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Fighting Against 'Fat Talk': Building Awareness Against the Toxic Effects of Body Shaming


"Fat talk" is something that many women are familiar with, but most do not realize the true negative effects engaging in this kind of negative dialogue can have.

Researchers have found that "fat talk" is so embedded among women that it often reflects not only what a woman actually feels about her body, but also how she thinks she is expected to feel about it.

Fighting 'Fat Talk'

A recent campaign created by Special K placed women in a fake boutique where signs and clothing labels carried "fat talk” messages rather than prices. The campaign showed that most women do not really have a good grasp on how detrimental their "fat talk" really is. Many of the women who were interviewed stated that they were shocked and disgusted by the messages they saw, but realized that this “fat talk” had become part of their everyday life. In a recent study, 93 percent of college women admitted to engaging in negative “fat talk.” This research also showed that while most women neither enjoy nor admire fat talk, they find that it motivates them.

Perhaps building an awareness of the negative effects of “fat talk” is a step in the right direction, but the question then becomes how women will respond to receiving positive messages. Dr. Renee Engeln, director of the Body and Media Lab at Northwestern University, points out that assessing how women really view strong and empowered women is very difficult and complicated. Engeln claims that people "have complicated reactions to confident women in general, and particularly to women who are confident about their bodies. Women sometimes see them as arrogant.”

Toxic 'Fat Talk' Is Contagious

Dr. Alexandra F. Corning, a research associate professor in psychology at the University of Notre Dame, agrees with Engeln on the difficulty of trying to eradicate "fat talk." Corning claims that the difficulty also lies in the fact that “fat talk” feels airless and scripted, and it seems to offer some sort of comfort when it is being done among friends. She explains that when it comes to women comparing each other, if a friend speaks negatively about herself to cheer up a friend who feels bad about her own body, it seems as though the negative message has somehow done something positive.

Corning suggests that to break the cycle, a person should avoid "fat talk” altogether. This can be particularly difficult for younger women. Adolescents may find it hard to say something, or to question why their friends are putting each other down, but Corning states that trying to stir the conversation away from the subject is the best thing to do. "Fat talk" has also started affecting men as well, although it is still much less frequent in men than in women. Additionally, men struggle with different issues, like muscular bulk or being too thin, something which women rarely fret about.

Despite the fact that "fat talk” may seem like harmless commentary, it can lead to the development of eating disorders. Self-flagellation, negative feelings about one's body, and a persistent inner critic are all characteristics found in those struggling with eating disorders. Although Special K's message may only be geared towards selling more cereal, it must be acknowledged that there is at least an effort being made to make women more self-aware of how critical they can be about their bodies on an everyday basis.

Sources: The New York Times,