Why we need to stop the 'fat chat'

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Photo: Getty Images

Friend 1: ‘I’m so fat and ugly’.

 

Friend 2: ’No you’re not! I’m the one who needs to lose some pounds’.

 

Friend 1: ‘Yeah right. If I looked like you, I wouldn’t have anything to worry about. I need to lose at least six kilograms.’

 

Repeat back and forth ad infinitum.

By my estimation, I’ve had and heard this conversation 68 bazillion times in my life. Sometimes I play the role of the fat and ugly one forcing my friend to be kindly and self-abasing. Other times I’m the one trying to talk some sense into my friend /colleague/neighbour/hairdresser/mother/stranger on the bus.

Having been schooled from girlhood in self-criticism, particularly when it comes to our bodies, Fat Chat becomes our default language in adulthood. It’s an icebreaker, a means of ingratiating ourselves with a group of strangers or a way to bond with our gal pals.

While we may talk about how much we hate our body parts to gain social acceptance, research suggests that Fat Chat is counterproductive. It turns out that women who engage in Fat Chat are liked less by their peers.

In a recent study conducted by Alexandra Corning, research associate professor of psychology and director of Notre Dame's Body Image and Eating Disorder Lab, participants were asked to rate the likability of women who were talking both positively and negatively about their bodies.

Women who engaged in Fat Chat were rated significantly less likeable, regardless of their body weight. Overweight women who made positive statements about their bodies were rated as the most likeable.

‘Though it has become a regular part of everyday conversation, “fat talk” is far from innocuous,’ said Corning. ‘It is strongly associated with, and can even cause, body dissatisfaction, which is a known risk factor for the development of eating disorders.’

One conclusion of the study – that we shouldn’t Fat Chat because people wont like us – isn’t my idea of helpful. Women already spend too much time seeking other people’s approval and trying to please them. But it is useful to question the belief that we can only maintain our friendships by discussing the circumference of our thighs.

In a world that’s hostile to women’s bodies, it’s understandable that we fish for compliments and reassurance from our friends. But aside from the hundreds of hours of our lives we waste talking about how ugly we are, Fat Chat makes us even more insecure by reinforcing the idea that our beauty is relative to the ugliness of those around us.

No matter how much we run ourselves down in order to boost up a friend, as soon as somebody deemed more beautiful than her walks into the room she will consider herself to be ugly again.

Worse, in certain contexts, Fat Chat can be contagious. A study published in 2012 in the journal Sex Roles found that women who hear Fat Chat can come away from the exchange with lower body satisfaction.

The upside of the study, however, is that women can protect themselves from the negative effects of Fat Chat, not just by contradicting someone who engages in Fat Chat, but by calling bullsh*t on the whole conversation.

By refusing to give in to Fat Chat, we can challenge our friends to think about the tyranny of using beauty as a measure of self-worth. More importantly, we can also shut down the spiral of competitive self-loathing.

Contrary to popular belief, racing our friends to the bottom to claim the crown of Ms Fat and Ugly 2013 isn’t a lasting foundation for friendship, sisterhood, or good mental health. Calling out the obsession with our bodies isn’t just good for our friends. It’s good for us too.

Bottom line: friends don’t let friends Fat Chat.

 

Kasey Edwards is the best-selling author of 4 books 30-Something and Over It, 30-Something and The Clock is Ticking, OMG! That's Not My Husband, and OMG! That's Not My Child. www.kaseyedwards.com

 

17 comments

  • y'know if you just spent the time looking in the mirror saying "I really like my eyes", "I have nice hair" etc and so forth and look for the things in yourself that you DO like, eventually the things that you like less will take less precedence and you'll come to appreciate your own beauty.

    we ALL have things about our bodies we don't like.

    however the most attractive thing in a person is the insubstantial, magnetic energy that comes from a person who is self confident and loves who they are as they are.

    these people are not necessarily the MOST attractive of us, yet they exude a beautiful/sexy/crazy energy that is irresistible.

    I suggest trying every morning for a fortnight to say something positive to yourself while you're brushing your teeth and see what a difference it makes.

    Commenter
    Adrian
    Location
    Sydney
    Date and time
    May 21, 2013, 9:49AM
    • competitive self-loathing - wow - that's got to be a female thing.

      reminds me of something that may be related - why do some people always criticize their partners - it seems research has found people with serious relationship problems can feel better by blaming the other person for problems which they are choosing not to fix - so - feel better by attacking someone else - I guess that's an easier one.

      but feel better by attacking yourself - that's just weird - I guess being physically weaker females have evolved to use words to compete - and in the game to be seen to be 'nice' - being seen to put yourself down more that someone else is some sort of win ?

      as the article suggests - I don't think so - sounds like a losing game - I'll stick with positivity - associated with better health outcomes and happiness in general - I may die anytime - but today the sun is shining - and it's a beautiful day - enjoy !

      Commenter
      frank
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      May 21, 2013, 9:58AM
  • I always get exasperated when my female family and friends try to engage in fat chat with me. I can tell they're desperate for reassurance and it bores me to tears. Then they think I'm weird for not jumping in and saying "yeah I totally hate my body too". I'm happy to talk about healthy ways of losing weight (if it is necessary) or to applaud a friend's healthy body image. But I will not engage in these ridiculous conversations over who is more fat, come on girls there are so many more interesting things to talk about!

    Commenter
    Mellah
    Date and time
    May 21, 2013, 10:24AM
    • +1

      Commenter
      BB
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      May 21, 2013, 12:13PM
    • Great comment, could not agree more!

      Commenter
      BJ
      Date and time
      May 21, 2013, 2:55PM
  • This is why the first time my now wife asked me "Am I fat?" my answer was "yes you are, now never ask me that question again".

    I mean, do women not understand that constantly questioning your own value is the singular best way to undermine destroy whatever value you do have?

    Commenter
    Christian
    Date and time
    May 21, 2013, 11:05AM
    • If your friend Fat-chats then it's for attention or because they're insecure. Direct them to take a more healthy approach on life if they're that unhappy.

      Commenter
      Mim
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      May 21, 2013, 11:07AM
      • I have the odd day where I will look in the mirror and say "what the hell have I become?!" as I examine the wrinkles and fat rolls, but there's no way in hell I'd bore my friends with any of my fleeting insecurities.

        The odd bit of self-reflection to keep your health in check is fine, but do we really need to share it with the world?

        Commenter
        catzilla
        Date and time
        May 21, 2013, 11:30AM
        • The most annoying thing about fat chat to me is that it is the wrong people doing it. It's almost always someone who is actually pretty healthy and in good shape, generally fishing for a compliment. But the ones who actually are obviously unhealthy and overweight don't talk about it nearly as much, and when they do all their friends tell them they look beautiful and they don't need to lose any weight at all. I'm sick of seeing facebook photos of clearly overweight people and comments from other friends telling them how fantastic they look. Sorry, you don't look fantastic, you look fat and unhealthy.

          Commenter
          Hurrow
          Date and time
          May 21, 2013, 12:37PM
          • I agree it is often already-slim people who seem to fat chat the most, which just makes them look completely silly and vain.

            I think friends walk a fine line in giving compliments to clearly overweight and unhealthy looking people. Sometimes they might really need the compliments because they feel overly-horrible about themselves and they already know they need to become more healthy. But yes sometimes it might make them think that being unhealthy is ok and looks good.

            Commenter
            Mellah
            Date and time
            May 21, 2013, 2:06PM

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