“Urgh, take these chips away from me, I’m not going to be able to do up my jeans tomorrow.”
“That’s crazy, you’re so skinny! If you’re fat, then I’m humongous.”
“No way, look at these thighs! I swear I’ve put on three kilos this weekend.”
Does this conversation sound familiar to you? If so, you may be engaging in a social phenomenon known as Fat Talk.
What is Fat Talk?
The term refers to conversations about one’s own shape and weight, comments about others’ appearances and discussions of eating and exercise habits. It also includes negative comments about weight or shape, as well as positive comments that perpetuate society’s ideal ‘thin’ body shape, for example statements such as “You look fantastic, have you lost weight?”
Fat Talk is particularly common amongst young females, and is thought to reflect the general dissatisfaction that the increasing number of women in Western societies have with their bodies. For many, dialogue of this nature actually serves a purpose. By sharing their physical insecurities in a social environment, females may be using Fat Talk as a bonding ritual. They feel a sense of unity and closeness through expressing negative views of their appearance in a socially acceptable way.
Despite this, research suggests that engaging in Fat Talk actually promotes body dissatisfaction, enhances depressive symptoms and in some cases, may increase the use of unhealthy weight control practices. Hearing other women talk about themselves disparagingly can leading to self comparisons, thereby increasing body dissatisfaction. As well as this, conversations of this nature emphasise the value that is placed upon women’s appearances, promoting the view that in order to be acceptable, one must conform to society’s ‘thin’ ideal. Of particular concern, mothers who engage in Fat Talk in front of their children may inadvertently be passing on their own insecurities to their daughters, who continue the cycle of promoting negative body image within their friendship group. Negative body image is a risk factor for eating disorders such as Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa and Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified.
What you can do to stop Fat Talk
- Be aware of the language you use to describe your own body and the language you use to describe other peoples bodies. Remember that highlighting your own insecurities may create insecurities in other people.
- When you notice your friends discussing their own and other people’s appearance, keep quiet or change the topic.
- Never talk fat in front of your children.
- Avoid body specific comments. If you want to give your friend a compliment, tell her she looks great, happy or glowing. Telling your friend that she looks wonderful because she has lost weight inadvertently sends the message that in order to be accepted, she must conform to society’s thin ideal.
If you feel like you are struggling with negative body image or disordered eating you may wish to seek professional help. Psychologists Perth can assist you by using Cognitive Behavioural strategies to address negative core beliefs and unhealthy weight control practices. To find a psychologist, or further information call 1300 184 746.Article Title: Join the Fight Against Fat Talk Article By: Vision Counselling and Psychology, Perth Western Australia Web Address: www.visioncounselling.com.au Published: 06/05/2014 Arroya, A. & Harwood, J. (2012). Exploring the causes and consequences of engaging in Fat Talk. Journal of Applied Communication Research 40(2). 167-187. Doi: 0.1080/00909882.2012.654500 Cattarin, J.A., Thompson, J.K. (1994). A three year longitudinal study of body image, eating disturbance and general psychological functioning in adolescent females. Eating Disorders: Journal of Treatment and Prevention 2(2). 114-125. Doi: 0.1080/10640269408249107 Martz, D. M., Petroff, A. B., Curtin, L.A., Bazzini, D. G.(2009). Gender Differences in Fat Talk mong American Adults: esults from the Psychology of Size Survey. Sex Roles :A Journal of Research 61(1): 34-41.DOI:10.1007/s11199-009-9587-7 Nichter, M. (2000). Fat Talk: What Girls and their Parents say about Dieting. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press. Stice, E., Maxfield, J., Wells, T. (2003). Adverse effects of social pressure to be thin on young women: n experimental investigation of the effects of “fat talk”. International Journal of Eating Disorders 34(1). 108-117. Doi: 10.1002/eat.10171