The idea of having a funny fat friend for men who are in decent shape may seem like something from a Hollywood movie, but the reality is that it’s unlikely to work.
Recent scientific research actually showed that the “fat talk” is particularly difficult for men, because they struggle to relate to a diversity of experience, and they don’t often want to talk about their bodies.
A team of Arizona State University researchers wrote in the journal of Psychology of Men & Masculinities that fat talk and self-disparaging conversations about one’s body has mostly been studies and viewed in women, and they have been considered a highly feminine phenomenon.
However, the team clarifies that U.S. men recognize and respond to fat talk uttered by other men when using a picture-based elicitation technique.
According to the study, men do care about how their bodies look, but that self-perception affects them in a different way than women. The difference comes from the fact that masculinity is not just gender identity, but it’s a status that has to be performed, earned, and proved, and maintaining the ‘ideal’ size, shape, and weight is just one of the ways men participate in this hierarchy. Data shows that the preferred male bodies are tall, lean, and muscular (but not too muscular). So, because of this connection between status and size, men are more likely to judge overweight and obese people, and many men view weight loss as a moral issue.
Fat talk in women often includes phrases such as “I hate my hips”, or “Does this make me look fat?”, and it has been found that it has positive and negative effects.
The positive side is that it creates a space for social interactions that could make women feel better about their bodies. However, these conversations can easily make people feel much, much worse.
Researchers put 251 adult men in four different scenarios to better gauge the potential effects of fat talk on men. Men of similar and different sizes participated in fat talk, and each scenario started with the first speaker prompting the conversation with something like “I need to lose weight”.
Participants had to report how they would respond, based on each other’s BMI. The BMI was either 25, which is considered overweight, or 30, which is considered obese.
The results showed that men were generally compassionate about the fat talk, and tended to reassure the other person by telling them that they need to lose weight. So, these results looked very similar to the results from women.
However, the difference was that men were more prone to giving advice about weight loss than women, which means that they were more likely to try and solve the problem. It’s important to note that this only happened when they were in the same or better shape. When the participant was the “fatter guy”, they were more likely to compare themselves negatively.
With the fact that this is the first study to examine the relationship between fat talk and masculinity, the short conclusion is that men handle conversations about weight fairly poorly. However, there still seem to be a difference between how men and women interact about their bodies, and because men use their size to assert dominance, they may be better at interacting with men on their level or close to it than significantly fatter or skinnier guys.