Fighting Social Norms on Fat Talk
Four out of five young women experience ‘fat talk’ about their own appearance or someone else’s during an average week, which has a negative impact on body image.
Dr Jacqueline Mills, a psychology lecturer at the Cairnmillar Institute, says her research has identified a link between engaging in fat talk and decreased body satisfaction. Young women may make seemingly harmless comments among friends like ‘My stomach is too big’ or ‘I hate my thighs’ to alleviate distress but Dr Mills says fat talk draws attention to the parts of the body women dislike, which in turn leads to decreased body satisfaction.
Dr Mills’ research examined the fat talk experiences of 135 women aged 18-40 across a seven-day period using a smart phone app that delivered unobtrusive mini-surveys each day. The results revealed 82 per cent of participants experienced some form of fat talk across the seven-day period and, worryingly, 27 per cent of all social interactions among participants involved some form of fat talk.
“Seventy-one per cent of participants reported making negative comments about their own body or appearance, 70 per cent of participants made negative comments about the body or appearance of another person and 49 per cent of participants reported overhearing someone else engage in fat talk. It’s really, really common,” says Dr Mills.
“The findings indicate that fat talk has a negative impact on body satisfaction levels. This seems to be partially explained by appearance-based comparisons – looking at someone else, such as a friend or an image of a celebrity on social media, and comparing an aspect of your appearance with the other person’s appearance – which reinforced women’s negative feelings about aspects of their bodies,” says Dr Mills.
“Other research shows that women believe engaging in fat talk is expected of them and that it’s a social norm to talk in a negative way about your body. Thankfully, friends also have the ability to reverse the effects of fat talk by challenging it or refusing to engage in it.”
Body dissatisfaction is associated with an increased risk of depression and anxiety as well as unhealthy practices relating to food and exercise. Dr Mills says the research highlights the importance of women’s social networks in helping or hindering the cultivation of positive body image.
Dr Jacqueline Mills is speaking about fat talk at the 2017 APS College of Health Psychology and the Australasian Society of Health and Behavioural Medicine Conference, held on the Gold Coast, 13-15 July.
13/07/2017 / Kit Densley