Rebecca Kamm

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Rebecca Kamm: When old talk takes over fat talk

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Model Ilona in the ' Karen Walker Forever ' ad campaign. Remind yourself of the perks of getting older.Photo / Supplied
Model Ilona in the ' Karen Walker Forever ' ad campaign. Remind yourself of the perks of getting older.Photo / Supplied

Today in sad news, research says women's body image doesn't actually get better with age and wisdom after all - we just swap 'fat talk' ("My thighs are enormous") for 'old talk' ("I look ancient"). Also, both types of discussion are linked to higher incidences of anxiety, depression and eating disorders.

A study published this week - I'm not just fat, I'm old: has the study of body image overlooked "old talk"? - drew from interviews with more than 900 American, British and Australian women between 18 and 87 about their overall body dissatisfaction.

A lot of attention is given to eating disorders in younger female populations, but not so much to how this might manifest as women age. Over the sample, 66 per cent of participants engaged in self-old talk, with 12 per cent indicating that they did so frequently.

Carolyn Becker, lead researcher on this study (and earlier fat talk studies), says: "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."

Fat talk was relatively stable over the age groups - 81 per cent of women reported at least occasional comments - but lessened among the over-61 set. Old talk, inversely, picked up (although, amazingly, even half the youngest group of women said they complained about their "ageing" bodies at least sometimes).

The danger is that as age carries women even further away from the youthful ideal, they're not just dealing with weight issues but also the fear they don't look young enough, either. Which, all lumped together, can culminate in some hefty self-loathing.

"Overall, our results suggest that researchers need to broaden their understanding of body image and eating disorders to include old talk, particularly when studying mid-life and older women," says Becker.

All in all, quite a downer. So next time your friend/mother/friend laments time's effect on their beauty, turn their mind to the perks of getting on a bit: According to Science, seniors need one-and-a-half hours less sleep per night, are more optimistic, get to squeeze the cheeks of awesome grandchildren, have much wiser brains, feature in Karen Walker campaigns, and still have quite a bit of sex.

What's a few wrinkles in the face of all that?

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