“Fat Talk,” Body Appearance, Healthly Weight

Nearly all college women reported that they engage in fat talk with friends and almost one third of these women described their fat talk as frequent or very frequent. Interestingly, the women thought that groups of other female college friends engaged in fat talk much more frequently (an effect size of over two standard deviations) than they do in their own group of friends. These results are consistent with past research that describes fat talk among college women as a normative phenomenon (Britton et al., 2006; Tompkins et al., 2009). Also consistent with viewing fat talk as a social norm for women, results indicated that thin-ideal internalization was correlated with both self-reported frequency of fat talk and how often participants thought other women engaged in fat talk. In other words, the more women endorse the notion that the ideal female body is very thin, the more they share and reinforce these beliefs in social interactions.
Frequency of Fat Talk Associated With Increased Body Dissatisfaction, Regardless of Waistline
ScienceDaily (Mar. 30, 2011) — College women who engage in “fat talk” (women speaking negatively about the size and shape of their bodies) face greater dissatisfaction with their bodies and are more likely to have internalized an ultra-thin body ideal than those who engage in fat talk less frequently, according to a review article from Psychology of Women Quarterly.
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Study results found that while frequency of fat talk was associated with increased dissatisfaction with women’s own bodies, over half of the participants reported that they believe fat talk actually makes them feel better about their bodies. It’s concerning that women might think fat talk is a helpful coping mechanism, when it’s actually exacerbating body image disturbance. Researchers Rachel H. Salk of the University of Wisconsin and Renee Engeln-Maddox of Northwestern University found that “fat talk” is overwhelmingly common in the college-age women they studied, with more than 90 percent reporting they engaged in “fat talk.”
“The most common response to fat talk was denial that the friend was fat,” wrote Salk and Engeln-Maddox, “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.”
An additional interesting finding was that the frequency of “fat talk” was not related to a respondent’s BMI. “In other words, there was no association between a woman’s actual body size and how often she complained about her body size with peers,” Salk and Engeln-Maddox wrote.
“These results serve as a reminder,” wrote Salk and Engeln-Maddox, “that for most women, fat talk is not about being fat, but rather about feeling fat.”
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The study, reported in 2011 in the journal Psychology of Women Quarterly – “If You’re Fat, Then I’m Humongous!”

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The above story is reprinted from materials provided by SAGE Publications, via EurekAlert!, a service of AAAS.
Note: Materials may be edited for content and length. For further information, please contact the source cited above.
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Journal Reference:
1. R. H. Salk, R. Engeln-Maddox. “If You’re Fat, Then I’m Humongous!”: Frequency, Content, and Impact of Fat Talk Among College Women. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 2011; 35 (1): 18 DOI: 10.1177/0361684310384107
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SAGE Publications (2011, March 30). Frequency of fat talk associated with increased body dissatisfaction, regardless of waistline. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 13, 2012, from http://www.sciencedaily.com¬ /releases/2011/03/110329172355.htm
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Almost 90 percent of normal-weight college coeds yearn to be thinner.
And, perhaps more disturbingly, most overweight women don’t want to be thin enough to achieve a healthy weight.
Those are among the findings of a Cornell University study of 310 college students
In addition, researchers found that half of underweight women want to lose even more weight, or stay just the way they are, thank you very much.

