While this study doesn’t prove that old talk leads to body dissatisfaction, just a few minutes’ worth of fat talk has been shown to have a direct, negative effect on body image, so it’s likely that old talk does the same. “I would be very hard-pressed to find evidence that it has a positive effect,” Becker says.
So where does the impulse come from? “I think when you live in a culture that’s telling you you’re supposed to look forever young, it’s a natural outgrowth,” Becker posits. “I suspect some of it is born out of anxiety, and people are possibly seeking some reassurance.”
Heather Quinlan, YouBeauty’s Self-Image Expert, suggests that sharing that anxiety with friends and one-upping each other (“I have so many more wrinkles than you do!”) serves as a way to bond with one another. “I don’t think it’s a healthy type of bonding, but it’s a type of bonding.”
Constantly pushing the thin-young ideal is “really serving to reinforce a standard that’s not achievable,” Becker says—that is, eternal youth.
“It’s important to look at the message that society is sending people, but also the messages within families and social groups,” Quinlan says. When you hear women your own age or younger old talking, you can try to reverse the negativity and be a model of self-acceptance.
“There are a lot of people out there feeling really bad about themselves as they’re aging. We need to move away from using that as a sole means of self-definition.” she says. “Women of all different ages can learn to define themselves in other ways, rather than believing, ‘All I am is a face with wrinkles.’ ”
This post originally appeared on YouBeauty.com.
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