F-A-T. That three letter word that strikes fear into the hearts of most girls and women across the globe. In this day and age we have an obsession with fat, more specifically NOT being fat. This obsession does not start when we are adults, it is not like we wake up one day and say, “Ugh, I am so fat”. This is something that starts early and often, especially for girls. Unlike fat boys who are told to get out on the football field, fat girls are told they are ugly or that they don’t exist at all. So let’s have a conversation about body image, so that we can create critically saavy girls who love who they are and show them how they are meaningful members of society.
You don’t need to tell a girl they are fat. They already are hyperaware of their body. Some girls that feel fat, are not, but trying to live up to the difficult standards of what girls and women should look like today- which is white (but tan), thin, tall, long hair with an ample bosom. This is what we see in magazines today. This is what is walking down the runway or are the representatives within beauty commercials and advertisements. This is who girls are supposed to be and the images of this body type are everywhere and impossible for your tween not to see.
There are likely many places where these standards are set in place, but let’s take a look at the most popular magazine for tween girls which is the American Girl magazine. The 50 pages of the October 2013 issue is filled with photos and cartoon images of mostly white girls or girls who have white features like long flowing hair and small facial features. Throughout the issue, I found only one girl that may be considered overweight. This is not representative of what is happening in America today as the statistics show that 18% of children are overweight or obese according to the Center for Disease Control. And so begins the first step of fat women not being seen in the media.
You can’t be what you can’t see it. There are few female role models in television, films and magazines. It is hard to find someone that inspires you to hone in the qualities of that person or character. Finding a role model is even harder if you are a fat girl. Although some tweens may have not have seen these film series, their presence within the media cannot be denied. These films and the actors within are everywhere, but what you will not find in Harry Potter, Twilight, or The Hunger Games is fat girls. Jennifer Lawrence, who plays Katniss in The Hunger Gameshas openly discussed that she is happy with her body even though she has struggled with being called fat in Hollywood. This is the kind of body positive experience that Tweens need to see, especially because Jennifer Lawrence is NOT fat.
Fat starlets are few and far between especially within the tween crowd. Recently women like Rebel Wilson (Bridesmaids, Pitch Perfect) and Melissa McCarthy (Bridesmaids, The Heat)have been breakout stars. And I agree they are amazing women and they are certainly being seen in many different venues in the media, however, these women’s roles in film are comedic and their job is to make you laugh. If you are a fat girl, your worth lies in being a good friend and being funny, not as the protagonist. Very rarely do we see fat girls or women in the media dating or as a love interest.
What can you do as parents to help girls see their bodies in a new light? Media is a complex and difficult thing to change, but you do have a voice when it comes to change in the media. Be active in letting media corporations know that you want to see more girls of different sizes, shapes and colors in magazines or on the screen.
The biggest thing I think you can do for yourselves and your girls is be happy with your own body. Realize that when you are looking at images in magazines or women on television, that these women have their hair, make-up and clothes professionally done. Also remember that most of what you see (and therefore your girls see) in magazines are photoshopped.
Even though you might not think this is true, your girls are looking to you for cues on how to understand and interact within society. A final way to make a change towards better body image is to decrease the amount of fat talk that you are doing at home. What is fat talk? Fat talk are phrases like, “Do I look fat in this?” and “I would be prettier if I lost 10 pounds”. This kind of talk is woven into women’s daily language and girls catch onto it quickly. You can be a part of changing her way of looking at herself and through the process you may find yourself more satisfied with your body.
Although this Tri-Delta (sorority) campaign is 5-years old, you can find useful information and explanation of what fat talk is and you may be surprised how often you are using this behavior.
Activist Laci Green discusses some of the impacts of fat talk.