Fat talk exacerbates body image disturbance in young women

“If you’re fat, then i’m humongous!”: Frequency, content, and impact of fat talk among college women”

From Psychology of Women Quarterly 

College women who engage in “fat talk” (women speaking negatively about the size and shape of their bodies) face greater dissatisfaction with their bodies and are more likely to have internalized an ultra-thin body ideal than those who engage in fat talk less frequently.

 This study found that while frequency of fat talk was associated with increased dissatisfaction with women’s own bodies, over half of the participants reported that they believe fat talk actually makes them feel better about their bodies. It’s concerning that women might think fat talk is a helpful coping mechanism, when it’s actually exacerbating body image disturbance. “Fat talk” is overwhelmingly common in the college-age women studied, with more than 90 percent reporting they engaged in “fat talk.” An additional interesting finding was that the frequency of “fat talk” was not related to a respondent’s BMI. The authors concludes “These results serve as a reminder that for most women, fat talk is not about being fat, but rather about feeling fat.”

Abstract

Fat talk (women speaking negatively about the size and shape of their bodies) is a phenomenon that both reflects and creates body dissatisfaction. Our study investigated the content, frequency, and impact of fat talk among college women. Participants (168 female students at a Midwestern U.S. university) completed online surveys containing fat talk-specific questions and measures of body dissatisfaction and thin-ideal internalization. Most participants reported engaging in fat talk with one third reporting frequent or very frequent fat talk. Evidence indicated a strong third-person effect wherein participants thought they engaged in fat talk less than other college women. Self-reported frequency of fat talk was associated with greater body dissatisfaction and internalization of the thin-ideal but not body mass index (BMI). Despite the association between fat talk and body dissatisfaction, over half of the participants reported that they believe fat talk makes them feel better about their bodies. The most common response to fat talk was denial that the friend was fat, most typically leading to a back-and-forth conversation where each of two healthy weight peers denies the other is fat while claiming to be fat themselves. Results are discussed in terms of the ways in which fat talk may act as an injunctive norm, reinforcing women’s body-related distress.

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Article details
Salk, R., & Engeln-Maddox, R. (2011). “If You’re Fat, Then I’m Humongous!”: Frequency, Content, and Impact of Fat Talk Among College Women Psychology of Women Quarterly, 35 (1), 18-28 DOI: 10.1177/0361684310384107

     
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