The development of eating disorders is often linked to some perception of the thin ideal, a pie-in-the-sky notion of what women should look like, based on doctored media images. The images often show a celebrity or model who is exceptionally thin, with youthful skin and eyes.
While there is much debate about what role the media has played in the development of eating disorders, many people report a link between their disorder and a belief that they do not measure up to the images they see in the culture surrounding them.
The thin ideal that plagues those with eating disorders often surfaces in conversation between healthy women. Women often will engage in “fat talk,” which can commonly appear in casual conversation. What seems like a casual reference to weight, however, may be more important when it comes to mental and physical health. Studies have shown that women who engage heavily in fat talk may be more likely to develop an eating disorder due to body dissatisfaction.
Now a new study shows that “old talk” may play a similar role. The findings are not surprising, given that the thin ideal is centered on not only the beautiful and thin, but also the beautiful, thin and youthful. Published in a recent issue of the Journal of Eating Disorders, the study finds that old talk also may contribute to the development of eating disorders.
The presence of old talk in a person’s conversations is a critical indicator in the measure of body dissatisfaction and is similar to the way fat talk relates to body dissatisfaction. While body dissatisfaction is an important component of the development of eating disorders, it is also associated with depression, stress and low self-esteem.
The study was conducted by researchers from the University of West England and Trinity University, who examined the presence of fat talk and old talk among women throughout their lives. The total number of women surveyed from around the world was 1,000, with ages ranging from 18 to 87.
The women were measured for levels of old talk, fat talk, body image disturbance and eating disorder history, symptoms and development.
The findings may come as somewhat of a surprise to women, given that previous research has shown that many women think of fat talk as a coping mechanism, not realizing that it leads to a lower level of body satisfaction. The study also showed that those who engage in fat talk frequently tend to share in the belief that there is a thin ideal compared with those who do not engage in fat talk.
The current study found that, in general, women more frequently talk about weight and appearance, but as they age they tend to decrease references to weight and increase the levels of old talk.
The women who reported that they engaged in fat talk or old talk were more likely to also exhibit a negative body image when compared with women who do not engage in this type of conversation.