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” Pfff, I am so fat, I cannot  go to the beach.  Look at my flabby stomach”,..”Nah, you look fine”….. “Man, I need to go more to the gym and work on my abs”….”for sure, you got a long way to go before you can call that keg belly of yours  a six pack.”  Sounds familiar? Fat talks. It has become normal and automatic habit to all of us,which contributes and maintains body dissatisfaction and a poor body image.

The first thought that often comes to mind when someone says body image is its women’s issue. Just because women talk openly, frequently and with more ease about their bodies does not mean that men do not struggle with the same thoughts and feelings. Nor does it mean that just because the body dissatisfaction is expressed in a different way that it does not exist.

The ideal body images that men and women are bombarded with are different. The “perfect” male body is V shape, thin and muscular, whereas the woman’s “perfect” body is portrayed to be thin, long, toned and curvy in the right places, as they say…Women worry about not being thin enough, not having the right size and body shape. There is a constant pursuit after the next big and quick diet, procedure or trend that will alter their appearance. Men, on the other hand, are worried about being too thin, too fat, not in proportions and not muscular enough. One study shows that 90% of male college students in US are unhappy with their bodies and desire a much more muscular body.

Gender difference in fat talk

Women engage in fat talk with others from a very young age and at various settings.  It is often formulated in very negative, self-degrading and judgmental tone and adjectives. It is the venting of feelings, frustrations and the expression of negative thoughts about the body. While a woman expresses negativity about her weight and body shape, her peers commonly try to comfort, reassure or deny her concerns at that specific moment; yet one might say the same about herself later on the same day. The reassurances often get dismissed. It is an interesting phenomena of women’s’ fat talk interactions.

Men fat talk is different in content and it is also more specific to settings that involve the body size e.g. the gym, during dinner etc. Fat talks among men occur less often and they are focused more on the need to lose weight, muscle-building behaviors and lack of muscularity .  Unlike women, who do not speak positively about their body openly, men will mention parts of the body that they are satisfied with during that same fat talk. Another gender difference lies in the reaction to the expression of the body dissatisfaction. Men respond with validation of the concerns and dissatisfaction  of their friend, encouragements to drive for more muscularity and to achieve appearance changes (e.g. extreme workouts, supplements, performance inducing pills).

Consequences

Hearing others’ fat talk and fat talking, in men and women alike, relate to increased body dissatisfaction, negative body image, unhealthy behaviours and it is also associated with  depression, eating disorders and low self- esteem. Studies show that fat talks have more influence on body satisfaction than exposure to an idealized body image has.

That means that the way you talk and think about your own body, what you hear from those around you say about themselves and the way others talk about you, has more negative impact on your body image than seeing a picture of a model. Think about that for a second.

Yes, our culture idealizes and exposes us to images of bodies that are unattainable and unrealistic. The frustrations and distress that we feel when we cannot measure up and attain that ideal body are painful and real, but that image of the ideal body is not real. Instead of been critical towards yourself and rejecting your body, be critical towards the media’s fake images and reject them. Refuse to participate in a race towards an unrealistic perfect body.  You can control what you think, feel and do about it.

You can choose how you perceive those messages and how you perceive yourself. You can control how you treat yourself and how you talk about yourself. You also have the choice to change the impact on your body image by being more aware of your fat talk and self -talk.  You can consciously choose to promote positive body talk instead of participating in fat talks. You can be selective with the environment, people and messages you expose yourself to and what you accept.

Accepting your body and embracing your inner and outer beauty is possible and within your grasp. It starts by being aware, making conscious choices, taking action and making the effort to achieve a more healthy and balanced body image. The question that remains is- are you ready to create that change?

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Jones, D. C., & Crawford, J. K. (2005). Adolescent boys and body image: Weight and muscularity concerns as dual pathways to body dissatisfaction. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 34, 629–636.

Jones, D. C., Vigfusdottir, T. H., & Lee, Y. (2004). Body image and the appearance culture among adolescent girls and boys: An examination of friend conversations, peer criticism, appearance magazines, and the internalization of appearance ideals. Journal of Adolescent Research, 19, 323–339.

Karazsia, B. T., & Crowther, J. H. (2010). Sociocultural and psychological links to men’s engagement in risky body change behaviors. Sex Roles, 63, 747–756.

Martz, D. M., Petroff, A. B., Curtin, L., & Bazzini, D. G. (2009). Gender differences in fat talk among American adults: Results from the psychology of size survey. Sex Roles, 61, 34–41.

Ousley, L., Cordero, E. D., & White, S. (2008). Fat talk among college students:How undergraduates communicate regarding food and body weight, shape, and appearance. Eating Disorders, 16, 73–84.

Salk, R. H., & Engeln-Maddox, R. (2012). Fat talk among college women is both contagious and harmful. Sex Roles, 66, 636–645.

Tompkins, K. B., Martz, D. M., Rocheleau, C. A., & Bazzini, D. G. (2009). Social likability, conformity, and body talk: Does fat talk have a normative rival in female body image conversations? Body Image, 6, 292–298.

 

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