Professor Alexandra Corning and her team in the Department of Psychology at The University of Notre Dame recently presented their research findings at the Midwest Psychological Association on the likability of women who engage in fat talk.
Fat talk is a type self-disparaging speech about weight, food, and/or dieting. It is often characterized by conversations about what one should or shouldn't be eating, how much someone should or shouldn't be exercising and how they feel about their current size, shape, and/or weight. Research has shown that this type of talk has negative consequences including placing people at a higher risk for the development and/or maintenance of eating disorders.
This study utilized 139 undergraduate participants who were of 'normal' or 'average' size. The participants were shown photographs and quoted statements by women who were noticeably thin and noticeably overweight. Some of the statements were clearly fat talk, while others contained body affirmations.
The study found that people found the women (both thin and overweight) making positive statements about their bodies to be more likeable than those who were engaging in fat talk.
This research backs up what I have heard from clients who discuss the negative effects of being around people who are negative about their bodies and the positive and supportive relationships they are able to build with people who are body-affirming.
How do you talk about your body? Even if you don't have an eating disorder, the way you talk may affect those around you and your relationships. Do you need to work on excluding fat talk from your life?
You may have heard or read about Abercrombie & Fitch's CEO Mike Jeffries and his comments regarding larger women and his store's target audience this week.
It has been known for sometime that A&F does not offer women's clothing in sizes XL or larger, while they do offer XL and XXL for men. However, Mike Jeffries has recently been quoted by Robin Lewis, the author of The New Rules of Retail, as saying A&F is purposefully excluding larger women - that the store only wants the 'cool kids,' or the young, beautiful and thin people to shop at his store.
This isn't really new news though. In a 2006 interview with Salon, Jeffries admitted that the store is openly exclusionary in their marketing.
I've heard a few people brush this off as simple marketing tactics that all companies use. Whether you're selling food, clothing or cars, you want to portray the image that the people who buy your product are successful, beautiful, and happy. I get that. But, A&F has crossed a line. They are not only marketing themselves to portray an image (which on another topic is overly sexualized), but are purposefully excluding people from purchasing their products based solely on size.
It's important to take this seriously, as the research has shown that weight stigma in our society is increasingly problematic and harmful. The Yale Rudd Center released a report detailing these consequences including that people who are subjected to weight bias are at a higher risk of depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, poor body image, and suicidal thoughts and actions. Unfortunately, it doesn't stop there. This type of stigma also increases the likelihood of binge eating and obesity.
Perpetuating society's over-valuation of thinness also puts people at an increased risk of unhealthy weight control behaviors which can place people at a higher risk of developing an eating disorder.
Please consider speaking out against weight bias and stigma when you see it or hear it. It's also important to be mindful about where you spend your money and what types of messages you are supporting.
Last week, I posted about the new video from Dove detailing their 'social experiment' with having women describe themselves to a forensic artist and then being described by a stranger. Initially, I really liked the video and the message that Dove was attempting to get across - essentially that in general women see themselves more critically than others do. I still think there are a lot of positive things about this video and it's message and have heard from several therapists that it has made great fodder for both individual and group sessions.
However, I've also been hearing some really valid points criticizing the video. In general, those criticisms have to do with the way beauty is portrayed in the video - i.e. the word 'thin' is used as a positive term while the word 'round' is used in a negative way. There is also an issue with what the video doesn't show. The vast majority of the women are Caucasian with very little representation from other ethnicities. There are also no women depicted who are overweight.
Did you notice this portrayal of beauty when you watched the video? Does having it pointed out make a difference as to how you feel about the video? I'd love to hear your thoughts on it. Please feel free to comment below, or send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Body image is the way we, as individuals, see ourselves or the way we believe that we look to others. Interestingly, the newest addition to the Dove Real Beauty campaign is underscoring the idea that we are our harshest critics. And, that we actually see ourselves less accurately (and as less beautiful) than total strangers.
In a small, social experiment, FBI-trained forensic artist Gil Zamora sketches women based solely on their own descriptions of themselves. Then, the women meet with a stranger who again describes the original woman to Zamora. The drawings are strikingly different and the women become obviously emotional when they see how differently they view themselves vs. how others view them.
It is a wonderful video and I'd recommend it to anyone, especially women who may be struggling with accepting themselves as they are.
