Plus, how to squash the habit. (Photo: Shutterstock)
Everyone has that friend who is always talking sh*t…about herself. Despite the fact that she’s a grown-ass woman who’s got it going on, she pinches her belly and constantly complains about her body Regina George-style. Maybe that friend is you.
Research suggests that this habit of body-shaming can actually lead to weight gain over time and one 2012 study conducted by the University of Notre Dame found that women who make negative comments about their figures are significantly less likable than women who embrace their figures.
For the Notre Dame study, researchers showed college-aged women photos of other women with different body sizes. Each had a caption with a positive or negative quote (meant to be said by the woman pictured) about her body. The women in the photos with negative captions were rated as less likeable than those with the positive comments, regardless of their actual size. It’s also worth noting that the most likeable women were overweight but had positive comments about their bodies on their photos.
It’s annoying to listen to any form of body-bashing, especially when it’s coming out of our own mouths, so why the hell are we still doing it?
“Part of the reason is that it’s a social norm—'if I don’t do it I look like someone who thinks better of myself,‘” says Analisa Arroyo, Ph.D., a communications professor at the University of Georgia who has studied body-shaming. “But our research found that most of the time, negative body talk starts because people feel dissatisfied with their body, they’re depressed, and they compare themselves to others and want to meet that ideal.” Also—no surprise here—we sometimes engage in public self-loathing because there’s a good chance we’ll score a compliment (honest or not) to temporarily boost our spirits.
Like any bad habit, putting the kibosh on body-shaming isn’t easy, but you’ll be a lot happier if you quit, says Alexandra Corning, Ph.D, the lead author of the Notre Dame study. For starters: “We didn’t find strong evidence to support that fat-talking is a bonding experience,“ (a la Mean Girls) she says. "We also found that people often feel like fat-talkers are just fishing for a compliment, which can be exhausting over time.” Word.
So how do we squash the habit, once and for all?
If It’s You
“Most people adopt habits because they offer some benefit, so you need to work through what’s keeping this behavior going,” says corning. Maybe bitching about that five pounds you’ve wanted to lose forever helps alleviate stress about your weight or feels like venting. If that’s the case, you need to find other ways to nix any nagging worries, whether it’s hitting the gym or setting aside time to talk productively with a supportive friend,” says Corning. Finding ways to accept your body—flaws and all—can be a slow process, but the activities and people you surround yourself with are key, says Arroyo.
If It’s Your Friends
Since you don’t want to sound like a jerk, it’s ok to say ‘hey, you look great’ when your girl whines about her arms or belly,“ says Arroyo. But feeding her empty compliments doesn’t help in the long term, she says. One of the easiest things you can do is change the subject, says Corning. Sometimes that’s all it takes to shift gears and let her know you’re not going to put up with her dissing herself, she says.
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By Kristen Dold