During the "Models and Mortals" episode of Sex and the City, Season One, our favorite foursome debates the physical merits of models, aka "giraffes with big breasts."
CHARLOTTE: "You know, no matter how good I feel about myself, if I see Christy Turlington, I just wanna give up. "
MIRANDA: "I just wanna force feed her lard, but that's the difference between you and me."
CARRIE: "What are you talking about? Look at you two, you're beautiful."
CHARLOTTE: "Ooooh I hate my thighs."
MIRANDA: "Oh, come on."
CHARLOTTE: "I can't even open a magazine without thinking 'Thighs, thighs, thighs.'"
MIRANDA: "Well I'll take your thighs and raise you a chin."
CARRIE: "I'll take you a chin and raise you a ... (points at nose)." (All look at Samantha expectantly)
CARRIE: "Come on."
SAMANTHA: "I happen to love the way I look."
MIRANDA: "You should. You paid enough for it."
Sound familiar? Though my friends and I weren't quite as quippy back in college, we absolutely had our fair share of chitchats that began with the words, "I hate my..." or "My [blank] is so gross." If anyone dared to speak up in defense, a la Samantha, she risked being doused with Long Island and set aflame.
In fact, those SATC comments don't even come close to the body-bashing garbage we used to spew in college. My dorm was a haven of self-loathing, with girls running like hamsters on treadmills and lining up to weigh themselves before trotting off for a dinner of fat-free chocolate fro-yo topped with Golden Grahams and washed down with a Diet Mountain Dew.
Back in 1994 (oy), we didn't have Fat Talk Free Week, but we needed it. Desperately. Starting today, October 18, thousands of students on at least 35 campuses nationwide will have the chance to participate in Fat Talk Free Week, a campaign to eliminate "My stomach is disgusting" and "I'm only eating salad for the next month to tone up for Spring Break" and "She should not be wearing those skinny jeans" type of language.
"Body image right now is down the flusher for so many young people," Lynn Grefe, president of the National Eating Disorders Association, told TIME magazine. With the motto, "Friends don't let friends 'fat talk'," students on participating campuses will learn how the best way to respond when a sorority sister asks if her bra fat is sticking out, and how to flip the fat talk script, turning "I need to go to the gym," to "I want to go to the gym."
Fat Talk Free Week was born at San Antonio's Trinity University in 2008; since then, the Reflections: Body Image Program has been implemented at scores of campuses. Created by Carolyn Becker, an associate professor of psychology at Trinity, Reflections is designed help sorority sisters cultivate and maintain a positive body image. The two-day program is peer-led and highly interactive; Becker described a sample exercise that involves standing in front of a mirror in very little clothing and writing down only positive things about yourself. "It's really hard for women to do," Becker notes. "Women are used to standing in front of the mirror and trashing themselves."
Reflections' philosophy is based on research by Oregon Research Institute clinical psychologist Eric Stice, who found that having young women speak out against the thin ideal is an effective way to prevent eating disorders. Research by Stice, published in the 2008 Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, demonstrated a 60 percent reduction in ED risk among female high school and college students who spent just three hours critiquing the thin ideal. That reduced risk held up over a three-year follow-up.
Delta Delta Delta sorority has also been integral in promoting Fat Talk Free Week (FTFW), offers the Reflections curriculum to its 138 chapters, plus any sorority or campus women's group that expresses interest. They have joined forces with Dove Model for Real Beauty (and Tri-Delt member) Stacy Nadeau, who was one of the six women who made headlines in 2005 when they appeared on a Time Square billboard in nothing but white undies. Nadeau is this year's FTFW spokesperson.
The results have been creative and impressive. One Rutgers University sorority trashed its scales as a result of FTFW. A sassy group of San Antonio women staged a FTFW flash mob. Tri Delt alumnae recently camped out outside the Today Show to spread the Fat Talk Free message.
You needn't be a college student to celebrate FTFW. Try this normally next-to-impossible feat: The next time someone gives you a compliment, resist the urge to immediately object ("Oh my God, are you kidding me? I haven't worked out in two weeks and have been eating like a cow!") Take a deep breath and simply reply, "Thank you." It's harder than you might think and that needs to change.