What's All the Buzz About "Fat Talk"?

BlogHer Original Post

Lately, I've been seeing a lot of press about a phenomenon known as "fat talk" -- a type of discussion being attributed almost exclusively to women. It's a back-and-forth conversation in which we make disparaging remarks about our bodies. It usually starts with one individual saying something like "Ugh, my butt looks so huge in these jeans". This generates a cacophony of competing comments, such as, "Never mind your butt, just look at the size of my thighs."

The New York Times ran an article about fat talk on May 27. BlogHer joined the conversation on May 29, when our own editor-in-chief, Stacy Morrison, considered the roots of fat talk on the TODAY Show.

We wanted to learn more. So, BlogHer Research turned to the Visionaries panel with a survey to find out what the BlogHer community thinks about this buzz about "fat talk." Almost 800 women gave us their opinions, and the results are below.

How common is fat talk?

Nearly three quarters of our entire sample admitted that they engage in fat talk. The practice is more common among young (18-24) adult women than among Gen X and Baby Boomers -- but in general, most women are talking fat, no matter their age.

"Do you engage in "fat talk" with other women?"

It's hard to resist fat talk

Interestingly, fat talk can be sparked with praise, particularly in groups of women. We asked the community how they responded when someone gave them a compliment on their appearance and the results were very polarizing. The biggest response selected (33%) was "I try to react positively, but it's hard and I feel weird about it." An almost equal measure (32%) said their reaction depended on who was making the compliment. Almost a quarter of the women in the sample (23%) said they say thank you out loud, but inside they don't believe it. Only 28% said they respond with a heartfelt thank you. Period.

Gender matters when it comes to accepting a compliment. Nearly a third (32%) said they reacted most favorably when praise about their appearance came from their partner (gender unspecified). But very few people find it most comfortable to receive compliments from any other male figure, certainly not strangers, but not even a male friend or one's father! Our respondents were more likely to prefer compliments from female figures.

Fat talk starts young

We asked women on the BlogHer Visionaries panel when they thought that fat talk started, and most (54%) said in our teens, with about a third (35%) saying it starts with kids. (It's hard to imagine a bunch of 11-year-old girls standing around asking each other if "these jeans make my butt look big," but apparently this kind of chatter is increasingly common. Is it coming from the TV set? Are they hearing it from their moms?) According to this study, women think fat talk reaches its peak among women aged 18-44.

Fat talk is not a form of female bonding

We wondered if this kind of conversation was just something women do to (sorry) chew the fat, like men who bond over conversations about sports scores. Not according to the Visionaries. Almost half the women in this survey (42%) said no to this hypothesis.

"Do you think "fat talk" is a way that women connect, in the same way men talk about sports scores?"

What do women think about fat talk in their own words?

We had over 700 detailed, passionate responses from our Visionaries panel sample, explaining why they thought women engaged in this kind of conversation in their own words. The tone was mostly one of dismay. Hardly anyone likes fat talk -- yet most do it with other women. One thing is certain: There is a great deal of emotion surrounding the topic. The word "feel" was used 208 times in the open-ended responses we collected.

fat talk word cloud

A few of the nearly 700 responses for why women engage in fat talk

"We are afraid of sounding like we are bragging about our bodies."

"It's a way of fishing for positive support."

"Because most women are not happy with their bodies."

"In some ways, it's bonding over a common interest. We all have things we don't like about our bodies."

"It's the social norm. Sadly, it's just part of life."

What do you think women can do to stop "fat talk?" Nobody likes it -- so how do we make it go away?

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