Most College Students Wish They Were Thinner, Study Shows
ScienceDaily (Nov. 21, 2007) — Most normal-weight women — almost 90 percent in a Cornell study of 310 college students — yearn to be thinner. Half of underweight women want to lose even more weight, or stay just the way they are, thank you very much.
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Meanwhile, most overweight women don’t want to be thin enough to achieve a healthy weight.
According to the study, one of the few to quantify the magnitude of body-weight dissatisfaction, which was published recently in the journal Eating Behaviors, most — 78 percent — of the overweight males surveyed also want to weigh less. But of this group, almost two-thirds — 59 percent — do not want to lose enough, so the body weight they desire would still keep them overweight.
More than 60 percent of U.S. adults are considered overweight or obese. And “because they don’t meet the societal ideals propagated by the media and advertising for body weight, they are often targets of discrimination within educational, workplace and health-care settings and are stigmatized as lazy, lacking self-discipline and unmotivated,” says Lori Neighbors, Ph.D. ’07, who conducted the research with Jeffery Sobal, Cornell professor of nutritional sociology in Cornell’s College of Human Ecology.
These factors have led many people to be dissatisfied with their bodies, says Neighbors, now an assistant professor of nutrition at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee.
When the Cornell researchers assessed body weight versus the weight and shape individuals wish they had, they found that:
Men and women are similarly dissatisfied with their weight by an average of about 8 pounds, though women are much more dissatisfied with their bodies. Men have more mixed desires — some want to lose weight while others want to gain weight.
Most of the normal-weight women who want to weigh less desire a weight still within the normal-weight range. However, 10 percent want to weigh what experts deem as officially underweight.
Half of the underweight women want to stay the same or lose weight. “The majority of underweight females, closer in body size to the thin cultural ideal, consider their body weight ‘about right,'” said Sobal, even though experts have deemed these body weights unhealthful.
Overweight women want to weigh less. But about half want a body weight that would continue to make them overweight.
The findings suggest “that the idealized body weight and shape, especially among underweight females and overweight individuals of both genders, are not in accordance with population-based standards defining healthy body weight.”
In a society in which excess weight is the norm, it’s vital, say the researchers, to better understand body dissatisfaction and how this dissatisfaction impacts weight-management efforts.
“While both men and women express some degree of body dissatisfaction, a surprising proportion of people with less healthy body weights — underweight females and overweight individuals of both genders — do not idealize a body weight that would move them to a more healthy state,” said Neighbors.
The research was supported primarily by the National Institutes of Health.
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The above story is reprinted from materials provided by Cornell University.
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Cornell University (2007, November 21). Most College Students Wish They Were Thinner, Study Shows. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 13, 2012, from http://www.sciencedaily.com¬ /releases/2007/11/071120111544.htm
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Disclaimer: This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of ScienceDaily or its staff.

For Young Adults, Appearance Matters More Than Health, Study Suggests
ScienceDaily (Aug. 13, 2012) — When it comes to college-age individuals taking care of their bodies, appearance is more important than health, research conducted at the University of Missouri suggests. María Len-Ríos, an associate professor of strategic communication, Suzanne Burgoyne, a professor of theater, and a team of undergraduate researchers studied how college-age women view their bodies and how they feel about media messages aimed at women. Based on focus group research findings, the MU team developed an interactive play about body image to encourage frank discussions about conflicting societal messages regarding weight, values and healthful choices.
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“During our focus group conversations, we learned that young people don’t think about nutrition when it comes to eating,” Len-Ríos said. “They think more about calorie-counting, which isn’t necessarily related to a balanced diet.”

The focus groups included college-age women, college-age men and mothers of college-age women, who discussed how body image is associated with engaging in restrictive diets, irregular sleep patterns and over-exercising.
“We receive so many conflicting media messages from news reports and advertising about how we should eat, how we should live and how we should look,” Len-Ríos said. “Some participants said they realize images of models are digitally enhanced, but it doesn’t necessarily keep them from wanting to achieve these unattainable figures — this is because they see how society rewards women for ‘looking good.'”
The researchers also completed in-depth interviews with nutritional counselors who said lack of time and unhealthy food environments can keep college-age students from getting good nutrition.
“Eating well takes time, and, according to health professionals, college students are overscheduled and don’t have enough time to cook something properly or might not know how to prepare something healthful,” Len-Ríos said.
Based on the focus group conversations and interviews, Carlia Francis, an MU theater doctoral student and playwright, developed “Nutrition 101,” a play about women’s body images. During performances, characters divulge their insecurities about their own bodies, disparage other women’s bodies and talk about nutrition choices. After a short, scripted performance, the actors remain in character, and audience members ask the characters questions.

“When you’re developing something for interactive theater, focus groups and in-depth interviews are great at getting at stories,” Len-Ríos said. “Many of the stories used in the interactive play — like valuing people because of their appearance and not their personal qualities or abilities — came from individuals’ personal experiences.”

Burgoyne says the play helps facilitate dialogues about nutrition, media messages and self-awareness.
“Body image is a sensitive topic, and the play helps open discussions about how individuals view themselves and how media messages influence their self-images,” Burgoyne said. “An easy way to improve individuals’ body images does not exist, but hopefully, the conversations that arise from the performances will help develop ways to counteract the images that the media promote.”
MU student actors debuted the play last spring, and Burgoyne said performances will resume during the upcoming fall semester.
The study, “Confronting Contradictory Media Messages about Body Image and Nutrition: Implications for Public Health,” was presented earlier this month at the annual Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication Conference in Chicago.
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