May 28, 2013

Studying college-age females and their "fat talk" (in which 93% of them indulge).

"Alexandra F. Corning, a research associate professor in psychology at the University of Notre Dame... showed 139 undergraduates photos of two thin and two overweight women, each making either a positive or negative remark about her body."

Before reading on, answer this: Which woman do you think was considered most likable?

Dr. Corning professed to be surprised by her result, but I'm not surprised at all.
The most likable woman chosen by the students was overweight and quoted as saying: “I know I’m not perfect, but I love the way I look. I know how to work with what I’ve got, and that’s all that matters.”...

But, she acknowledged, her experiment had limitations. “Are the students really liking these women the most? Or are they saying it because they think they should?” said Dr. Corning. “They might like them more, but would they really want to hang out with them?”
Fat talk is — we're told — "airless and scripted." One person exclaims about her fat and the other responds with an equivalent exclamation about her fat. So it's really small talk, social etiquette like "How are you?"/"Fine. How are you?" But Corning portrays the interchange as a problem to be solved — a "hungry cry for affirmation," met with a "toxic" reciprocation.
Dr. Corning said that to break the cycle, a person shouldn’t engage. But particularly for younger women, it’s hard to say something like, “Hey, no negative self-talk!” or “Why do we put ourselves down?”
I suspect there's a positive side to the "negative self-talk" that's hard for older folks to hear. For one thing, in the script, the second speaker is declining to lie or to reinforce the first female's negative opinion of herself. Instead, she shifts the focus to herself, but in the friendly way of offering company: I'm fat too.

Corning seems to be about examining the presumed problem of low self-esteem among females, so she doesn't consider — as far as I can tell from this article — whether what's really going on with this "fat talk" is a kind of mutual comforting and camaraderie in the denial of what is a health problem. Ironically, the psychologist is joining in this activity with her self-esteem talk.

(Note: The linked article — "'Fat Talk' Compels but Carries a Cost" — is by Jan Hoffman, who wrote my all-time favorite NYT article.)

27 comments:

Scott M said...

LOL

That made me wonder about how this topic is handled by gay women. We hear how gay men have a saying, "Straight skinny, but gay fat." Given the girth of many of the lesbians I've know, is it reversed on the other side of the gay gender barrier?

Ignorance is Bliss said...

Which woman do you think was considered most likable?

If I had to guess, I'd say not Dr. Corning.

bpm4532 said...

Those who rationalize best, succeed.

SJ said...

If the student thinks that Affirmative Action is good...

“Are the students really [supporting that idea]? Or are they saying it because they think they should?”

This question can be asked about many other subjects, and many forms of research involving asking questions of students.

Or of voters.

Birches said...

People don't like the skinny girl talking bad about herself because she's rail thin, yet complaining about her thighs.

Makes me want to punch her in the face.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

THIS is one of the main reasons that I don't hang out with other women very often. This inane talk and constant navel gazing. The one-upmanship of woe is me. Fishing for compliments by denigrating yourself. Annoying.

The women I do count as friends are not so frivolous, are more practical. Maybe it is an age thing, but I don't think so. This crap has annoyed me ever since junior high.

"Oh. My hair is so horrible today." then you are expected to say....."Oh, not it isn't. You look great (or some other such reinforcing statement)" When the reality is, and I so wanted to say. "Yup. You are a mess. You look like you combed your hair with a rake." Usually the best response is to ignore the whole thing and strike up a conversation with someone who isn't so freaking self absorbed.

edutcher said...

It's attitude, not weight.

You get the same thing with the plain girl, the too-short girl, too-tall girl (witness Ann Coulter), etc.

urban_hermit said...

No fat (talking) chicks!

Mitchell the Bat said...

I'm assuming that "fat talk" is what goes on between mouthfuls.

Ann Althouse said...

"Fishing for compliments by denigrating yourself. Annoying."

But, as I suggest in the post, this is the positive value of "fat talk." You don't give the self-denigrator a compliment. You denigrate yourself.

Everyone gets it. That's the script. No one lies and no one says anything mean about the other person.

