Outfit Post: Fat talk, female relationships, and a pair of tie-dye jeans

A week ago, I was out to dinner with friends and excused myself to use the bathroom. While trapped in a stall, I overheard the following conversation between a group of friends:

Friend A: Ugh, I look so fat tonight.
Friend B: No, you look amazing! *Sigh* I look gross. So fat.
Friend C: You two are crazy! You're both Gorgeous!...I'm the fat one. Look at my stomach. I need a girdle.
Friend A: You guys! My thighs are huge. I should have never worn this dress. I need to lose like, twenty pounds.
Friends B and C, in unison: You're not fat!!!
(Uncomfortable pause.)
Friend B: Seriously. I should have stayed home. I'm sooo fat.

Who were these creatures? I emerged from the stall to discover three beautiful young women, all under the age of 25, applying lipstick and critically examining themselves in the mirror. These women were perfectly lovely, and in my eyes, looked a bit underweight.

It’s almost inevitable: When women get together, the chatter eventually turns to whose skinny jeans don’t fit anymore and who weighs in heavier on the scale. We hear women in dressing rooms, locker rooms, and bathrooms complain about one thing over and over again – their bodies. In a culture that equates beauty with thinness it's no wonder many women are obsessed with the figure staring back at them from the mirror. To many she never seems thin enough, not like the ultra slender women that strut down fashion runways, are splashed across glossy magazine pages, and star in today's biggest movies.

We are told these women are beautiful. We are told that if we are thin we will be beautiful too. So we strive to attain this thin ideal and along the way destroy our self-esteem and berate ourselves for not measuring up to these unrealistic, not to mention unhealthy, bodies. Researchers call this “fat talk,” a term coined to describe a behavior common among Caucasian females.

“We have found in our research that both male and female college students know the norm of fat talk - that females are supposed to say negative things about their bodies in a group of females engaging in fat talk,” said Denise Martz of Appalachian State University.

In a study concerning fat talk among students, Martz and her colleagues showed 124 male and female college students a scene describing three women engaging in fat talk. The test subjects were then asked to predict how a fourth female would respond to this discussion. Forty percent of male subjects and 51 percent of female subjects believed that the fourth female would self-degrade her body.

“Because women feel pressured to follow the fat talk norm, they are more likely to engage in fat talk with other females,” Martz told Livescience. “Hence, women normalize their own body dissatisfaction with one another. If there are women out there who feel neutrally or even positively about their bodies, I bet we never hear this from them for fear of social sanction and rejection,” she said.

In March, a different study found that the more often women engaged in "fat talk," the "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," no matter what size they actually were, according to Science Daily. The research also showed that the women who talked about fat more frequently felt that it made them believe they felt better about their bodies. Complaining that one appears fat, and hearing friends validate that they aren't, might help boost a woman's self esteem. Frighteningly, the study also found that more than 90% of college-aged women regularly engage in "fat talk." The study also noted that there was no association between a woman's actual body size and how often she complained about her body size with peers.

Fat talk has become so social acceptable and pervasive that even respected journalists such as those of The New York Times have fallen victim. In November, dance critic Alastair Macaulay took the opportunity to lament the appearance of a lead dancer in the New York City's ballet production of The Nutcracker:

Jenifer Ringer, as the Sugar Plum Fairy, looked as if she'd eaten one sugar plum too many; and Jared Angle, as the Cavalier, seems to have been sampling half the Sweet realm.

When society seems to go above and beyond to encourage women to fat-talk, it can seem an almost impossible habit to break. How often do you find yourself engaged in fat talk with your friends? Do you think it makes you feel differently about your body? Has fat talk affected your female friendships? 

