Monday, November 12, 2007

Let's talk about Cellulite

How many times have you and your friends swapped stories of diets gone wrong and skinny jeans that just won’t fit? It’s second nature – we talk about our fat and our constant fight against it. It’s part of our make-up. But its’ not just you and your friends – it’s all of us. In fact, according to a new study co-authored by Denise Martz of Appalachian State University, it’s socially mandatory.

They call it “fat talk” and we start it in middle school. In fact the practice of fat talk is so socially ingrained that Martz points out that, “…both male and female college students know the norm of fat talk… females are supposed to say negative things about their bodies in a group of females engaging in fat talk.”

Martz and her colleagues showed 124 college students (both male and female) a scene where three women were engaged in fat talk. They then asked the test subjects to describe how they believed a fourth female would react and respond to the discussion in progress.

According to Martz, 40% of the males and 51% of the females predicted that the fourth female would join the conversation and degrade her own body right along with the rest of the women.

“Because women feel pressured to follow the fat talk norm, they are more likely to engage in fat talk with other females,” Martz said in one interview. “Hence, women normalize their own body dissatisfaction with one another.” She went on to hypothesize that “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.”

Researchers believe that the prevalence of fat talk is a coping mechanism for many. With more and more women finding themselves “Females like to support one another and fat talk elicits support,” Martz said. “An example would be one saying, ‘It`s like, I`m so fat today,’ and another would respond, ‘No, you are not fat, you look great in those pants.’”

With so many of us finding fault with ourselves, those who have a neutral – or even positive – outlook on their bodies are socially coerced to join in. No one likes a girl who’s full of herself and that’s what the practice of fat talk does – it sets up an unfair social norm where talking down about yourself is actually seen as being modest – something to aspire to.

According to Martz, “we tend to dislike arrogance and especially dislike it in women. Women are perceived as OK if they fat talk and acknowledge that their bodies are not perfect but they are working on it.”

Whether it’s right or not, it happens. We tear ourselves down when we’re together. So the next time you complain about your weight to your friends, take a moment and think of something good about yourself (even if you don’t say it out loud).

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