THE BLOG
01/13/2015 03:34 pm ET Updated Mar 14, 2015

'Do You Think I'm Fat?'

"Do You Think I'm Fat?" I used to ask this question all the time, and each time I did, my inner critic responded with: "Yep, you're definitely fat! Those pants look terrible. Don't even bother going outside." It took me ages to figure out that the question was the problem, not me or my body.

How many times do we ask the question or think it privately when we look in the mirror? For some of us, it's when we're annoyed with ourselves for not doing something we were supposed to do, or when someone has expressed anger or disappointment in us, real or imagined. For others, it's whenever we see ourselves in a mirror, a store window, or in any reflective surface we pass.

So first, let's ask the taboo question: What is so terrible about "fat"?

Why did we ever buy into the whole idea that being fat means we're lazy, unworthy, undisciplined, or unattractive? Fat is just an adjective that describes flesh on a person's body. Truth is: We can be healthy, active, disciplined, worthy, beautiful and fat, all at the same time. Each of us has different amounts of fat on our bodies, and we need it to survive. From an evolutionary perspective it helped us endure famine. In fact, it's what our brains are made of!

Fat isn't a problem until you start to pile on lots and lots of cultural assumptions. Fat becomes a problem when we care too deeply about meeting a standard of beauty that society defines as just right: not too much fat and not too little, and only in the right places. But most bodies don't meet that standard. And it's not your body's fault if you don't measure up.

When you ask, "Do I look fat?" THIS is what you're really saying...

"Do I feel cranky? Do I feel insecure? Do I feel unlikeable? Do I feel guilty?" Because that's what we're really saying. "Fat" is not a feeling. Asking whether you look fat says a lot more about your state of mind than your body. And worse, when we ask the "fat" question around a friend or loved one, what are we really saying? We don't realize what a dilemma we've put them in.

If you've ever been asked the "Do you think I'm fat?" question, you know it's a set up. "Yes" is obviously the wrong answer, but "no" feels inauthentic and buys into the whole silly idea that being fat is somehow the worst thing ever. And so often "Do you think I'm fat?" travels in a pack with other yucky statements like, "I'm hideous. How could anyone be attracted to these bulges and rolls?" When you hear those words from the mouth of someone you love, it's hard not to wonder -- if you love her just the way she is, fat or thin or in between, is she saying that there's something wrong with you for loving her? I doubt anyone's ever been fully reassured after asking "Do you think I'm fat?" no matter how emphatic the "no" might be, because of all the baggage it brings with it.

Here's what that question says about us, when it tumbles out automatically:

1. I don't like the way I look. I feel ugly. I'm afraid I'm not attractive. I don't like my body.
2. I've been eating things I feel bad about. I haven't been exercising as much as I think I should.
3. I'm comparing my body to what I wish it looked like. Are you doing the same?
4. I'm afraid I no longer meet/have never met/will never meet the cultural norm for beauty.
5. I hate my clothes and how they look on my body.
6. I'm not sure I trust how my eyes see my body, but it doesn't look good. Do you see the same ugly I see?
7. I'm tired. I'm sad. Something happened today that made me unhappy and I'm taking it out on my body.
8. I feel unworthy. I feel like I don't belong in the world.
9. I'm worried that if you think I'm fat, you'll stop loving me, so just tell me now.
10. I judge myself harshly. I might be judging you harshly too.

The best answer to the question, "Do you think I'm fat?" is to respond to the person as if they had said #7: "I'm worried and sad." And respond, "What's wrong? What happened? Do you want to talk about it?"

I've learned over time to do this for myself. When I catch myself in the mirror and my inner critic pulls back her bow to shoot a big arrow at me, I say, "Oh honey. You've had a hard day. You're feeling a little sad and worn out. Let's not take it out on your body. It's gonna be okay." Learn to acknowledge your feelings instead of blaming "fat." Take a deep breath. Listen for what you're really saying and feeling underneath the body shame. And give yourself a big dose of compassion as an antidote.

Give it a try and see if it doesn't help disarm your inner critic too. Drop, "Do you think I'm fat?" out of your vocabulary for good and start loving your body.

Kimber Simpkins is the author of Full: How I Learned to Satisfy My Insatiable Hunger and Feed My Soul (Apr 2015 New Harbinger Publications) and 52 Ways to Love Your Body (Jan 2016 New Harbinger Publications). She teaches yoga classes and workshops in Northern California. Find out more about her adventures at kimberyoga.com or follow her on twitter @kimbersyoga.