UK researchers have found that as women age they often talk about the negative aspects of the aging process, and this “old talk” tends to damage a woman’s self-image.
Experts suggest that such devaluatiion is an extension of “fat talk” in girls and young women – behaviors that compromise self-image and cause self-esteem issues.
Phillippa Diedrichs, Ph.D., is co-author of the new study led by Carolyn Becker, Ph.D., at Trinity University published in BioMed Central’s open access journal, Journal of Eating Disorder.
“Fat talk” includes any speech that reinforces the thin-ideal standard of female beauty (e.g., “do I look fat in this?” “wow, you look great — have you lost weight?”), and has been targeted by international campaigns aiming to reduce its frequency.
However, it now appears that body image researchers and advocates may have been too narrow in their focus on negative body talk.
New research suggests that talking about looking old (e.g., “Look at these wrinkles!” “I’m too old to wear a swimsuit,” “You don’t look your age, tell me your secret”), also may be associated with problems related to body dissatisfaction.
Becker, a professor of psychology, noted that “until now, most research has focused on the negative effects of the thin-ideal and speech such as ‘fat talk’ in younger women, but we need to remember that the thin-ideal is also a young-ideal which additionally may contribute to negative body image, particularly as women age.”
Body dissatisfaction is known to be correlated with, and often predictive of, physical health problems as well as mental health problems such as eating disorders and depression. Higher than normal levels of negative body talk can be a good indicator of body dissatisfaction.
Researchers surveyed 1000 women from the United States, United Kingdom and Australia, between the ages 18 to 87.
Investigators discovered that both kinds of talk occurred throughout women’s lives, but engaging in “fat talk” decreased with age, while “old talk” increased.
Additional findings include:
Women who reported higher levels of ‘fat talk’ and ‘old talk’ also reported more problems with negative body image.
Study participants also reported being exposed to a high degree of both “fat talk” and “old talk” via friends and the media.
Previous research indicates that even small (as little as five minute) doses of “fat talk” can significantly increase body dissatisfaction.
“This study suggests ‘old talk’ may have similar negative effects on women. It also indicates that we should begin to explore the effects of media driven ‘old talk’ and ‘fat talk,’” said Diedrichs.
“Overall, our results suggest that researchers need to broaden their understanding of body image and eating disorders to include ‘old talk’, particularly when studying midlife and older women,” Becker said.
Experts say additional research is needed on the impact of negative body image in adult women.
Furthermore, investigation on the negative messages adult women may be passing on to the younger generation, is sorely needed to improve body satisfaction and quality of life throughout the aging process.