Sex Roles

, Volume 66, Issue 9–10, pp 636–645 | Cite as

Fat Talk Among College Women is Both Contagious and Harmful

Original Article

Abstract

Fat talk is a social phenomenon during which women speak negatively with each other about the size/shape of their bodies (Nichter and Vuckovich 1994). In this study, exposure to fat talk from peers was experimentally manipulated to determine the effect of hearing fat talk on a woman’s own likelihood of engaging in fat talk and on state body dissatisfaction, guilt, and sadness. Undergraduate women (n = 87; all of a healthy weight) from a Midwestern university in the United States participated in a study ostensibly about discussing magazine advertisements. Two female confederates were present for the discussion. While discussing an advertisement featuring an attractive and thin female model, participants either heard both confederates engage in fat talk, neither confederate engage in fat talk, or the first engage in fat talk and the second challenge the fat talk. Hearing a confederate fat talk made the participants more likely to fat talk themselves (especially if the fat talk went unchallenged) and increased participants’ self-reported state body dissatisfaction and guilt. Participants who engaged in fat talk reported higher levels of self-reported state body dissatisfaction and guilt, compared to participants who did not engage in fat talk (even when controlling for pre-existing trait body dissatisfaction). Participant fat talk mediated the effect of condition on both state body dissatisfaction and guilt. Additionally, correlational analyses revealed that participants with higher levels of trait body dissatisfaction (assessed at a pre-test) were more likely to engage in fat talk (regardless of condition).

