If You're Fat, Then I'm a Whale
by ahayw1 on March 13, 2014 - 11:40pm
The purpose of this article was to find out the content, motivation, and intention behind what the researchers are calling “fat talk” among adolescent girls. To be more specific, the authors wanted to find out why young women are using negative language in reference to their bodies when engaging in conversation with other adolescent women. In order to accomplish this, the researchers gathered a sample size of 186 undergraduate women ranging from age 18-23. The women were presented with a piece of dialogue, “ugh, I feel so fat!”, and were asked to complete the dialogue as if a friend were speaking to them. The responses fell into three categories, denial (with the participant explicitly denying that the friend is fat, including sarcastic responses), empathy (with the participant indicating that she also felt fat or that women in general often feel fat), and probing (with the participant questioning the friend as to why she felt fat) (Salk 2011). When the dialogue was complete, the participants were asked to describe the friend as they imagined them. Most indicated that the friend was of average weight or thin, but not actually overweight. This implies that most of the women who engage in fat talk are not overweight. Finally, the participants were asked why they might engage in fat talk. The responses fell into five themes: feelings of state-level fatness (responses indicating the participant felt bloated or lacked general self-confidence or specific body confidence either today or recently), unhealthy behavior (entries indicating the participant felt fat because she had not gone to the gym or had been eating poorly recently), reassurance (replies indicating the participant wants others to reassure her she is not actually fat), body dissatisfaction—not specified (statements of body dissatisfaction that were not qualified with a time frame), and evidence (responses in which the participant discussed specific, concrete evidence that her body size is unacceptable) (Salk 2011). Some conclusions made by the researchers included fat talk being limited to average weight individuals, using fat talk as a means of making a connection with other women, and using fat talk as a way of seeking out a compliment.
The psychological consequences of body dissatisfaction are numerous, including eating disordered behavior, decreased social self-esteem, and increased social anxiety (Cash & Fleming, 2002; Stice, 1994, 2002). Discussing this body dissatisfaction with peers only perpetuates the idea that this feeling is supposed to be there. When a young woman says to another young woman “ugh I am so fat!”, and the response is equally self-deprecating, it only encourages the first young woman to speak negatively about herself in the future. I believe a possible solution would be to use an extinction method to discourage behavior like this in future similar situations. This research is a step in the right direction, as a problem should be understood before it can be properly addressed. However, I believe there should have been more effort put into prevention and outreach rather than simply understanding “why?”. One strength of the research was having a large sample size. This allowed the researchers to get a large array of answers. However, there should have been more variety in the body types of the individuals, or at the very least it should have been controlled for. One of the hypotheses was that overweight women do not engage in fat talk, therefore there should have been a control for overweight women. Another weakness was that the participants were prompted beforehand by being provided with a definition for fat-talk. It seems like this would skew the results in favor of the experimenter’s hypothesis. The bottom line, though, is that fat talk should be discouraged and positive body image should be promoted. That is not to say that we should be encouraging overweight people to be confident in their bodies, though. Obesity is a severe health risk and should not be promoted in any way. Overweight people should be encouraged, instead, to have a positive self-view in order to motivate them to lead a healthier lifestyle. “I love my curves” is becoming a lazy way to say “I don’t need to lose weight”, and that is not a good thing. There is a difference between obesity and curvy. Neither should be discriminated against, and both should be encouraged to have a positive self-image. I believe once there is more encouragement to be positive about one’s body image, there will be less need for fat talk.
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.
Stice E. (2002). Risk and maintenance factors for eating pathology: A meta-analytic review. Psychological Bulletin, 128, 825–848.