Goodbye to Fat Talk



How many times have you heard, “I’m fat,” from one of your friends? Or how about, “Why can’t I have her hair?” or, the ever so common, “My thighs are HUGE!”

Maybe you’ve also heard yourself say those phrases once in a while too.

According to Nadia Goodman of the Huffington Post, anthropologist Mimi Nichter coined the term “fat talk” when she was studying teenage girls in the early 90s. She said that fat talk is “the tendency to make negative comments about our bodies,” which ultimately leads to an obsession that is detrimental to one’s body and mental health.

This talk can consist of habits, fears, and comparisons all dealing with weight-related concerns – anything ranging from wishing you had someone else’s body to scrutinizing every part of your own. After studying the negative effects of fat talk, Nichter recalled starting to hear it everywhere she went. The most common conversations consisted of one girl saying, “I’m so fat,” and her friend replying, “No you’re not!”

Sounds familiar, huh?

Nichter observed how fat talk became a way girls bonded with one another –the same way girls bond by venting about unfair teachers and boyfriend problems. Each girl served as the other’s moral support.

As you could imagine, fat talk is also very prominent among athletes. The pressure to have perfect bodies in order to succeed athletically takes a negative toll on the body. Fat talk has also been known to stimulate eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia.

Kerri Wonsock, 15, from Jacksonville, FL, is a part of her high school cross country and track teams and deals with fat talk on a daily basis. “My friends and I definitely talk about body image more than once a day,” says Wonsock. She also offers great advice to those who don’t know how to respond to their friends’ fat talk: “I just ignore it.”

In one study conducted by Engeln-Maddox, who has a PhD in Social Psychology, she showed undergraduate men and women a scene from the “Modelizing” episode of Sex in the City. In the episode, Miranda wished for another chin, Charlotte criticized her thighs, and Carrie hated her nose. Samantha, on the other hand, said she liked everything about herself the way she was. At the end of the scene, the people of the survey were asked their favorite and least favorite character from the scene. The majority of the men chose Samantha as their favorite, claiming to like her confidence; however, a majority of the women chose Samantha as their least favorite, claiming that she was acting arrogant and didn’t support her friends.

Another study, conducted at the University of Arizona, analyzed the data of 33 undergraduate women and 24 undergraduate men. They took a series of questionnaires over a three week period, which assessed how much they fat talked and how much fat talk they were exposed to. The conclusion of the study showed that those who engaged and were exposed to more fat talk produced a lower self-esteem and higher levels of depression at the end of the three weeks.

Body image has become an obsession of today’s generation – think about all the time we spend doing makeup, fixing our hair, and planning our calorie-burning workouts. Think about all of the money we spend on the hottest clothes and coolest accessories. Being aware of how you present yourself is important, but these studies show us that obsession is dangerous.

Nichter says that venting to your friends is perfectly fine –it’s in our human nature. Anything weight-related, however, only brings us down mentally. It is important to be aware of fat talk and ignore it as much as possible. In the August 2012 issue of Seventeen Magazine, editor Ann Shoket announced the creation of the Body Peace Treaty. Girls sign this treaty, which consists of vows such as, “Never blame my body for the bad day I’m having,” and “Accept that beauty isn’t just about my looks. It’s my awesome personality and my energy that creates a whole, unique package.”

“We want every girl to stop obsessing about what her body looks like and start appreciating it for what it can do!” writes Shoket.

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