You can view the video and see the sketches side-by-side from Dove here.
Do you think that your own perception of yourself is accurate? In what ways do you think you are overly critical of your looks?
In a recent study published in the Journal of Eating Disorders, Australian researchers examined the relationship between self-reported gender role endorsement and body-image concerns in males. Research participants included 24 males diagnosed with anorexia nervosa, 30 males who use gyms, and 21 males diagnosed with muscle dysmorphia (a condition that occurs when a person believes that his/her muscles are not big enough but often have above-average musculature.)
Through self-report questionnaires, participants were measured on how well they conformed to Western ideas and norms related to masculinity and femininity. These questionnaires had measures of scales including self-reliance, domesticity, emotional control, winning, investment in children and modesty, among others. Those men diagnosed with anorexia nervosa had significantly higher scores on scales related to femininity, and those diagnosed with muscle dysmorphia had significantly higher scores on scales related to masculinity. The control group of 30 male gym users didn't differ statistically on either the scales related to femininity or masculinity.
This underscores the idea that for men who are dissatisfied with their bodies, gender role endorsement (whether masculine or feminine) serves as no protection against disordered eating behaviors and may, in fact, increase the risk towards them. Although this is only one study, if the results are replicated in future research this could emphasize the need to address gender role beliefs in both treatment and eating disorder prevention programs.
What are your thoughts on this? Do you know males with eating disorders that are excessively masculine or excessively feminine?
It is widely accepted that body dissatisfaction is a predictive element in mental health problems, particularly eating disorders. Typically, when we read about or hear about the term body dissatisfaction the primary issues are thought to be one of body weight, size and shape. However, new research is showing that body dissatisfaction is also about how old we perceive that we look. This makes sense considering that as women, in particular, age, their bodies become less and less like the 'thin ideal' we all see portrayed in the media and in our culture.
Researchers at Trinity University in San Antonio, TX and at the University of the West in England used questionnaires to assess both 'fat talk,' 'old talk,' body image disturbance, and eating disorder pathology among 914 women, aged 18-87 in the United States, Australia and the UK. They found that women of all ages engage in both 'fat talk' and 'old talk'. The results show that although less than 'fat talk,' 'old talk' is significantly correlated with body image disturbance and eating disorder pathology. It also shows that this correlation becomes stronger as women age.
This is an interesting and meaningful study for a number of reasons. First, from a research perspective this is a large sample size with a broad range of ages and subjects from three countries. Secondly, much of the research about eating disorders and body image has focused on adolescents and young adults. This study emphasizes that these are issues that women struggle with over the course of their lifetime. Thirdly, it broadens the scope of what treatment professionals and prevention programs need to be focusing on. As a therapist, I've become acutely aware of 'fat talk' not only with clients, but also with friends, family members and the general public. This research indicates that 'old talk' should be considered dangerous as well.
What do you think? Do you, or people you know engage in 'old talk'? Do you see a link between this type of body dissatisfaction and eating disorder behaviors?
Becker, C.B., Diedrichs, P.C., Jankowski, G., & Werchan, C. (2013). I'm not just fat, I'm old: Has the study of body image overlooked "old talk?" Journal of Eating Disorders, 1(6). doi: 10.1186/2050-2974-1-6
Researchers at the Cleveland Center for Eating Disorders in Cleveland, Ohio have recently published research supporting the idea that intensive treatment using a modified form of Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is effective at treating eating disorders that are complicated by other diagnoses. This form of DBT combines empirically supported eating disorder treatments with the standard strategies of DBT treatment.
Using an intensive outpatient treatment model, researchers tracked the progress of seven adult women who had both an eating disorder diagnosis and another diagnosis such as post-traumatic stress disorder or borderline personality disorder. All of these women had experienced previous attempts at treatment that did not work.
Results showed that the participants experienced a significant reduction in eating disorder symptoms (binge eating, purging, and food restriction), suicidal tendencies, and self-injurious behaviors. The participants also reported a positive experience with the program as one is quoted as saying "This was the first program that made me feel empowered - all the other treatments took that away from me - they made decisions for me, made me feel helpless. This program believed that I could figure out my problems and be skillful - that was the most important thing for me."