Why not try this script next time you're annoyed by this seeming fishing for compliments? It might work.

The larger topic is that a lot of conversations are boring. How to spiral upward from small talk to something good?

Dust Bunny Queen said...

this is the positive value of "fat talk." You don't give the self-denigrator a compliment. You denigrate yourself.

Yes. The one-upmanship of women.

"OMG. Just look at my shoes they are so out of style"

"Oh, Yeah? You should see the crap shoes I have in my closet."

"Really, I have shoes from like 10 years ago."

And so on. What is positive about this type of conversation.

You also hear it in women who engage in the "how bad was my surgery, child delivery, labor, etc." Each women wants to have the worst story to be the biggest....whatever?. Ok....so you had the worst labor...evah. You freaking win. WHO CARES?!?!?

Do MEN do this crap in talking about themselves? I've never heard it.

Rabel said...

Among the men I know, self denigration tends to draw affirmation.

I've got a pretty good Obama joke here, but I think I'll just let it go.

And the older Times article gave me a little chill. Just a little one, but a chill nonetheless. I'll go break out my power tools to get over it.

Larry J said...

Dust Bunny Queen said...

Do MEN do this crap in talking about themselves? I've never heard it.


Most of the men I know do self-depricating humor all the time. No one gets offended when you make yourself the butt of a joke. We joke about ourselves to show we don't take ourselves seriously. We also dig at each other but everyone knows its a joke so they don't get offended. It's just what guys do with their friends.

It seems to me that a lot of women never get past the middle school mentality of tearing each other down mixed with massive insecurity about their body image. My wife is a retired nurse. She said she always preferred working with men because there was less bickering and back-stabbing than working with women.

Jay said...

Conclusion: college aged women are really, really stupid.

edutcher said...

Guys do it better because men (generally) have a sense of humor and most women don't.

A woman who can take a joke and give one without getting nasty is a rare commodity.

elkh1 said...

"The most likable woman chosen by the students was overweight ... “Are the students really liking these women the most?"

Definitely yes, they could indulge in some more chocolate cakes and still look better than her. They don't like the thin one who "preens" (for talking positive about herself) or "whines" (for talking negative).

The doctor is bonkers, those students found one particular woman who happens to be fat likeable, and the silly doctor extrapolates that they like all fat women.

elkh1 said...

Jay said...
Conclusion: college aged women are really, really stupid.

Wrong conclusion. College aged women who talk so much about their appearance are really really stupid. But not as stupid as the people who funded the doctor's study.

X said...

nobody cares what fat chicks think.

Alex said...

"Honey are my thighs too fat?" -

while munching on a bucket of KFC

ricpic said...

The other young women like the truly fat one because she's no threat.

Renee said...

You look skinnier next to a 'fat chick', so that is why we like them more.

Yes, I'm repulsed by that thought but it goes through our heads. My apologies.

Strelnikov said...

At least my tax dollars are not being wasted on frivolous "research".

Amartel said...

The fat girls are less threatening.

Joe said...

I call bullshit. Most people by age 12 have figured out all the "right" answers to loaded questions.

Joe said...

Ah, at least the dear professor understands it's bullshit:

"Are the students really liking these women the most? Or are they saying it because they think they should?" said Dr. Corning. "They might like them more, but would they really want to hang out with them?"

Dr. Corning knows the answer.

Jeff said...

Larry J is right. You should hear how my son and I insult each other. Almost every conversation we have contains attempts at humorous insults that we do our best to deliver with a straight face.

At his wedding, I gave a toast that described the many ways I had tried to ruin his life. For example, I encouraged him to wrestle in middle school, hoping he'd at least get a broken limb or two, but I was foiled by him becoming the district champ in his weight class. I sent him to Virginia Tech for college because everyone knows there aren't any girls there, but it turns out there are a few and he finds the prettiest one to be his wife.

But, finally, I was getting even by telling him the most devasting news he had ever heard. "Son, you weren't adopted."

That's the way I think most men roll. With other men we trust, we keep trying to top each other with ridiculous insults. If you can make the other guy laugh when he's trying hard not to, you've really accomplished something.

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