Back in college, it was a little like doing the dozens, the old insult-trading game in which the goal was to best one’s opponent. Only in this case, both players may have ended up feeling bad — even if they had been trying to be supportive. Sometimes called fat talk, it has been tied to body-image disorders, and a journal, Psychology of Women Quarterly, once offered this example:
“Ugh, I feel so fat.”
“OMG. Are you serious? You are NOT fat.”
“Yes I am, look at my thighs.”
“Look at MY thighs.”
Many baby boomers who recall conversations like this may be glad to look back at those days in the rearview mirror. But if in that mirror the only thing you notice is “Oh, no! Another wrinkle!” then maybe you have not really travelled all that far.
“I’m pretty sure that women don’t graduate from body-image concerns when they graduate from college,” said Carolyn Black Becker, a psychology professor at Trinity University in San Antonio.
Dr Becker is an author of a new study in the Journal of Eating Disorders suggesting that for some women, “old talk” is the new fat talk — and may be a signal for the same type of physical and mental health problems, including binge eating and depression. For the study, researchers surveyed more than 900 women, ages 18 to 87, and found that while fat talk tended to decrease with age, old talk often came in to replace it, and that both were reported by women who appeared to have a negative body image. (While the problem is much more common in women, men, too, can be at risk, researchers say.)Dr Becker began looking into the issue after the owner of an exercise studio who did not allow fat talk asked how she should handle women who said things like "I look so old" and talked about "Botox parties."
For many women living in a society where they are bombarded with images of the young and the thin, body-image problems are a longstanding issue.
But Dr Becker said she had also spoken with women who made it through their younger years largely unscathed only to start worrying about their looks in middle age. “They didn’t expect it,” she said. “They didn’t anticipate it.”
Oddly enough, feeling young may make things a bit worse, the Harvard Women’s Health Watch newsletter has suggested. It pointed to a survey finding that many people in their 60s and 70s said they felt at least 10 or 20 years younger. The problem is, they may not look that way — and that can lead to dissatisfaction.
The years ahead may be kinder. Stephen Franzoi, a psychology professor at Marquette University, said he once surveyed people who were in their 70s about their body images.
“When we interviewed them,” Dr Franzoi said, “it seemed as though what they were saying was, at a certain point, they gave up comparing themselves to the cultural feminine ideal. They said: ‘You know what? There’s no point in doing that anymore.’ And that seemed to increase their self-esteem.”
The New York Times