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.

Comments

“Fat talk” really is a growing problem among adolescent girls. I don’t even know how many times I’ve overheard the self-deprecating conversations consisting of body hate. “I’m so fat” has become part of many girls’ views of themselves, frequently among girls who are in fact a healthy weight. A large part of this, I think, comes from the media. Now I’m not saying that this is all the media’s fault, but it’s no secret that most advertising campaigns feature unrealistically skinny, touched up models. When girls see these ads, it is hard for them to see their own bodies without thinking about how the models look in comparison, which leads to “fat talk.” I agree that it is important to get to the bottom of things and ask “why,” but I also think looking at the media is important to some of the “why.” There has been a small step toward changing the negative body image in advertising, however, through Aerie’s campaign “The Real You is Beautiful” featuring un-retouched models. Fat talk is still a problem though, and it’s going to take more than an underwear campaign to change it.

The title of this post immediately drew my interest, as phrases such as this are not uncommon to hear as a woman in our culture today. Growing up in a home with three sisters has lead me to think of “fat talk” as a usual part of a conversation with another woman. I’ve heard my mother, older sisters, friends, acquaintances and pretty much any other female I can think of talk about all their imperfections and wishes to be thinner, even when these women are clearly not overweight, similar to the situations you’ve stated. Fat talk has become much too common as a conversation starter, filler, or central topic. Women criticizing their bodies has become such a norm within our society and a topic almost every female can relate to. Can’t think of something to bring up in a conversation with women? State something your unsatisfied with about your body and almost every woman will chime in with their own two cents about what’s wrong with theirs as well. It’s even considered strange for a woman to openly talk about how she admires or is satisfied with her figure has having an issue with oneself and engaging in this degrading fat talk has become so ordinary. I remember when I was a younger, a very thin mother of my friend was speaking to my mom and grabbed her own side and stated how she just wishes she could lose five pounds or so and then she’d be satisfied with herself. I didn’t see anything wrong with her body in the slightest, but again just considered it as pretty normal thing to hear because it had been so rare to hear of a woman who is truly pleased with her figure. It’s sad, really, to see how I and many other females have internalized these norms of dissatisfaction with our own healthy weights and engage in fat talk on a daily basis. I really liked what you had to say about encouraging prevention and outreach to hopefully one day shift the norm of a society to a place where women love our healthy bodies.

What a great title that clearly links with the subject and gets your attention. I thought that your article talked about a really interesting subject that touches a lot of women in society without us even noticing. This research demonstrates how many women participate in fat talk even if they are not overweight, which is a quite surprising and interesting discovery. The explanation being the fat talk is really intriguing, but I believe it seems true; these categories are relatable. This article makes us question our society; how much importance we give to our body image and how are we suppose to deal with this pressure. I thought that you explained well and clearly your point of view on the subject and I totally agree with you that we should promote positive body image in our society! An article from the Huffington Post called “What ‘Fat Talk’ Does for Your Body Image” discusses other reason behind fat talk and the negative effect it can have on your perception of your body. Here is the link: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/08/19/fat-talk_n_927385.html.

For most girls, including myself, the article title draws attention to us. I personally have heard my girlfriends say that phrase multiple times. When I was first reading this article, I was thinking that it was just talking about girls that were uncomfortable with their bodies because they weren't model thin. This post opened my eyes. It makes sense to me now that girls may want their friend to give their approval to them that they don't need to lose weight. When heavier girls say "I'm fat" they may not just be wanting a compliment, but reassurance that they aren't too fat and have to exercise and diet. I never thought of it that way. I always thought that the girls were just self-conscious because they aren't a size 00 and their ribs aren't showing. Today's society of a perfect women is hard on girls. They want guys to like them, and feel like they need to be thin to be beautiful. Bodies come in all different shapes and sizes. Some people will never be able to have a Victoria's Secret Angel's body. They know this and they state that they are fat to their friends for a variety of reasons. It is important to eat healthy and exercise no matter what your friends say. Being a girl, I know I value my best friends’ opinion a lot. I always believe them and what they tell me. I’ve said “I’m fat” before to them. I know I’m not but if I’m bloated after dinner it makes me feel better about myself. I think its society that makes us so self-conscious about our bodies all the time.

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