Thrfted vintage silk blazer; Gap tee; Current/Elliot jeans; Jessica Simpson pumps; Forever 21 necklace; Forever 21 single cross earring


  1. i definitely have issues with fat-talk. it is something i do WAY too much of to myself, and sometimes i even catch myself talking about others negatively. im not sure when i turned into that person, but i am trying to be more conscious of the way i think and speak about people, myself included. after all, i plan on having children one day, and if i have daughters, i dont want them to be as critical of themselves as i have been of myself. we are beautiful, and so much of that beauty lies in the details that make us different from one another.

  2. I do the fat talk way too much as well.

    I overheard a similar story this weekend. This girl kept saying how much she ate on vacation - what she said she ate yogurts and salads. She looked amazing and actually made me wish I hadn't ate so much. Oh well. I am trying to get comfortable in my skin, but it definitely takes time.

  3. My friends know better by now, but I spent many years listening to and participating in fat talk. I'm glad those days have passed for me, but know I'm in the minority.

    That study is fascinating. Thanks for sharing some of their findings.

  4. I definitely know what you mean about fat talk. I hear it all the time from friends and other random people like you. They're always such uncomfortable conversations and it's so hard to not join in or even to stop the negative talk.

    On another note, I absolutely adore that jacket and how you paired it with the jeans! I would have never thought of that and it's such a great combination!


  5. That jacket is so much fun but I'm sweating just looking at that picture! It is so hot in New Orleans I can't stand it.

    And yes, I know all about fat talk.

  6. I have actually never engaged in "fat talk". Primarily because I am stick thin and I know it. Why would I pretend otherwise? However, with that being said I have been guilty in engaging in other forms of "fat talk". Meaning I degrade myself in other ways: how much I hate my hair, my teeth, etc. I actually read a book about this type of behavior before, and now I can't remember what it is called. At any rate, it was talking about how women in general will engage in self-degradation when in the presence of other women. And if a woman happens to defy the norm and praise some aspect of herself, the other women are most likely going to resent her for it. Also, studies show that women who accept praise are likely to be viewed negatively (even by the woman who gave it!!). For example:

    Another female tells me they love my new haircut. I smile and say "Thank you! I love it too!" The odds are that the woman who gave me that compliment now thinks I am full of myself. Amazing. I find all this stuff very interesting. Great post! (As always).

    I think this might be the longest comment I have ever left.

  7. This is an interesting post {a reason I LOVE YOUR BLOG!}. I have off an on been a "fat talker," however, for several years I have really worked hard to NOT do this. It sooo isn't healthy but unfortunately it is the norm. You know, I remember when I was with a group of women at a past workplace and there was fat talk going on. Someone asked me a question and I basically responded saying that I liked my body {I really did. I was at the height of fitness and my body was lean and fit and awesome} and you should have seen the look they gave me. They acted like I was obsessed with myself for saying that. It seems there's almost an expectation to hate your body among women. But when you say you hate your body everyone argues back, as you posted above. I don't know... it's weird and it needs to stop!! :)


  8. Gosh, this is such a timely topic. I will admit to periodically engaging in fat talk, even though I love my body and am definitely not fat. I think it is a slippery slope. Something in many women (myself included) have a hard time showing their confidence in front of other women in case it comes across as aggressive or bitchy, or in case it makes someone else feel bad. I've been making an intentional effort to encourage those I hear engaging in fat talk instead of participating...no use telling them they should be happy with their body if you can't show them that you're comfortable in yours, right?

    Thanks for this great reminder. Women need to back each other up, including stopping us from our own negative comments about ourselves.

  9. Your blazer is amazing! You look so vibrant in fun this is hands down one of my top five favorite outfits from you :) I can't get over those jeans!

    As far fat talk, -le sigh- we all do it! It's unfair but its an issue that affects a lot of people, it sucks how insensitive people are about it too. I usually stick to a crowd that doesn't do it so I don't feel completely singled out but you can't really control other people's filters

    P.S. The hair is amazing bombshell! <33



  10. Somehow I have missed out...and would simply have to walk away from a discussion like this. I'm not fat and can't relate.

