"Ugh, my jeans so do not fit anymore. I'm a cow!" "No way, I'M the cow! Just look at my cankles!"
Yeah, we've all done it. Whether or not you admit it, we've all fat-talked. It's easy to do and it's so normalized that you might not even realize you're doing it. It becomes an automatic response. Psychologists define it as "the body-denigrating conversation between girls and women." While it might seem basically harmless, this type of infectious speech can be a major factor in eating disorders and self-harm. By perpetuating the notion that your self-deprecation will help your friend feel better about herself, you're telling yourself you're doing something positive. Amy Schumer summed it up well in a recent sketch from Inside Amy Schumer:
While this is obviously an exaggeration, it doesn't change the fact that fat (or ugly!) talk is a hugely detrimental act that 93% of college women admit to participating in. A research associate professor in psychology at the University of Notre Dame named Alexandra F. Corning wanted to test how weight affected likability when it came to fat talk. She showed 139 undergraduates photos of two slender women and two overweight women, each commenting in either a positive or negative way about her own appearance. The results? The most well-liked lady was one of the larger women who said, ""I know I'm not perfect, but I love the way I look. I know how to work with what I've got, and that's all that matters." Dr. Corning saw this as a promising outcome. However, she wasn't all rainbows and puppies and sunshine about it either. "Are the students really liking these women the most? Or are they saying it because they think they should?" said Dr. Corning. "They might like them more, but would they really want to hang out with them?" Point well-made.
Another reason women often fat-talk is to not seem cocky or too confident. We all know how society feels about confident women, amirite? Fat talk is a way to say, "I have the same insecurities as you do, friend!" Dr. Corning says this is a way to "maintain the friendship on equal standing."
Carolyn Bates of the University of Notre Dame reminds us what we're doing when we fat-talk to a friend. "When you focus on clothes and make it about your body, you've put your friend in a position where she can't say anything right. She can't be honest, because it could come off as hurtful." If you have friends who fat-talk, I suggest always keeping a PMA. Appropriate response? "Shut up, you're beautiful. Look at those gams!" or "Oh please, you've got hair to dye for! Get it? GET IT?" (I find that puns ameliorate most situations.)