What’s your ‘I’m fat, I’m old’ talk quotient?

Posted by on Feb 22, 2013 in aging, appearance | 8 comments


When was last time you thought to yourself, ‘I’m fat?’ How about ‘I’m old?’ Sound familiar?

If you are like most women, these words have likely crossed your mind at least once if not several times. And while we tend to pay lots of attention to the ‘fat talk’, less attention appears to be paid  to how ‘old talk’ similarly impacts how women feel about themselves and perceive themselves. Not surprisingly, both are connected to the thin-ideal/young-ideal concept of beauty in Western society; just look at the number of products, drugs, and surgical procedures feared towards the preservation of youth and a youthful, wrinkle-free, cellulite-free appearance. As researcher Carolyn Beck writes in the Journal of Eating Disorders, “as women age, they increasingly move away not just from being thin but also from fulfilling the young element of the thin-young ideal. Accordingly, aging creates new opportunities for discrepancies between women’s bodies and cultural body ideals.”

Dissatisfaction with appearance and one’s body has been known to be correlated with binge eating, emotional eating, stress, low self-esteem, depression, and use of unhealthy weight control behaviors. When Dr. Beck and her colleagues set out to discover if fat talk and old talk had the same effect on body image, they found that among a sample of over 900 women, those who reported frequently talking about how fat they were or how old they were tended to have more negative body images. Importantly, an overwhelming majority of women — 81% — engaged in ‘fat talk’ at least occasionally and a full third reported frequently ‘fat talking.’ Their aging peers? At least 66% engaged in ‘old talk’ with friends and family occasionally, while 15% reported talking old more often. What’s more, the frequency of old talk tended to increase the older that women became.

Dr. Beck says that women’s self talk, be it about fat/thin or young/old, is an important public health issue as are the factors that play a role in causing, sustaining or deepening a women’s displeasure with her body. And while the two ideals are related, when women are young, the most salient aspect of self image is ‘thinness;’ conversely, as they age and enter midlife, both thinness and youth appear to be important. Overtime, thinness loses out to youthful.

When do we, as women, give ourselves a break? By buying into the thin-ideal/young-ideal constructs, we are robbing ourselves of the opportunity to recreate our individual ideals, those that work best for ourselves. When 1,000 women between the ages of 18 and 87 agree that image plays such an important a role in how they view themselves, it should cause us to pause. We seem to be doing a lot of talking without saying or DOING much, other than to self-criticize, self-demoralize, self-dissatisfy, self-disconnect and self-sabotage. I would posit that it’s time to change the dialogue.






  1. 2-22-2013

    This is such an important topic. Crucial. I have 2 grown daughters, 2 granddaughters and another granddaughter due in July and I was a high school teacher for 30 years. I’ve been with girls, young women and women for a very long time. Of course, the thoughts “fat’ and “old” enter one’s mind, but I’ve tried to use “healthy” and its synonyms to describe how I feel or want to feel. At 60, I don’t remember the insidious push for thin and youthful as a child; but I very specifically remember Twiggy as a young teenager… and her emaciated face and body. I found her frightening, but for the first time, I thought myself “fat”. I am not going to categorically blame the media for society’s all-consuming thin youthfulness, but it must be recognized and addressed. I love being 60. I love the choices before me each day to control lots of things in my life, but I cannot control age… I can only embrace it with great thankfulness. Thank you for sharing this very important post.

    • 2-22-2013

      @SharonCouto Sharon – one thing that I did not cover in this post is that the transition from thin to old is most significant once a woman reaches her 60s. I would like all of us to step back the next time the old tapes start to play, and figure out what’s driving the talk. Is it an image? A beautiful woman on the street? An ad? The more we start to pay attention, the more we’ll start to change. Thanks so much for weighing in.

      • 2-22-2013

        @Liz It’s interesting that as I was writing my comment, a television ad was gently letting me know about age-defying magic.  I began running 4.5 years ago to keep up with my 4 active adult kids and their spouses, and 9 grandkids (soon to be 10!)… and have found such great pleasure in re-discovering MYSELF, setting challenges for ME only and investing TIME for myself to think.  I generally run with no technology.  Running makes me feel 12 years old.  I’m not kidding.  I tell everyone that 60 is the new 12.  I run outside all year ’round because it makes me feel ALIVE.  Yesterday, it was 20 degrees here in Rhode Island and as I ran, I kept singing songs in my head!  I actually broke into I’M SEXY AND I KNOW IT.  I was laughing at myself.  Running creates endorphins that make me feel young.  Healthy.  ALIVE.  4 years ago, I couldn’t run around a short block.  2 years ago, I did a Half Ironman and last October, I ran Marine Corps Marathon.  That’s a lotta training time to think about things other than “old” or “fat”!  It’s time to think about being thankful for LIFE and all the little miracles we encounter every single moment of every single day.

        • 2-22-2013

          @SharonCouto Wow! You put us all to shame. I read this and thought YOU GO GIRL!!! I come from a family of exercisers so it’s in the genes, so to speak. When I don’t go,I feel badly, just as badly as I feel after a couple of bad eating days. And from where I sit? You are sexy – not just externally but your outlook is tremendous!

  2. 2-22-2013

    Oh, boy. Who gave you the key to my head? This is really tough going, and especially on top of literally feeling older–the aches and pains. 
    Some time back I saw a photo of a group of women in their 60s from the 1920’s. They were all a little plump, a little wrinkled, and they all just looked so pleased with themselves! Broad smiles, but not for the camera. Tummies pushed out, not sucked in. Proud of their furbished hats, and unconcerned about their thick middles. Strong and happy. It was really striking–so different from the look of current snapshots, where we are all sucking it in and madly posing for the camera, hoping we’ll look better than we fear.
    I have a sister who is very much my build, but dedicated to beauty and wealthy enough to have “work” done on a regular basis. So she is remaining slender and youthful as I more obviously age. It’s a stark contrast–a living Portrait of Dorian Gray–and I can let it really bug me some days. But others, I truly know that my life is every bit as satisfying as hers. Pounds and all.

    • 2-22-2013

      @mamieduff And your attitude is exactly what more women need to hear. “I truly know that my life is every bit as satisfying as hers. Pound and all.”

  3. 2-22-2013

    I think it really depends on how you feel in your body. Some people have maybe carried a little extra weight for years and have no issues with it. Speaking personally, I was always very thin – until the last several years. But in the last 3-4 years, the combination of blogging, a FT social media job and menopause have added on MANY extra pounds and I feel terrible about my age, weight etc. Of course that has finally kicked me in the butt enough (because it’s certainly wide enough and easy to kick! lol) to get back on the exercise, and eating my way back to healthy. I also realize I have this preconceived notion that I’ll never be really fit, or be able to run several miles – because my mom never did. Dumb, I know.. but it’s in there. I’m working to prove myself wrong! Thanks for the article.

    • 2-22-2013

      @OrganizerSandy I call it the menopause/midlife 10 (as opposed to the Freshman 15!). I’m fit as a fiddle but have still put on some extra pounds in the last two years. I chalk it up to stress and not eating as well as I typically do. And I am guilty of the fat/old talk, as guilty as the next woman. This study really took be aback though. Thanks for weighing in Sandy – sounds like you are back on the track you want to be on.

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