Category: Eating Disorders
Fat talk, a conversational style characterized by criticism regarding one’s body, has become normative among women in today’s society. Although fat talk was originally proposed to serve several positive functions for girls/women, research in the past two decades suggests that this phenomenon is associated with numerous pathological constructs including eating disorder pathology, depression, body dissatisfaction, and body shame. Fat talk has also been linked to fear of negative evaluation, the fundamental component of social anxiety disorder, the third most common psychiatric disorder in the U.S. In the current literature, fat talk has been observed and evaluated primarily among Caucasian college-aged women. This study used a sample composed of 110 predominantly Caucasian women, approximately 18.3 years of age, attending a mid-sized, Southeastern university to examine whether fear of negative evaluation (our proxy measure of social anxiety; Brief Fear of Negative Evaluation Scale – Revised (BRNE-R; Carleton, McCreary, Norton, & Asmundson, 2006) was related to women's fat talk using the Fat Talk Questionnaire (FTQ; Royal, MacDonald, & Dionne, 2013). This study employed a two-step hierarchical regression using the following established predictors of fat talk in Step 1: depression (PHQ-9; Kroenke & Spitzer, 2002), sociocultural attitudes towards appearance (SATAQ; Schaefer et al., 2015), social comparison (INCOM; Gibbons & Buunk, 1999), and objectified body consciousness (OBC;McKinley & Hyde, 1996). Step 2 added the fear of negative evaluation subscale of the BRNE-R. Results showed that the known predictors accounted for 41.3% of the variance in fat talk and that fear of negative evaluation/social anxiety contributed in a slight but statistically significant way (3.3%), beyond previously established pathology predictors. These findings provide support for earlier ethnographic research suggesting fat talk is used for impression management, gaining approval of the group, and avoiding being negatively evaluated by one’s peers. On the surface, engaging in fat talk may seem harmless, but findings are showing that the behavior may actually be a symptom of underlying issues within individuals who could benefit from appropriate interventions. We discuss the clinical implications of these findings, as well as direction for future research related to exploring the potential functions of and consequences of engaging in fat talk.