No Matter Your Size, Negative Body Talk is a No-No

May 21st, 2013 10:00 am


How many of us have a friend who (as much as we love her) kind of brings us down and makes us feel uncomfortable because she’s constantly saying negative things about her body and appearance? Or maybe we ourselves have gotten into a bad habit of voicing that negative inner voice (we all have one—that’s another thing to work on correcting). What does this negative body talk really achieve? Well—according to a recent study—it ultimately serves to alienate you from people and to make you less “likeable.”

As reported by Huffington Post, psychology professor Alexandra Corning and her research team at Notre Dame’s Body Image and Eating Disorder Lab asked 139 undergraduates with average BMIs to look at photos of women of various weights captioned with both negative and positive statements from the women themselves about their bodies. The participants viewed eight photos each, including every possible combination of body size and positive or negative statement.

The findings indicated that participants “liked” the women who said positive things about their own bodies more than those who engaged in “fat talk,” and positive overweight women were liked most of all.

The researchers concluded that the undergrads preferred the overweight women who made positive statements because a larger woman expressing satisfaction with her appearance may be less threatening than a thin woman expressing confidence. They also decided that seeing larger women being positive about their bodies “may encourage others to accept their own bodies as well.”

The HuffPost article also cited a 2011 study led by Rachel Salk involving a similar number of students, which demonstrated that women also engage in fat talk in order to be reassured of the opposite by friends, but are not usually comforted by friends’ responses. “In Western cultures,” the study reads, “women’s dissatisfaction with the size and shape of their bodies is so common that it has been termed ‘normative discontent.’”  This study also concluded that women may express body dissatisfaction not only because that is how they feel, but because they think it is how they should feel about themselves. In other words, society expects women to feel bad about their bodies. (Interestingly, though Salk feels that fat talk diminishes with age, a 2013 study found that women replace fat talk with old talk, or negative comments about their increasing age.)

Ultimately, Corning’s study refutes Salk’s study’s conclusion that fat talk bonds women together, and feels that her findings are important “because they raise awareness about how women actually are being perceived when they engage in this self-abasing kind of talk.”

So there’s now scientific research to support the downside of voicing negativity about ourselves aloud. Now we all need to work on silencing that negative inner voice—easier said than done– that whispers only to us…

What do you think about these studies?


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© Anne Kroul, 2013.