Today’s blog is written by Lauren Francis, Master’s Level Psychology Intern at Chrysalis Center. Lauren completed her course work for her Master’s Degree at Appalachian State University in April and is fulfilling her field placement requirements at our office as a Recovery Advocate for IOP and as an individual therapist offering pro-bono counseling.
Remember this scene from the movie Mean Girls? So many women can relate to this scene because, unfortunately, it is what many women do. We often put ourselves down for the way our bodies look or the food we eat. It has become such a natural part of conversation that most people don’t even realize they are doing it. I mean, what do we expect? The media tells us we must meet standards that are not achievable and that we should not stop pushing ourselves until we look like the airbrushed, PhotoShopped models in our favorite magazines. But those goals are unrealistic and dangerous. I am here to tell you to remember that no one looks like those pictures in the magazines, not even the models themselves.
It makes sense that women would come up with this sort of defense mechanism to combat the guilt and shame that society says you should feel for not having the “perfect body.” In fact, there is even a name for this phenomenon – fat talk. Mimi Nichter coined the term fat talk (3) and defines it as conversations one has with family or peers involving statements that shame her own body shape or weight. Research shows that fat talk endorses the thin ideal and is a prevalent form of communication within female friend groups (1,2,4,5). Some of the most commonly reported topics involved in fat talk consist of conversations regarding dieting and working out (1). Other common statements that can be considered fat talk are declarations such as “I’m so fat” or “my thighs look huge in these shorts” (3).
Significant positive correlations have found between higher levels of fat talk and disordered eating in friend groups. Additionally, those who reported more exposure to fat talk also reported more participation in fat talk later on (2). This suggests that once individuals are exposed to fat talk, they are more likely to participate in fat talk themselves, and therefore develop a higher risk for engagement in disordered eating behaviors. The occurrence of fat talk — in most forms — seems to promote rumination surrounding negative feelings one may have about his or her body. This ruminative thought process has the potential to turn into co-rumination, or the tendency to extensively discuss problems, concerns, or negative feelings with peers, which has been found to be significantly associated with increases in disordered eating behaviors (5). Conversely, it has been shown that individuals who have diagnosed eating disorders participate in fat talk significantly more frequently than those who are not diagnosed with an eating disorder (4) speaking to the bidirectional nature of this issue.
While research related to fat talk is still in the beginning stages, based on what we know so far, it seems that this seemingly harmless form of communication is much more dangerous than we once thought. So, what can we do to stop it? Well, the first step is being informed. Having a term for what you are hearing and then, understanding its impact, are essential in making a difference. Secondly, try acting as an advocate to end fat talk. When you hear a friend or family member saying negative things about their bodies, have them read this blog or explain what you know about fat talk to them. Finally, send positive messages to those around you. Make statements about peoples’ intelligence or strengths rather than their physical appearance. It is time to start empowering each other to realize that what truly matters is much more than what we see in the mirror.
1)Bardone-Cone, A. M., Balk, M., Lin, S. L., Fitzsimmons-Craft, E. E., & Goodman, E. L. (2016). Female friendships and relations with disordered eating. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 35, 781-805. doi:10.1521/jscp.2016.35.9.781
2)Cruwys, T., Leverington, C. T., & Sheldon, A. M. (2016). An experimental investigation of the consequences and social functions of fat talk in friendship groups. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 49, 84-91. doi:10.1002/eat.22446
3)Nichter, M. (2000). Fat talk: What girls and their parents say about dieting. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
4)Ousley, L., Cordero, E. D., & White, S. (2008). Fat talk among college students: How undergraduates communicate regarding food and body weight, shape & appearance. Eating Disorders, 16, 73-84. doi:10.1080/10640260701773546
5)Rudiger, J. A. & Winstead, B. A. (2013). Body talk and body-related co-rumination: Associations with body image, eating attitudes, and psychological adjustment. Body Image, 10, 462-471. doi:10.1016/j.bodyim.2013.07.010