I recently sat down with Meghan Brown, senior Psychology major and honors student, to ask her some questions about her honors thesis and to figure out what “fat talk” is.
1. Can you briefly describe your honors thesis? What are your major predictions?
There is evidence supporting a relationship between body image and certain health risk taking behaviors. My thesis is exploring that relationship. The participants in my experimental group are being exposed to a cognitive dissonance program (i.e., Reflections), which has been proven effective in lowering thin-ideal internalization and in increasing body satisfaction. What I'm looking to find out is whether or not this program's effect on body image will also have an effect on certain health risk behaviors.
2. What inspired you to implement the Reflections: Body Image program here at W&M? How can people find out more about the program?
When I took Dr. Sinton's Health Psychology course last spring she introduced us to cognitive dissonance therapy as a means of preventing eating disorders. I was already thinking about doing an experiment this year that explored body image, and when Dr. Sinton showed my class a video of Dr. Becker talking about the Reflections program, something clicked. I knew then that this is something I wanted to implement here. Our campus has so many strong, ambitious, intelligent, and driven women and I don't want any of them to use the energy they could be using to change the world (which I know a lot of them want to do) on disliking their bodies.
3. How do you see the program growing? Can you envision how this could potentially impact the larger community?
I can eventually see this being something that William and Mary women participate in when they enter college as freshmen, teaching them lessons that will allow them to grow during their time here even more than those here currently already do.
4. What is “fat talk” and why do you think it’s harmful? How can we resist it?
"Fat talk" are statements which are made in everyday conversations that promote the thin-ideal. They can be negative like, "I'm getting so fat" or positive like, "You look great! Have you lost weight?" These statements are harmful because they promote the idea that women aren't perfectly fine the way that they are.
We can resist fat talk simply by refusing to engage in it. It's difficult, especially at first, to tell your friends that you won't have conversations about weight, but in the end it's much better for your self-confidence to simply avoid it altogether. It's also important to recognize that fat isn't a feeling. If someone is "feeling fat," then she's feeling uncomfortable, self-conscious, insecure, etc., and categorizing it as "fat". We can't fight "fat," but we can target and get rid of those other feelings.
5. If you could communicate one message to young women everywhere, what would it be?
There are so many things I wish I could tell every woman, but I think that it's really important for women to know that the ideal that they're fighting for by dieting, exercising, starving, purging, etc., doesn't even exist! We have the potential as women to do so much, and wasting our energy by selfishly striving for an unattainable ideal just isn't going to allow us to reach that potential. I encourage women, the next time they're feeling down about themselves, to think about how awful and hopeless it feels to be working so hard for something that doesn't even exist and to ask themselves if they would want their mothers, sisters, daughters or friends feeling this way. We have a responsibility to our fellow women to set a strong example of rejecting the thin-ideal.
6. Where can we find you when you aren’t working on your research?
When I'm not working on research, I'm doing a whole bunch of different activities with my sorority (Gamma Phi Beta), creating health outreach programs with the mental health branch of Health Outreach Peer Educators (aka H.O.P.E.), or working one of my two part-time jobs. I'm employed at a restaurant off campus, as well as by the Cohen Career Center. When I'm not doing any of those things I'm probably doing something crafty, baking, walking around CW, or finding new restaurants to try with my friends.