Look at these wrinkles! She's too old to be wearing that!

Issue date: 21 February 2013


New research suggests 'Old Talk' is linked to negative body image in women

Previous body image research has revealed the negative effects of 'fat talk' in girls and young women, but new research suggests that the dissatisfaction with a woman's self-image may become more complex as she ages and move increasingly to a focus on age and 'old talk'.

Dr Phillippa Diedrichs from the world renowned Centre for Appearance Research at UWE Bristol is co- author of a new study lead by Dr Carolyn Becker at Trinity University published this week in BioMed Central's open access journal, Journal of Eating Disorder.

The Research article is entitled, “I'm not just fat, I'm old: has the study of body image overlooked "old talk"? by Carolyn Black Becker, Phillippa C Diedrichs, Glen Jankowski and Chelsey Werchan.

'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 supported by eating disorders charity, the Succeed Foundation and published in BioMed Central's open access journal, Journal of Eating Disorders, suggests that talking about looking old, or “old talk” (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.

Dr. Carolyn Black Becker, professor of psychology at Trinity University and leader of this study, 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.

· The survey covered 1000 women from the United States, United Kingdom and Australia, age range 18 to 87.

· Results showed that both 'fat talk' and 'old talk' occurred throughout women's lives, however engaging in 'fat talk' decreased with age, while 'old talk' increased.

· Women who reported higher levels of 'fat talk' and 'old talk' also reported more problems with negative body image.

· 'Old talk' was particularly associated with body dissatisfaction in women 46 years and older.

· 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.

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 5 minute) doses of 'fat talk' can significantly increase body dissatisfaction.

Study co-author Dr Phillippa Diedrichs from UWE Bristol and Head of Research at The Succeed Foundation, noted that, “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.'”

Dr Becker continued, “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.”

Karine Berthou, founder of The Succeed Foundation said, “This is just the beginning of our research into the impact of negative body image in adult women. We need to reduce the negative messages adult women may be passing on to the younger generation.'

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