When a woman complains about her physical appearance, male college students assume she has poorer mental health, according to a new study.
The study examined men’s perceptions of women who engage in “fat talk,” where a person expresses dissatisfaction with their body, especially in regards to their weight.
In the study, 103 male college students read a brief story about a fictional female student, named Brittany, who was described as being sexual attractive, smart, good humored, and single.
The students read different versions of the story about Brittany. The stories varied their description of Brittany as either: “sexy and lean,” “sexy and average sized,” or “sexy and larger sized.” The stories also concluded with two different quotes from Brittany. In one quote, Brittany complains her shorts make her look fat. In the other, she says the shorts “make me look my best.”
The participants perceived Brittany to have poorer mental health after reading about her complaining about looking fat. However, the “fat talk” did not affect their desire to know her better, ask her on a date, have sexual contact with her, or start a committed relationship with her.
The male students were more likely to desire a committed relationship with Brittany when she was described as leaner. This was especially true for those with a lower self-esteem, the researchers found.
The study, titled “Women’s Fat Talk Can ‘Kill the Mood’ for Men,” was published in the journal Eating Behaviors.