Body & Media Lab

Renee Engeln at Northwestern University

“If you’re fat then I’m humongous!”: Content and impact of fat talk among college women

Fat talk (women speaking negatively about the size and shape of their bodies) is a phenomenon that both reflects and creates body dissatisfaction. Our study investigated the content, frequency, and impact of fat talk among college women. Participants (168 female students at a Midwestern U.S. university) completed online surveys containing fat talk-specific questions and measures of body dissatisfaction and thin-ideal internalization. Most participants reported engaging in fat talk with one third reporting frequent or very frequent fat talk. Evidence indicated a strong third-person effect wherein participants thought they engaged in fat talk less than other college women. Self-reported frequency of fat talk was associated with greater body dissatisfaction and internalization of the thin-ideal but not body mass index (BMI). Despite the association between fat talk and body dissatisfaction, over half of the participants reported that they believe fat talk makes them feel better about their bodies. The most common response to fat talk was denial that the friend was fat, most typically leading to a back-and-forth conversation where each of two healthy weight peers denies the other is fat while claiming to be fat themselves. Results are discussed in terms of the ways in which fat talk may act as an injunctive norm, reinforcing women’s body-related distress.

Read more at Psychology of Women Quarterly.