A recent story over at Time.com — “Girl, You are So Not Fat! Does ‘Fat Talk’ Make Anyone Feel Better?” by Meredith Melnick — explores the idea of “fat talk,” the “Oh god, these jeans make my thighs look huge” variety of lady exchange that happens everywhere from H&M dressing rooms to 3am cab rides. Apparently, a new study has found that this kind of talk makes women feel worse, not better. Melnick outlines a typical “fat talk” session:
Friend 1: “Ugh, I feel so fat.” Friend 2: “OMG. Are you serious? You are NOT fat.” Friend 1: “Yes I am, look at my thighs.” Friend 2: “Look at MY thighs.” Friend 1: “Oh, come on. You’re a stick.” Friend 2: “So are you.”
Writes Melnick: “Mostly, women complained to their friends about feeling fat or bloated, or about feeling guilty for not going to the gym or eating too much. For many, it was a way to reassure or to be reassured that in fact they weren’t fat at all.” And yet the study determined that women who complain about their weight on the regular — even if they weren’t overweight — were more likely to be dissatisfied with their bodies, even if they have friends reassuring them that they are “a stick.” If you’re convinced that you’re fat and unattractive, no one — and I mean no one, not your best friend and not some dude who buys you flowers — is going to talk you out of that idea.
Barf? Okay, so I kind of get it. I don’t indulge in much fat talk myself — less because my internal monologue is completely secure and more because I can’t stomach the idea of being one of those women who engages in that kind of self-destructive nonsense — but that doesn’t mean I’m immune from needing the occasional pep talk from a friend. (I, like many women I know, have cried while trying to buy pants — even though I then feel like an even bigger loser for crying over something so completely trivial.)
But contrary to the findings of this study, a kind, supportive word from a friend does make me feel better. And it’s the same thing when I take a bit of a risk and wear something I wouldn’t normally wear, or make more of an effort than usual, and someone actually notices and says something. Maybe the difference is that I’m not blatantly fishing around for the compliment, so it registers more sincerely.
So maybe the answer is to stop fat talk before it starts? I know, I know, it’s easier said than done. But there are ways to talk yourself out of the idea that female self-worth is almost entirely tied to some unattainable concept of physical perfection. (Also, I mostly wear skirts and dresses now so I need fewer pep talks.)