“I Need to Lose Some Weight”: Masculinity and Body Image as Negotiated Through Fat Talk

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Fat talk is a self-deprecating cultural script focused on physical appearance. Among women, responses to fat talk include denial of the negative self-assessment followed by reassurance that her appearance is acceptable. Among men, responses to fat talk remain virtually undescribed. To address this gap, 4 studies were conducted wherein adult men responded to discourse completion tasks depicting interlocutors of similar and different size. In each task, the first speaker utters a validated fat talk prompt (“I need to lose some weight”), and the respondent writes a reply. In Study 1, the 2 men engaging in the fat talk interaction were depicted with a body mass index of 25; in Study 2, each was depicted with a body mass index of 30; and in Studies 3 and 4, each was depicted with different body sizes. Over 250 written responses were analyzed for the manner of response. Men’s normative responses were to deny and reassure, but they also included solutions or advice. Manner of reply differences were cued by body size. Responses of denial and reassurance were offered toward slimmer individuals and validations toward heavier ones. Men’s replies exhibit unease when men of different body sizes interact. Specifically, the data suggest that the cultural script of fat talk for men does not easily support a scenario that includes a larger sized man making self-deprecating statements to a leaner one. We demonstrate that fat talk among men is one means by which everyday masculinity and the body is negotiated.

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