TODAY   |  May 29, 2013

Why do women engage in ‘fat talk’?

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.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> well, sometimes for ladies we are our own harshest critics especially when it comes to body image . mara schiavocampo reports on what's been called the phenomenon of fat talk. mara , we all know it.

>> reporter: yes, we do. savannah, good morning. that fat talk criticizing your own body is, unfortunately, something women do frequently with their girlfriends, but why do we do it and at what costs?

>> my butt looks so fat in these jeans.

>> are you kidding? my thighs look huge in this dress. i'm enormous.

>> no, i'm enormous.

>> reporter: if you've ever been in a woman's dressing room, chances are you've heard this conversation or maybe it's been a part of it.

>> my stomach is so big it's completely bulging out.

>> are you joking? have you seen how flabby my arms are, they wobble when i move?

>> my whole body wobbles.

>> reporter: it's called fat talk, the body-denigrating dialogue between women and their friends.

>> women feel repelled and compelled by fat talk.

>> reporter: jan hoffman wrote about it for the "new york times."

>> even if you don't feel that way about your body, women talk that way as if that's how they should be talking.

>> reporter: we gathered three successful women to ask them why do women fat talk?

>> i found myself downplaying my own body shape , you know. family will say to me oh, you look fantastic, you lost a little weight, and would i say, no, no, no, it's the jeans, definitely the jeans, don't be silly.

>> i feel the fat talk comes from like i could be fatter. i think it's just that i'm reaching for just my best, my personal perfect best .

>> i think we just want to -- want that reassurance that we aren't fat. we don't want to hear that.

>> but even if women acknowledge the behavior, will there be less fat talk? some say fat chance .

>> i think the real challenge it's such an engrained habit because it is a way of leveling the playing field . like let's not make that the social currency. how about, you know, how are you doing you? look great. what's awesome in your life right now?

>> reporter: now, in one recent study 93% of college-aged women questioned admitted to fat talking with their friends, so, unfortunately, it's still very common and doesn't seem to be going anywhere for now. savannah?

>> mara schiavocampo, thank you. we're joined by a wellness coach and therapist and eme, a plus-sized model. ladies, good morning.

>> good morning.

>> 93% of women indulged in fat talk from time to time. that does not shock me at all.

>> no.

>> is this something women constantly do?

>> all the type. it's a bonding topic so it helps sort of ease the discomfort between friends and have something to complain about together. unfortunately, it's gone too far.

>> yeah. i want to ask you about that. emme, just to be clear, women talk about this often with absolutely no connection to reality, so women might say oh, i look so fat, i'm so huge and they are not.

>> they are not, and it doesn't relate to size either, so you could be size zero or could be size 22 or larger. all women engage in this and very disastrous for our self-esteem and own body image and reaching our goals.

>> you mentioned one thing, kind of idle chatter for women , sometimes we do it to bond.

>> it's ought matic.

>> isn't there also a certain degree of seeking reassurance? some women might put it out there, gosh, i think i look fat because you want someone to come back at them and say no, you don't.

>> no, no, you look great. you look great. unfortunately what happens is you go back and forth and you're competing about who is looking fatter or looking worse, and that's toxic.

>> yeah.

>> some women do it to deflect compliments. like that dress looks so pretty on you.

>> thank you so much. i so appreciate. that's true. all i say when i talk to a lot of girls, young girls and moms, when somebody gives you a compliment, just take a deep breath and say thank you and leave it at that, don't say but, don't say anything. just say thank you.

>> just a few seconds left. do you think there actually is a larger danger? because you could say listen, just chatting with him and it's funny.

>> it's destructive.

>> there is a larger danger because if you keep hearing this over and over from other people about how fat they are and 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. we have to stop this right away.

>> it's body bashing.

>> we don't need to body bash, and if there's something else bothering us, go to that issue, stop body bashing yourself. this is what you have.

>> and a whole othering to in, andy wouldn't want to do it in your children.

>> not in front of your kids.

>> all right.

>> always a good discussion. not fat talking. thank you to both of you.