Woman1: ‘I’m so fat. Look at my thighs!’ Woman2: ‘I should start a diet. I’m so fat!’ Woman3: ‘OMG. I put on so much weight! I’m so fat’. I could continue endlessly.
According to one study, 93% of women engage in fat talk, speaking negatively about the size and shape of their bodies. While women, especially teenagers, seem to be the most concerned about their bodies, this trend is also increasing among men. An online survey pointed out that, though negative body talk is still less frequent among them, its consequences appear no less troubling than those identified among women. Men worry about different issues, like muscular bulk or extreme thinness, but they do fat talk too.
What are the main problems related to this disruptive behaviour? It both reflects and creates body dissatisfaction and thin-ideal internalization. The study I’ve mentioned before, led in 2011 by the Northwestern university, investigated the frequency, content and consequences of fat talk in college women. 168 female students had to complete an online survey which highlighted that one third reported frequent or very frequent fat talk. Researchers found then evidence that this is associated with low self-esteem and a negative attitude towards one’s body. It was shown not to deal with a logical attitude towards weight but with personal perception, indeed. Participants didn’t give BMI much importance: it sounded like a meaningless number to most of them.
Nevertheless, although the evidence of the negative consequences of fat talk, over half of the participants of the study said they believe it makes them feel better about themselves and their bodies. Another common aspect of this trend that emerged in the study are back-and-forth conversations: among two healthy-weight friends each of two denies the other is fat while claiming to be fat himself, which enhances distress and self-criticism.
Who is most likely to fat talk? A study led by the University of Notre Dame showed the role of social comparison as it underlies and motivates much of fat talk. Considering a sample of 143 college women, the researchers found that having a stronger tendency to socially compare directly predicts fat talk. Secondly, if a woman’s concern about her body image increases, her likelihood of engaging in fat talk increases too and it’s intensified if she tends to socially compare.
It’s not easy to stop fat talking, indeed. Having experienced myself overweight when I was younger, I do often worry and complain about diets and my supposed fatness. And I know I’m not alone. It has become a sort of collective social refrain, especially in our Western world. We may know it’s useless, but we keep on indulging in it. Actually, fat talk is not even a good way to motivate someone to change food and lifestyle when it would be really necessary, since it brings you down instead of encouraging effectively a challenge like maintaining a balanced diet and doing some daily exercise.
How shall we cope with it, then? First, as suggested by the campaign promoted by the University of Chicago (not the only one, luckily), we may need to switch our attention to what we like of ourselves and start thinking and talking positively. Beyond physical flaws.
“Is ‘fat’ really the worst thing a human being can be? Is ‘fat’ worse than ‘vindictive’, ‘jealous’, ‘shallow’, ‘vain’, ‘boring’ or ‘cruel’? Not to me.” ~ J.K. Rowling
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