In between exchanging recipes or chatting about the kids, women often engage in what’s termed “fat talk.” Experts once thought fat talk was reserved for middle school girls, but studies have found that it is a common occurrence in women of all ages, including older women, and even some men do it. Denise Martz of Appalachian State University who co-authored a study on the subject says, “Because women feel pressured to follow the fat talk norm, they are more likely to engage in fat talk with other females.” According to the study, fat talk lets women appear “modest,” which is more socially acceptable in a society that shuns egotism. “We tend to dislike arrogance and especially dislike it in women,” Martz explains. “Women are perceived as okay if they fat talk and acknowledge that their bodies are not perfect but they are working on it.”
The fat talk phenomenon might be exclusive to wealthy countries where food is plentiful. In areas of the world where famine is the norm, extra weight is perceived as a sign of “wealth” and status.
Not everyone thinks fat talk is productive. Dr. Carolyn Becker, professor at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas, says, “We have some really nice experimental data that shows that a mere three to five minutes of fat talk significantly worsens body dissatisfaction.” Becker goes on to say, “And that’s really problematic, because body dissatisfaction is associated with reduced consumption of fruits and vegetables, decreased exercise behaviors, and in fact, in one study they found that adolescent girls that were somewhat overweight, those who liked their bodies gained less weight than those who disliked their bodies.”
A campaign called Operation Beautiful, the brain-child of North Carolina-based Caitlin Boyle, is dedicated to ending fat talk. The slogan on her Web site reads, “Transforming the way you see yourself one Post-It Note at a time.” The site encourages people to leave hand-written motivating sticky notes on the mirrors of public restrooms, at the gym, at work and even on “a random car windshield” and to include the Web site at the bottom – www.operationbeautiful.com. Participants are asked to send in photos of their postings, which are then featured on the site. One featured note reads, “You are beautiful. Never think otherwise.”
Jackie Silver is the founder and president of AgingBackwards.com <http://AgingBackwards.com> and author of “Aging Backwards: Secrets to Staying Young.” Sign up for her free newsletter at: http://agingbackwards.com/ and connect her on Twitter, @AgingBackwards, Facebook, http://on.fb.me/AgingBackwardsJackieSilver and Pinterest, http://pinterest.com/agingbackwards/.