These days, a few hours spent at a baby shower, a salon, or another female-dominated locale can start to sound like an episode of Real Housewives. From bemoaning the flab on one’s arms to debating the merits of Botox, groups of women often seem to have an endless supply of topics that share a similar theme — how darn flawed they are.
The fat-talk is almost a given, but what research is now revealing is that “old-talk” is sweeping in, and with similarly detrimental results.
Carolyn Black Becker, a psychologist at Trinity University, and her colleagues recently published an article in the Journal of Eating Disorders about the new wave of “old-talk.” They recognized that as the Baby Boomers have gotten older, the incidence of self-deprecication around age has increased. Not only that, but it’s correlated with body image disturbance and eating disorder pathology. A quick look at the magazine stand reflects this reality as well. Cover stories, ads, and products abound about how to look younger and hide the signs of aging.
While the large population of Baby Boomers might seem to be driving this phenomenon, old-talk is actually, well… old. Women – and men – have been lamenting aging for centuries. Perhaps it’s related to our fears of mortality, but chatting about the losses associated with getting older is one way that we connect.
And therein lies the problem.
My question is this: “Fat” or “old,” why is it that we have to criticize the realities of our physical selves in order to establish connection?
My guess is that these seem like safe topics in mixed company. With politics, religion, and sex usually on the taboo list, most women feel pretty safe talking about diets and their crow’s feet in just about any social situation. We figure that others can relate. Doesn’t everyone want to change themselves?
I suspect it also has to do with a key element in the way that women relate to one another. Ever cautious to come across as conceited or, heaven forbid, powerful, women use fat-talk, old-talk, and other self-deprecating talk in a delicate social dance. The dance says, “Don’t worry. I don’t like myself and I’m flawed. I’m not a threat, so you can trust and connect with me.”
Well, I personally think this dance is a little outdated. I’d like to see women establish connection in other ways, ones that don’t require negative self-evaluation. I don’t think it’s necessary to complain about my thighs or my sagging breasts in order to generate rapport with someone. I know this because I’ve focused on not doing it over the past several years (since learning more about fat-talk) and have managed to find plenty of things to talk about in groups of women.
So my challenge to readers is to do the same. See if you can’t go an entire day – or week – without fat, old, or negative self-talk. When you’re interacting with other women, share what you love about yourself or something that recently made you proud. Can you imagine the revolution that would transpire if we all committed to doing this? We’d feel better about ourselves and promote others in feeling better about themselves as well.
Now that’s the kind of talk I like to hear.