A formative study on the tie between aging and body image disturbance was published today, Feb. 21, in the Journal of Eating Disorders. This research specifically deals with the concept of "old talk," which is a similar construct to the popularly studied and campaign-inducing, "fat talk."
Although we often think about eating disorders and body image disturbance in younger populations, the fact is that these concerns do not dissipate in adulthood and may even escalate with the added concern of aging. The concept of "old talk" has not been previously addressed in body image talk, but anecdotal reports of this type of talk are rampant in our society.
To this end, researchers studied almost 1,000 women to both assess the prevalence of old talk as self-reported and to determine the link between old talk and negative body image, self-objectification, and eating disorder pathology. These women's ages crossed the lifespan, with participants as young as 18 and as old as 87.
The results indicated that both fat talk and old talk were present across the lifespan, with old talk understandably increasing with age. Over the sample, 66 percent of participants engaged in self-old talk, with 12 percent stating that they engaged in old talk quite often.
Carolyn Black Becker, the lead researcher on this study and earlier fat talk studies, stated 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."
The prevalence of old talk in this study was also correlated with negative body image and body dissatisfaction, especially in women 46 years and older. This research also suggests that although old talk is related to fat talk, it is distinct and therefore its consequences are also distinct. However, it is a considerable concern for the aging process when natural changes bring individuals further from the thin and young ideal embraced by our culture.
Obviously this study will need to be replicated and will also need to include men. Though the trajectory and prevalence of old talk may present differently in men, it is still important to take that into consideration. We must learn more about this so that we can help our aging population with informed science.