  11. i can totally relate to the fat-talk mindset of bringing yourself down in order to have others validate that it's not, in fact, as bad as you think. i used to do that lots. i'm happy to say that my body image is now at a healthy, self-accepting level. thank goodness. it takes so much effort to be constantly worried about one's body.
    a very insightful post, elissa. as usual. i always think about your topics for days. oh, and also? what a fabulous pair of tie-dye jeans. i love tie-dye!

  12. I try not to engage in fat talk but I know so many people who do this ALL the time. They have this distorted idea of themselves and they can't see things clearly. It's so sad because there are so many beautiful and lovely women out there who think they're ugly and fat when the reality is the complete opposite! Hopefully we can change this and stop the fat talk. =)

  13. I actually hate it when you say something bad about yourself and people disagree with you. If I'm upset about some aspect of my looks enough to voice it to others, the last thing I want to hear is "nooo... you look great." To me, that seems mindless and dismissive. What would *actually* be validating to me is to hear, "Yes, I hear you, but I like you anyway," "a tummy pooch does not make you a bad person," or something like that. Arguing that I don't have a tummy pooch, for instance, does nothing to make me feel better because in my eyes, it's still there and it's still awful. Acknowledging my feelings and saying that it's OK to have flaws is much more reassuring.

  14. I don't talk fat with girls since i'm hanging with guys. But i hate when they say (and they do it often) that i have a little fat the belly.
    (I'm 1.60 meter and 50 kg)
    They do it and then they critisize when a eat dessert or sugar stuff !
    Genetically i have no fat anywhere else but on my belly (i feel my bones sometimes when i sit !!!)

    I just hate being pressured altough half of the guys have more fat than me.
    Sigh !

  15. The ubiquity of fat talk is something I've also observed, and in particular as a skinny, small-framed girl I find it hard to convincingly argue against it among my friends (no matter how skinny they are). I've also experienced, among people who subsequently did not grow to be friends of mine, how trying to stop the fat talk and body hate gets penalized: Two ex-roommates of mine, both average-weight, healthy-looking girls, were discussing how bad they felt about their bodies and how they should exercise more or wear spanx all the time, and I countered this with: Hey, I feel great about my body and you should too, you look really good! Apparently this (and maybe my preference for unique thrift-store clothes in contrast to their hunt for brand-name stuff, and my outspokenness about it) were enough to make them lividly hate me... I moved out as soon as I got the chance.

  16. As someone who has always been larger as an adult, I don't like to participate in this sort of fluffy exchange. I will make honest comments about my size in the right context with friends but I don't complain randomly just to hear other people say, oh no you're wrong. I think it's a shame that so many people feel it's a good way to fish for compliments and that thin is the ultimate beautiful.

  17. Being a thin person myself I've found these conversations incredibly awkward. Most of them end up just like the one Elissa wrote about except for after the (Uncomfortable pause) one person looks at me and says "Omgosh you are soooo skinny." and everyone agrees and looks at me with longing and a tinge of jealousy. I never really know what to say because I know there's no way under the blue sky that I'd be able to pull off calling myself fat. I also don't really feel comfortable reassuring people that they aren't fat because I think that roundness is very feminine and pretty plus much more healthy. (I wouldn't mind gaining another 30 pounds or so if I weren't so terrified of the social ramifications and the fact that it wouldn't be my natural weight.) Once or twice I tried to find a feature that I felt insecure about (my nose, butt, whatever.) and talk about how ugly it was but I really hated doing that. For a while I tried to convince my fat friend that she was beautiful just the way she is but I think that just made her feel more insecure. Pointing out beautiful things about people other than weight didn't seem to work either. *sigh* These days I tend circle off these types of conversations with a "Well I think we're all gorgeous." like they're the most ridiculous people in the world and quickly change the subject.
    I wish everyone would just love themselves for who they are and embrace whatever body God gave them wholeheartedly!

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