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What is Fat Talk?

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  • Written By: Tara Barnett
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 10 April 2018
  • Copyright Protected:
    2003-2018
    Conjecture Corporation
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Fat talk is a way in which people, particularly women, speak negatively about their bodies. It is particularly associated with groups of people reinforcing each other's negative speech by making self-denigration a normal part of group conversation. Like many other attitudes about beauty and physical desirableness, this need to insult one's body constantly is usually learned by children who hear parents or other respected adults speaking in this way. Many people believe that fat talk is not only an emotionally dangerous way to talk about bodies, but that it also feeds into actual physical disorders involving eating and self esteem.

Typical fat talk usually involves statements about perceived physical problems, often targeting specific areas. A person engaged in this kind of discourse will often make generalized statements about feeling fat, but also about specific target areas such as the thighs or stomach. This allows for the conversation to be individualized. Responses to the self-criticisms of other participants may include mere acknowledgment, false denial, or even suggestions.

Part of what makes fat talk dangerous is that when it occurs in groups, it becomes normalized and socially enforced. In groups, one is expected to occupy one's turn talking with negative comments about one's own body and any flaws it might have. Refusing to engage in self-criticism often comes off to other members of the group as vain, immodest, or mean spirited.

This way of speaking can actually influence the perceptions one has about one's body; this can be particularly dangerous when one has no way to avoid speaking this way on a regular basis. Overall, this kind of talk encourages compulsive idolization of an ideal that is impossible to achieve for most women.

People tend to take the conversations they have with others and internalize them to some extent. This means that the kind of internal dialogue that a person produces when self-degrading in front of a mirror alone may also be considered a form of fat talk. Part of overcoming this kind of negative speech, then, is also eradicating it from one's thoughts.

The practical problem with fat talk is that even if one is unhealthy or overweight, fat talk does nothing but perpetuate negative feelings. It does not address actual changes that can be made to overcome actual health issues; it also does not balance criticism with positive thoughts about other attributes.

It is important to remember that the problem is not that a certain kind of speech exists, but rather the effects of that speech on the minds of the speakers. Some people believe that this kind of negative talk should be avoided altogether. More moderately, one might endeavor to replace fat talk with discussions of health-positive activities, such as exercise, healthy meals, and what one has accomplished during the week.

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