Wellness

My butt is so huge! 'Fat talk' is common and harmful

May 29, 2013 at 11:25 AM ET

Video: If you’re a woman out with girlfriends and the subject of weight comes up, it can almost be a race to see who can denigrate themselves fastest. Why do women do it, and what’s the cost? NBC’s Mara Schiavocampo reports and supermodel Emme and psychologist Dr. Belisa Vranich discuss the phenomenon.

My rear end is big. My stomach is huge. My arms are wobbly. I’m enormous. No, I’m more enormous.

"Fat talk," the body-denigrating phrases many women engage in with their girlfriends may feel like a kind of female bonding, but it can be damaging to self-esteem.

The issue drew attention earlier this week in an article in The New York Times, where researchers called fat talk a “contagious” bonding ritual that can set the stage for eating disorders. The story cited a study that found that 93 percent of college women engaged in fat talk.

TODAY’s Savannah Guthrie said that figure did not shock her at all, and asked her guests, psychologist Belisa Vranich and plus-size model Emme Aronson, if they agreed.

Women, Vranich said, fat talk “all the time.”

“It helps sort of ease the discomfort between friends and have something to complain about together,” she said. “Unfortunately it’s gone too far.”

That is because fat talk is not just the harmless, idle chatter between friends that it may seem, she said.

“There is a larger danger because if you keep hearing this over and over, not only from other people about how fat they are but you hear yourself say that you are fat and you are not beautiful and you’re not perfect, it definitely takes a toll on your self-esteem,” Vranich said. “We have to stop this right away.”

Guthrie noted that fat talk is not always grounded in reality, and Aronson agreed that it’s not just a phenomenon of larger women.

“You could be size zero or you could be 22 or larger,” she said. “All women engage in this and it’s very disastrous for our self esteem and our own body image and reaching our goals.”

Women fat talk sometimes as a way to gain reassurance from a friend that in fact, they do look good, or as they are striving for perfection.

“I think the fat talk comes from that constant, like well I can be better,” blogger Stacy Morrison said in a taped segment on TODAY. “I think there’s always that, I’m reaching for just my best, my personal, perfect best.”

“I think we just want that reassurance that we aren’t fat,” Niria Portella, of Cosmopolitan for Latinas, said in the taped segment.

But seeking that reassurance, and the one-upmanship it can bring, is also unhealthy, Vranich said.

“Unfortunately what usually happens is that it goes back and forth and you almost start competing about who’s looking fat or who’s looking worse,” she said. “And that’s toxic.”

Fat talk is so ingrained in women, the New York Times said, that it’s often used to show how a woman feels she is expected to feel about her own body rather than how she truly feels.

“Even if you don’t feel that way about your body, women talk that way as if that’s how they should be talking,” Times reporter Jan Hoffman said in the taped segment.

Aronson said women need to accept the bodies they have, rather than "bashing" themselves and their shapes.

“We don’t need to body bash,” she told Guthrie. “If there’s something else bothering us, go to that issue. Stop body bashing yourself.”

Even if women know that fat talking is not healthy, will the chatter about bulging thighs or a poochy tummy go away?

“The real challenge is it’s such an ingrained habit,” blogger Morrison said.

She suggested not making fat talk the "social currency," and instead suggested women ask each other: 'How are you doing? What’s awesome in your life right now?'”

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