“Fat talk” has become a common occurrence in our every day culture and conversation, occurring at our jobs, schools, homes, and recreational events. Termed “fat talk” by Nichter and Vuckovi (1994), fat talk is described as conversations with others regarding positive or negative comments about our/others appearance, dieting techniques, and the desire or need to lose weight (Ousley, Cordero, and White, 2008). An example of fat talk would be one friend stating, “I look huge in these pants”, and a friend responding, “ You don’t look fat! But I’ve definitely gained a lot of weight recently!” In this instance, fat talk is used to normalize a friend’s concerns and provide an opportunity to support a friend. Fat talk is often used to form friendships, validate others, and provide empathy in relationships. However, is fat talk as harmless as we may think?
Through research, it’s evident that fat talk serves to increase body dissatisfaction and promote eating disorder pathology. Similarly, we know through research that exposure to the thin-ideal results in poor body image, and a multitude of emotions such as depression or anxiety (Stice, Maxfield, and Wells, 2002). Therefore, is engaging in fat talk with our friends really supporting or helping our friends?
Cognitive-behavioral therapy works to address fat-talk through multiple facets. For example, a client would begin to gain insight into how exposure to fat talk has resulted in problematic thinking patterns about one’s own weight, body shape, and self-worth. Additionally, therapy would address the reinforcing principles behind fat talk, such as normalization and feeling cared for. Also, treatment would focus on building up other areas of self-esteem so that one’s identity is not based solely on body shape/weight. Additionally, therapy would help problem- solve other ways in which a person can bond and share with friends in a positive way that enhances mental health.
While fat talk may seem like an innocuous way to bond with others, I challenge us all to become more aware of the prevalence of fat talk and identify alternative healthy ways to validate and support our friends.
Ousley, L., Cordero, E.D. & White, S. (2008). Fat talk among college students: How undergraduates communicate regarding food and body weight, shape and appearance. Eating Disorders, 16, 73-84.
Stice, E., Maxfield,, J., & Wells, T. (2002). Adverse effects of social pressure to be thin on young women: An experimental investigation of the effects of “fat talk”. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 32, 108-117.