Discover more from Eating Disorder Diaries
What Is Fat Talk? And Why Is It So Harmful?
Fat talk is a term first coined by Nichter & Vuckovic (1994). It is similar to diet talk, which is having conversations about dieting or excessive exercising to reach a specific body shape. Fat talk specifically involves talking about one's body in a belittling way while also implicitly promoting thinness for oneself and the people around. Complaining that your pants make you look fat or that your thighs are big are two clear examples of fat talk. More subtle fat talk can be saying ''I gained so much weight, I look disgusting'' or answering a friend with this complaint with ''If you are fat, what does that make me?''.
Fat talk is very common. Research by Salk and Engeln-Maddox (2011) has shown that 93% of young women engage in fat talk regularly. You may think that is an inflated number but think of the last time you took part in fat talk. You will realize that it comes up much more frequently in conversations than you expect or notice. Sadly, it has been exceedingly normalized that we do not even notice when we are a part of it.
If fat talk has become so common that we are no longer aware of taking part in it, it has to have a function in our lives. Barwick and colleagues (2012) have found that fat talk is often used as a form of communication and bonding. Consider the following example: imagine you are at a party full of people who you barely know. You are conversing with them and naturally, you do not know what you have in common. What can you say? Maybe something relatable, such as…
''I chose an outfit that makes me look skinny, who doesn't do that, am I right?''
… or maybe a compliment:
''Those leggings make your legs look very thin. Love it!''
''If fat talk is only used as a socializing tool'' you may ask yourself, ''why is it such a big problem?''
Cruwys and colleagues (2015a) have shown that fat talk is indeed problematic because we are easily influenced by people who we consider to be close to us. More specifically, their eating patterns and their attitude toward their own body influence us. The same study also found that when one of our friends engages in fat talk, we are more likely to go on a diet in the upcoming three months. It also enforces thin-ideal internalization and most importantly, ruins our mood.
It is important to note that when someone engages in fat talk, most of the time, it is not a personal attack on you. Rather, it is about their own insecurities and own disordered mindsets around food and their body. They project their Inner Critic onto you, which can be upsetting if your Inner Critic is already criticizing you about your body. Separate yourself both from their and your own Inner Critic. Another possibility, instead of projection, is that fat talk is used as a way to bond. Rather than bonding through how negatively we see our bodies, let's find healthier and exciting ways to socialize and bond with people around us. There are many more interesting things to talk about! Who we are talking to is also important; we are highly influenced by people's attitudes towards their own bodies, especially if they are people to whom we feel close. The good news is, when we are surrounded by people who talk positively or neutrally about their bodies, we are less likely to have disordered eating habits. So on a final note - don't forget to surround yourself with people who are kind towards their own bodies.