'Old Talk' Edges Out 'Fat Talk' As Women Age

Women don't get easier on themselves as they grow older, new research suggests. Instead, "I look so old" replaces "I feel so fat."

The study examined the prevalence of "fat talk" and "old talk" among women between the ages of 18 and 87. Fat talk is a common conversational gambit in which someone decries his or her (though usually her) body with a comment like, "I hate my thighs" or "I wish I was as thin as you."

Old talk is a similar phenomenon, but far less studied. A woman engaging in old talk might say something like, "Look at all these wrinkles. I look so ancient."

Self-hatred talking

Trinity University psychologist Carolyn Black Becker became interested in old talk after a pilates instructor contacted her in 2011. The instructor was part of a campaign called Fat Talk Free Week, which aims to stop the self-hate of fat talk, which is linked with body dissatisfaction. (Body dissatisfaction, in turn, is linked to decreased self-esteem, increased depression and a host of unhealthy behaviors, including eating disorders.)

The instructor told Becker that she had a slightly different problem among her clients: Old talk, from statements like "I look so old" to "Do you want to come to a Botox party?"

The concern prompted Becker and her colleagues to tune in for signs of old talk in the media. It wasn't hard to find, but studies of the phenomenon were nonexistent. [5 Myths About Women's Bodies]

So the researchers put together an online survey and recruited 914 women from the United States, United Kingdom and Australia through universities, women's organizations, online forums and word-of-mouth. The survey asked questions about age, weight, types and frequency of both fat talk and old talk as well as a battery of items on body image and eating disorder behavior.

Aging anxiety

The survey results revealed a pattern of negativity. Among all age groups, 81 percent of women reported at least occasional fat talk, with 33 percent of the total sample making "I'm so fat" comments frequently. What's more, 66 percent of the women reported old talk, with a total of 15 percent reporting frequently engaging in these sorts of conversations.

Fat talk was relatively stable over the age groups, but declined among the over-61 set. Old talk, on the other hand, became more common with age (though even among the youngest group in the sample, half said they decried their aging bodies at least occasionally).

It's not yet clear whether the changes come with age or are the result of the women in the study being of different generations, the researchers report Feb. 20 in the Journal of Eating Disorders.

What is clear is that negative self-talk isn't good for women. Both fat talk and old talk were linked with greater body dissatisfaction and eating disorder behaviors such as restricting food or binge-eating.

The findings suggest that the effects of cultural glorification of youth should be studied alongside the ideal of thinness, the researchers wrote.

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