normalises body shame rather than reducing it+ ‘Fat’ is an adjective, a descriptive word about a physical attribute. It is not a feeling. We all have fat, we all need fat. But saying ‘I feel fat’ is shorthand for feeling unattractive, unhappy with oneself, or for dissatisfaction.” (Shape Your Culture)+ Fear of fat and idealisation of thinness is reflected in the form of weight stigma. This can have a serious impact on millions of individuals dealing with negative body image. Body shaming and weight stigma are associated with lower self-esteem and disordered eating, an issue that Facebook needs to take seriously.+Research suggests Facebook use is associated with increased risk of eating disorders and associated risk factors such as weight concern and anxiety. (Social comparisons on social media: the impact of Facebook on young women’s body image concerns and mood’)+ One of Facebooks five core values is to build social value. Facebook should act on this value and have a positive impact on its users by not promoting body shaming.
Please sign and share the petitions