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Int J Eat Disord. 2016 Jan;49(1):84-91. doi: 10.1002/eat.22446. Epub 2015 Sep 26.

An experimental investigation of the consequences and social functions of fat talk in friendship groups.

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University of Queensland.



Fat talk is a form of self-degrading, thin-ideal endorsing communication that occurs within female friendship groups. Previous studies have suggested negative associations with wellbeing, but have been predominantly correlational and based on self-report. This study aimed to assess the causal relationship between fat talk and the correlates of disordered eating (thin-ideal internalization, body dissatisfaction, negative affect, and dieting intentions) by experimentally manipulating fat talk in existing friendship groups and measuring naturalistic expression of fat talk and its effects.


Participants were 85 women aged 17-25 who completed the experiment in friendship pairs. They were randomly assigned to a condition in which their friend expressed fat talk, positive body talk, or neutral talk.


This study found evidence of a causal link between listening to friends fat talk and increased correlates of disordered eating. The negative effects of listening to fat talk were fully mediated by fat talk expression. This study also revealed a social function of fat talk, whereby participants rated their friends more positively when they were perceived to behave consistently with group norms, either pro- or anti-fat talk. Positive body talk showed none of the negative effects of fat talk, and was considered socially acceptable regardless of existing friendship group norms.


These findings indicate that fat talk is a mechanism through which the thin ideal is transmitted between individuals. Interventions at the level of the friendship group to challenge norms and communication styles may break the link between societal risk factors and individual risk of eating disorders.


body image; eating disorders; social influence; social norms; thin-ideal internalization

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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