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Susan Cowden, MS

"Old Talk" - Just as Dangerous as "Fat Talk"?

By February 21, 2013

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It is widely accepted that body dissatisfaction is a predictive element in mental health problems, particularly eating disorders.  Typically, when we read about or hear about the term body dissatisfaction the primary issues are thought to be one of body weight, size and shape.  However, new research is showing that body dissatisfaction is also about how old we perceive that we look.  This makes sense considering that as women, in particular, age, their bodies become less and less like the 'thin ideal' we all see portrayed in the media and in our culture.

Researchers at Trinity University in San Antonio, TX and at the University of the West in England used questionnaires to assess both 'fat talk,' 'old talk,' body image disturbance, and eating disorder pathology among 914 women, aged 18-87 in the United States, Australia and the UK.  They found that women of all ages engage in both 'fat talk' and 'old talk'.  The results show that although less than 'fat talk,' 'old talk' is significantly correlated with body image disturbance and eating disorder pathology.  It also shows that this correlation becomes stronger as women age.

This is an interesting and meaningful study for a number of reasons.  First, from a research perspective this is a large sample size with a broad range of ages and subjects from three countries.  Secondly, much of the research about eating disorders and body image has focused on adolescents and young adults.  This study emphasizes that these are issues that women struggle with over the course of their lifetime.  Thirdly, it broadens the scope of what treatment professionals and prevention programs need to be focusing on.  As a therapist, I've become acutely aware of 'fat talk' not only with clients, but also with friends, family members and the general public.  This research indicates that 'old talk' should be considered dangerous as well.

What do you think?  Do you, or people you know engage in 'old talk'?  Do you see a link between this type of body dissatisfaction and eating disorder behaviors?


Becker, C.B., Diedrichs, P.C., Jankowski, G., & Werchan, C. (2013). I'm not just fat, I'm old: Has the study of body image overlooked "old talk?" Journal of Eating Disorders, 1(6). doi: 10.1186/2050-2974-1-6

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