I'm turning 31 next week (plz send money and cake), and with that milestone I think I'm finally 100% settled into my life as an Old. And as terrifying as aging is, let me tell you—it's fucking awesome, because being young hurt. I don't know what it feels like to be a boy, so I can't speak to that, but I can tell you what it feels like to be a girl. It feels fat. I'm pretty sure I stopped wearing sleeveless tops around 5th grade, because of that Pete and Pete episode where they're all panic-barfing about the neighbor lady's arm flab. I was still a tiny, happy, not-even-fat-yet child, but I was pretty certain I was also that neighbor lady and I'd better hide my shame. But then, somewhere around age 27 or so, I stopped feeling fat and started feeling like...just me. And being me is WAY better, even if me is old now.
A new study published in the Journal of Eating Disorders suggests that for many women, as we age, "old talk" replaces the ubiquitous "fat talk" of our 20s. You know, shit like this:
"Ugh, I feel so fat."
"OMG. Are you serious? You are NOT fat."
"Yes I am, look at my thighs."
"Look at MY thighs."
Guuuuuuuuuuuuuhhhhhhhhh. I'm breaking out in brain-hives just reading it. Being an actual fat person, I'm in a strange spot here. I've never had the privilege (for lack of a better word) of engaging in the whole, "Oh, I'm so fat, look at my thighs," dialogue, because I actually do have big fat thighs and, as a teenager, the last thing I ever wanted to do was draw attention to them. I was rigorously trained not to make other people uncomfortable by drawing attention to my body. Of course, that dialogue still ran on a loop, privately, inside my head—only extra potent because it was pickled in secret shame! Huzzah! But then, one day, after a long, slow dawning that involved some professional success and one quality relationship and websites like this (that's another article, but those three things are pretty close to a foolproof formula, IMO), it just stopped. Now I use my body for fun, dynamic living—I don't live in spite of my body.
SO. While I'm not thrilled about the fact that human beings (especially women) seem pathologically fixated on tearing ourselves down, I'm not particularly sad about the transition described in this research:
Dr. Becker is an author of a new study in the Journal of Eating Disorders suggesting that for some women, "old talk" is the new fat talk - and may be a signal for the same type of physical and mental health problems, including binge eating and depression. For the study, researchers surveyed more than 900 women, ages 18 to 87, and found that while fat talk tended to decrease with age, old talk often came in to replace it, and that both were reported by women who appeared to have a negative body image. (While the problem is much more common in women, men, too, can be at risk, researchers say.)
Dr. Becker began looking into the issue after the owner of an exercise studio who did not allow fat talk asked how she should handle women who said things like "I look so old" and talked about "Botox parties."
For many women living in a society where they are bombarded with images of the young and the thin, body-image problems are a longstanding issue. But Dr. Becker said she had also spoken with women who made it through their younger years largely unscathed only to start worrying about their looks in middle age. "They didn't expect it," she said. "They didn't anticipate it."
Okay. So. OBVIOUSLY this is nothing to be celebrated—it's indicative of the way women are conditioned to hate ourselves even when there's nothing tangible to hate. It's a symptom of how we lampoon the sexuality of older women when we're not desexualizing them altogether. It's the reason why women feel compelled to spend billions of dollars on garbage cream for their faces and bleach powder for their food. It's awful and oppressive.
But I also just want to say, in a broader sense, fuck yes for getting older.
Hating myself for being fat, when I was young, was paralyzing. Feeling terrified of getting older, at my current age, is galvanizing. It's a different kind of self-hatred. Hatred of fatness is based in cultural norms, which are made-up, but getting old is real. It means something. When you don't know who you are yet, there's constant anxiety that you're doing "you" wrong (i.e. my body itself is what's holding me back). But as soon as you're old and mature enough figure out who you are—oh, oops!—it's time to start deteriorating. And that's why every wrinkle and weird bristly chin-hair (I only have one but it WILL NOT DIE) reminds me to get some shit done. I know who I am now and I know what my goals are and I can see this clock ticking, because the clock is my fat, wrinkly face.
I can't work without deadlines, and death is a hard-ass deadline. Bring it.