When was the last time you told your friends you thought your butt looked too big, or explained how much you wanted to lose just five pounds? How many times have you played verbal tennis, volleying back and forth about your body issues?
Ninety-three percent of women do it, no matter their weight. It’s a bonding ritual—or at least that’s how it seems, both to women everywhere and psychologists who study body satisfaction. But emerging research on fat talk—those disparaging comments about your own weight and body—suggests that, far from endearing you to other women, it could make them like you less.
To test what women really think when others fat talk, Alexandra Corning, Ph.D., a professor of psychology and director of Notre Dame’s Body Image and Eating Disorder Lab presented 139 college women with one of four types of photos. The photos were of either thin or overweight women, accompanied by a caption relating either a fat-talk statement or positive body talk.
The findings, presented at the 2013 Midwestern Psychological Association conference, showed that participants preferred the women whose quotes suggested that they were happy with their bodies to those who fat-talked, regardless of what they looked like. Overweight women who made positive body statements—for example, “I know I’m not perfect, but I love the way I look”—came out most likeable of all.
READ MORE: How to Make Your Friends Stop Fat Talking
“The notion that girls and women use fat talk perhaps to initiate or solidify social bonds makes logical sense,” says Corning, but her findings don’t bear it out. “The take-home message is that if women are engaging in fat talk in the hope of strengthening their social bonds, their attempts may backfire, as the women who fat-talked were generally perceived as less likeable.”
Past research has already shown that fat-talking can lead to negative body image. The new lesson: It can take a toll on your social life, too.
RESEARCH: Fat Talk Is Contagious