Although the study examined an extremely small group of women, the results are promising for those people who are suffering from multiple diagnoses and have not experienced success in previous treatments.
Do you have any experience with DBT treatments and eating disorders?
Federici, A. & Wisniewski, L. (2013). An intentsive DBT program for patients with multidiagnostic eating disorder presentations: A case series analysis. International Journal of Eating Disorders. Epub ahead of print. 5 February 2013. DOI:10.1002/eat.22112
If you didn't already know Brené Brown, Ph.D. is one of my favorite authors and speakers. I, finally, (I'm usually reading five books at once!) finished her book The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are. It is absolutely fabulous and I'd recommend it to anyone who struggles with living up to the expectations of others or wants to live a life congruent with their own beliefs and values.
You can read my full review at the link below. Also, check out my review of her first book, I Thought it Was Just Me (But it Isn't) a book about shame and shame-resilience.
- The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are
- I Thought it Was Just Me (But it Isn't)
If you've read either of these two books, please consider adding your own review. Just click on the 'write a review' link at the top of either page!
I have recently added a category entitled 'personal stories.' I am looking forward to adding profiles of celebrities and reviews of eating disorder memoirs over the coming months. However, I also want to include the stories of real-life people who are struggling with eating disorders and are in recovery from readers (that means you!)
Please consider sharing your recovery story. If you don't see a question or topic that you are interested in writing about now, please keep an eye out as others will be added. You are also welcome to suggest topics to me at email@example.com. You are also welcome to share about yourself or discuss topics related to eating disorders and recovery in the forum.
As you write, please remember that all submissions are edited for content prior to publication. The following link provides guidelines to keep in mind.
This month, The Hastings Center Report published a paper entitled "Obesity: Chasing an Elusive Epidemic" by bioethicist Daniel Callahan. In his paper, Callahan details the the American obesity 'epidemic' and strategies for controlling this issue. He calls for social pressure and stigmatization to be applied to those people who are overweight and/or obese. He encourages professionals to ask the following questions of their clients and patients:
- If you are overweight or obese, are you pleased with the way you look?
- Are you pleased when your obese children are called "fatty" or otherwise teased at school?
- Fair or not, do you know that many people look down upon those excessively overweight or obese, often in fact discriminating against them and making fun of them or calling them lazy or lacking in self-control?
It appears to me that Callahan has never spent anytime with people who have been shamed and ridiculed for the way that they look. Nor does he understand the effects of shame. Shame does not encourage change or the taking of responsibility. Shame is something that causes people to turn away from and hide from their struggles. It tells them that they, as individuals are bad or unworthy and when people believe that they are unworthy, they are unlikely to change. In fact, I would argue that shaming someone only ingrains the problems they are struggling with.
According to Rebecca Puhl, PhD, Director of Research and Weight Stigma Initiatives at the Yale Rudd Center, "Considerable research shows that when individuals are exposed to weight stigmatization, they are at heightened risk for depression, anxiety, low-self esteem, and even suicidal behaviors, as well as unhealthy eating behaviors, binge eating, increased calorie consumption, and avoidance of physical activity, which can reinforce weight gain and impair weight loss efforts."
Callahan also actually proposes that we should encourage "the majority of the population to do what a minority already do: working to stay thin in the first place and to lose weight early on if excess weight begins to emerge." Really? Does he know that up to 11 million people in the United States alone suffer from anorexia or bulimia? Or that 45% of American women and 25% of American men are on a diet? Diets, by the way, don't work and only lead to gaining more weight and increasing both obesity and eating disorders. Dieting and shaming people are definitely not the answer.
What are your thoughts on this article? What do you think will happen if people actually take Callahan's advice?
Callahan, D. (2013), Obesity: Chasing an Elusive Epidemic. Hastings Center Report, 43: 34-40.
Rudd Radar (January 24, 2013). Stigmatizing Obese Individuals is the Wrong Way to Address Obesity. http://www.yaleruddcenter.org/stigmatizing-obese-individuals-is-the-wrong-way-to-address-obesity
Tribole, E. & Resch, E.(2012). Intuitive eating: A revolutionary program that works. New York, NY: St. Martin's Griffin.
- Book Review: Intuitive Eating, A Revolutionary Program That Works
- Book Review: I Though It Was Just Me (But It Isn't) - a book about shame-resilience!