Keywords

Fat talk Body image Body dissatisfaction 

References

  1. Becker, A. E. (2004). Television, disordered eating, and young women in Fiji: Negotiating body image and identity during rapid social change. Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry, 28, 533–559. doi:10.1007/s11013-004-1067-5.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Becker, C. B., & Stice, E. (2008). Sorority body image program: Workbook. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  3. Bessenoff, G. R. (2006). Can the media affect us? Social comparison, self-discrepancy and the thin ideal. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 30, 239–251. doi:10.1111/j.1471-6402.2006.00292.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bosson, J. K., Pinel, E. C., & Thompson, J. K. (2008). The affective consequences of minimizing women’s body image concerns. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 32, 257–266. doi:10.1111/j.1471-6402.2008.00434.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Britton, L., Martz, D., Bazzini, D., Curtin, L., & LeaShomb, A. (2006). Fat talk and self presentation of body image: Is there a social norm for women to self-degrade? Body Image, 3, 247–254. doi:10.1016/j.bodyim.2006.05.006.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Burney, J., & Irwin, H. (2000). Shame and guilt in women with eating disorder symptomatology. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 56, 51–61. doi:10.1002/(SICI)1097-4679(200001)56:1<51::AID-JCLP5>3.0.CO;2-W. PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Cash, T. F., Fleming, E. C., Alindogan, J., Steadman, L., & Whitehead, A. (2002). Beyond body image as a trait: The development and validation of the Body Image States Scale. Eating Disorders: The Journal of Treatment & Prevention, 10, 103–113. doi:10.1080/10640260290081678.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Clark, P. M., Murnen, S. K., & Smolak, L. (2010). Development and psychometric evaluation of a quantitative measure of “fat talk”. Body Image, 7, 1–7. doi:10.1016/j.bodyim.2009.09.006.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Davis, C., & Katzman, M. A. (1997). Charting new territory: Body esteem, weight satisfaction, depression and self-esteem among Chinese males and females in Hong Kong. Sex Roles, 36, 447–457. doi:10.1007/BF02766683.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Feingold, A., & Mazzella, R. (1998). Gender differences in body image are increasing. Psychological Science, 9, 190–195. doi:10.1111/1467-9280.00036.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Frederick, D. A., Peplau, L. A., & Lever, J. (2006). The swimsuit issue: Correlates of body image in a sample of 52,677 heterosexual adults. Body Image, 4, 413–419. doi:10.1016/j.bodyim.2006.08.002.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Fredrickson, B. L., & Roberts, T. (1997). Objectification theory: Toward understanding women’s lived experiences and mental health risks. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 21, 173–206. doi:10.1111/j.1471-6402.1997.tb00108.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Gapinski, K. D., Brownell, K. D., & LaFrance, M. (2003). Body objectification and “fat talk”: Effects on emotion, motivation, and cognitive performance. Sex Roles: A Journal of Research, 48, 377–388. doi:10.1023/A:1023516209973.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Garner, D. M. (1991). Eating disorder inventory-2 professional manual. Odessa: Psychological Assessment Resources.Google Scholar
  15. Garner, D. M., Olmstead, M. P., & Polivy, J. (1983). Development and validation of a multidimensional eating disorder inventory for anorexia nervosa and bulimia. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 2, 15–34. doi:10.1002/1098-108X(198321)2:2<15::AID-EAT2260020203>3.0.CO;2-6. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Groesz, L. M., Levine, M. P., & Murnen, S. K. (2002). The effect of experimental presentation of thin media images on body satisfaction: A meta-analytic review. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 31, 1–16. doi:10.1002/eat.10005.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Hope, C. (1980). American beauty rituals. In R. B. Browne (Ed.), Rituals and ceremonies in popular culture (pp. 226–237). Bowling Green: Bowling Green University Press.Google Scholar
  18. Jeffery, R. W., Adlis, S. A., & Forster, J. L. (1991). Prevalence of dieting among working men and women: The healthy worker project. Heath Psychology, 10, 274–281. doi:10.1037/0278-6133.10.4.274.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Jung, J., & Forbes, G. (2006). Multidimensional assessment of body dissatisfaction and disordered eating in Korean and U.S. college women: A comparative study. Sex Roles: A Journal of Research, 55, 39–50. doi:10.1007/s11199-006-9058-3.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Keel, P. K., Mitchell, J. E., Davis, T. L., & Crow, S. J. (2001). Relationship between depression and body dissatisfaction in women diagnosed with bulimia nervosa. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 30, 48–56. doi:10.1002/eat.1053.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Liechty, J. M. (2010). Body image distortion and three types of weight loss behaviors among nonoverweight girls in the United States. Journal of Adolescent Health, 47, 176–182. doi:10.1016/j.jadohealth.2010.01.004.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Martz, D. M., Petroff, A. B., Curtin, L., & Bazzini, D. G. (2009). Gender differences in fat talk among American adults: Results from the psychology of size survey. Sex Roles, 61, 34–41. doi:10.1007/s11199-009-9587-7.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Mukai, T., Kambara, A., & Sasaki, Y. (1998). Body dissatisfaction, need for social approval, and eating disturbances among Japanese and American college women. Sex Roles: A Journal of Research, 39, 751–752. doi:10.1023/A:1018812218467.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Muthén, L. K., & Muthén, B. O. (1988–2009). Mplus user's guide (5th ed.). Los Angeles: Muthen & Muthen.Google Scholar
  25. Nichter, M. (2000). Fat talk. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  26. Nichter, M., & Vuckovic, N. (1994). Fat talk. In N. Sault (Ed.), Many mirrors: Body image and social relations (pp. 109–131). New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.Google Scholar
  27. Ousley, L., Cordero, E. D., & White, S. (2008). Fat talk among college students: How undergraduates communicate regarding food and body weight, shape, and appearance. Eating Disorders, 16, 73–84. doi:10.1080/10640260701773546.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Payne, L.O., Martz, D.M., Tompkins, K.B., Petroff, A.B., & Farrow, C.V. (2011). Gender comparisons of fat talk in the United Kingdom and the United States. Sex Roles: A Journal of Research. doi:10.1007/s11199-010-9881-4.
  29. Rodin, J., Silberstein, L., & Striegel-Moore, R. (1985). Women and weight: A normative discontent. In T. B. Sonderegger (Ed.), Nebraska symposium on motivation, psychology and gender (pp. 267–308). Lincoln: University of Nebraska.Google Scholar
  30. Safir, M. P., Flaisher-Kellner, S., & Rosenmann, A. (2005). When gender differences surpass cultural differences in personal satisfaction with body shape in Israeli college students. Sex Roles: A Journal of Research, 52, 369–378. doi:10.1007/s11199-005-2679-0.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Salk, R. H., & Engeln-Maddox, R. (2011). “If you’re fat then I’m humongous”: Frequency, content, and impact of fat talk among college women. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 35, 18–28. doi:10.1177/0361684310384107.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Sanftner, J. L., Barlow, D. H., Marschall, D. E., & Tangney, J. P. (1995). The relation of shame and guilt to eating disorder symptomatology. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 4, 315–324.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Silberstein, L.R., Striegel-Moore, R. H., & Rodin, J. (1987). Feeling fat: A woman's shame. In H. B. Lewis (Ed.), The role of shame in symptom formation (pp. 89–108). Hillsdale: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  34. Smith, P. M., & Ogle, J. P. (2006). Interactions among high school cross-country runners and coaches: Creating a cultural context for athletes’ embodied experiences. Family and Consumer Sciences, 24, 276–307. doi:10.1177/1077727X05283598.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Spillane, N. S., Boerner, L. M., Anderson, K. G., & Smith, G. T. (2004). Comparability of the eating disorder inventory–2 between women and men. Assessment, 11, 85–93. doi:10.1177/1073191103260623.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Stice, E. (2002). Risk and maintenance factors for eating pathology: A meta-analytic review. Psychological Bulletin, 128, 825–848. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.128.5.825.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Stice, E., Maxfield, J., & Wells, T. (2003). Adverse effects of social pressure to be thin on young women: An experimental investigation of the effects of “fat talk”. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 34, 108–117. doi:10.1002/eat.10171.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Tompkins, K. B., Martz, D. M., Rocheleau, C. A., & Bazzini, D. G. (2009). Social likeability, conformity, and body talk: Does fat talk have a normative rival in female body image conversations? Body Image, 6, 292–298. doi:10.1016/j.bodyim.2009.07.005.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Tucker, K. L., Martz, D. M., Curtin, L. A., & Bazzini, D. G. (2007). Examining ‘fat talk’ experimentally in a female dyad: How are women influenced by another women’s body presentation style? Body Image, 4, 157–164. doi:10.1016/j.bodyim.2006.12.005.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Van den Berg, P., & Thompson, J. K. (2007). Self-schema and social comparison explanations of body dissatisfaction: A laboratory investigation. Body Image, 4, 29–38. doi:10.1016/j.bodyim.2006.12.004.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Watson, D., Clark, L. A., & Tellegen, A. (1988). Development and validation of brief measures of positive and negative affect: The PANAS scales. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 54, 1063–1070. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.54.6.1063.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyNorthwestern UniversityEvanstonUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyUniversity of Wisconsin-MadisonMadisonUSA

Personalised recommendations