You’re standing in line at the deli when you overhear the girl behind you talking to her friend:
“Ugh, I’m only eating lettuce and peas. I got so fat over Christmas.”
You turn around to find that she’s a tiny little size two bombshell and as you take your delicious turkey and cheese melt, you shoot eye daggers of hatred her way.
Sadly, you’ve seen girls like her before. (You may even have been that girl before.) “I think most women who fat talk are thin or healthy,” says body image researcher and Northwestern University professor, Renee Engeln-Maddox, Ph.D.
But before you cast your wrath on them, take a minute to wonder why they do it.
“I think most thin women, when they say they feel fat, they do feel fat,” says Engeln-Maddox. “Part of it is to recognize that feeling fat comes and goes in different contexts.” Even svelte celebrities can feel fat when standing next to ultra-skinny peers.
In Cosmopolitan UK’s January 2012 issue, Katherine Heigl, the gorgeous, leggy blond you might remember from “Grey’s Anatomy” or “Knocked Up,” had a rather baffling body-bashing moment. Describing her experience filming “New Year’s Eve,” Heigl said of her co-stars, “I was 20 pounds heavier and wanted to look like those girls with fantastically beautiful bodies like Jennifer Aniston or Jessica Alba, but I just couldn’t lose the weight.”
Wait, Katherine Heigl doesn’t already believe she has a fantastically beautiful body?
In a culture that glorifies women like Aniston or Alba, who spend upwards of two hours a day at the gym, perhaps Heigl doesn’t feel so hot when standing next to them. “Unrealistic ideals make even thin individuals feel like they’re not physically perfect,” says Denise Martz, psychology professor at Appalachian State University.
It’s the comparison, or the context, that makes thin women feel fat. “You might fat talk when you feel self-conscious on the beach or if you just looked at a magazine,” says Engeln-Maddox. “That’s really different than being fat.”
When faced with the total hopelessness of looking like an airbrushed cover girl (we assure you, the cover girls don’t even look like that), fat talk can be a way to express negative feelings. “I think the primary reason for fat talk is it’s an attempt to feel better,” says Engeln-Maddox, “to elicit support and empathy.”
In other words, Heigl isn’t saying that she’s actually overweight—she’s expressing that she feels more self-conscious or inferior and a little less beautiful than she might in another context. She’s feeling emotional distress.
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