USC’s Tri Delta sorority kicked off the first day of its Fat Talk Free Week on Monday, an annual awareness campaign aimed at ending negative comments about female body image.
Tri Delta’s national organization began the movement in 2008, but this is the USC chapter’s first year participating, said Darcy Reinwald, a Tri Delta sophomore majoring in business administration who co-organized the event. Although the national organization’s motto is “End fat talk,” USC’s chapter is also employing the phrase “Healthy is beautiful,” said Kirstyn Shaw, a sophomore majoring in business administration who is also in charge of organizing the event.
“What we’re trying to accomplish is a healthy body image that’s about being fit, eating right and being comfortable with yourself,” Shaw said.
“Fat talk” refers to the kind of casual, everyday statements that reinforce thin as ideal and contribute to women’s dissatisfaction with their bodies, she said.
College campuses are potential hotspots for young women thinking about body image, said Sarah Banet-Weiser, associate professor at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism.
“The ideal woman we see [in the media] is around college-aged. By virtue of their age, [college women] are exactly what the media and what cultural discourse are focusing on in terms of ideal femininity,” Banet-Weiser said.
Panhellenic Council President Laura Redfern acknowledged that these issues might be especially pervasive in the Greek community.
“Many girls feel under the spotlight a lot by sorority sisters or boys. If they don’t fit the ideal, they put themselves down,” Redfern said.
Banet-Weiser said raising awareness with events like Fat Talk Free Week is a legitimate way to approach — and ultimately improve — the conversation about body image and social pressures.
“What this sorority has tapped into is a recognition that we need to change the terms and language of discourse,” Banet-Weiser said. “The word ‘fat’ is still used everywhere … as a kind of epithet. … As long as that is happening, we [will] have a categorization system in our culture where thin is the side that is [seen as] most valuable.”
Although USC’s chapter is focusing on targeting Panhellenic members, it is also committed to letting all women on campus participate and recognizes that males can be involved in the conversation as well, Reinwald said.
“Since this was our first year, we wanted to open it up softly and really focus on sorority girls, and then girls across campus,” Reinwald said. “We would definitely be open to having the university a lot more involved in later years.”
Tri Delta will ask girls to take a pledge vowing not to make negative comments regarding body image during the week.
Participating girls will put their handprints on posters that Tri Delta will hang in front of its house on The Row to promote the cause and encourage healthy debate throughout the USC community.
In addition, members of the sorority will be tabling on Trousdale Parkway throughout the week to spread awareness by opening the pledge up to non-Greeks.
“The whole idea is to create an atmosphere across campus that promotes better body image … and ends unrealistic standards for our bodies,” Reinwald said. “If we eliminate it for one week, then hopefully it’ll keep going [from there].”
Redfern said she believes the event will inform individuals about their own criticism of themselves and others as well as inform men about how often women think about body image and weight.
“It’s a great exercise in thinking about stopping yourself before you say those negative things,” she said. “Ideally, people [will] become aware of how often they do talk about it.”
Banet-Weiser encouraged sororities to maintain an active role in promoting the conversation and to continue acknowledging and expanding the role of young men as well.
“This is just one element in a much wider continuum of cultural practices that we will need to address in order to actually change [the problem],” she said. “It is important [not only] that sororities are the ones that start this conversation, but that they are also the ones to continue it.”