Does your body image improve when you get older?

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How do your feelings about your body change as you grow older? That was the question posed to Facebook users by the ABC.

A comments thread on the ABC’s Facebook page, which contained responses from 87 people, posed the question “Does the voice in your head get kinder as you get older?” It turns out that as women enter midlife, many begin to view their bodies with more kindness than perhaps they did when they were younger.

These results prompted a research program on body image, headed by Susan Paxton, a Professor in the School of Psychological Science at La Trobe University and published in the Journal of Women & Ageing.

Most women will battle with body image issues at some point in their lives, commonly manifesting in eating disorders, social anxiety and self-consciousness. Many of these insecurities stem from pressure over beauty ideals promoted through media and advertising.

In the Facebook comments, 56 per cent of women said that as natural age-related changes began to occur to their bodies, their ability to accept themselves as ‘normal’ improved. Furthermore, with age came increased attention to health over beauty.

“If they gained weight or they got wrinkles, it was a normal part of ageing and they felt fine about it and it didn’t disturb their sense of selves. They were more likely to value health and wellbeing as opposed to appearance,” Professor Paxton said.

While most respondents spoke about positive changes to their body image, almost 40 per cent suggested the voice did not become any kinder with age. Many cited difficulties in learning to accept being different from the youthful bodies commonly idealised as beautiful.

Women who made these comments discussed their anxieties over becoming ‘invisible’ and not considered attractive.

“They reacted negatively to the changes in their bodies as they aged and were very much aware that in our culture, youthful bodies are idealised,” Professor Paxton said.

In addition to the positive and negative comments, the research revealed four themes: physical changes with ageing, the decreased importance of physical appearance, the importance of sociocultural influences and the invisibility of women in midlife. Professor Paxton said these findings could play a big part in helping to improve treatment for related physical and mental health problems.

While most previous research into how women perceive themselves has focused on whether or not they were satisfied with their bodies, Professor Paxton says the question of whether the voice in women’s heads becoming kinder with age refocuses the attention in a good way.

“It’s a good question because it is about acceptance and how you’re viewing your body in the general sense of yourself as a person,” she said.

Read more in the Journal of Women & Ageing
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Opinion: How do you get good body image?

How do you develop good body image? What can we sumise by looking at the 56 per cent of women in this research who described having better body image as they grew older?

The research makes it tempting to wrap up the issue with a little bow; while many women might fret over their appearance and struggle with body image most of their lives, the silver lining is that eventually, when they’re older and wiser, most will make peace with it. So, let’s leave them to it, right?

What’s most interesting about the topic of women and body image isn’t the answer to the question of whether the self-critical inner voice fades as we age – but how it can happen for some women and not for others. The question is: what are the 56 per cent of women doing differently to the other 40 per cent?

As a young woman who has struggled with body image, I believe that as a society, we have a nasty tendency to breed insecurity into girls through the media and the way we judge women by their looks every day. Once insecurities become ingrained, it can take many years to remove them.

From an anthropological point of view, we can almost think of self-acceptance as a default in humans. Take children, for example: as babies, they develop a sense of themselves as beings. Then, as toddlers, they begin to recognise others in relation to themselves. It’s only after this, when they learn how to compare themselves, that trouble can begin. If children live in a social environment that encourages them to compare themselves to others and see what’s lacking, then self-doubt can build. Throw in some Cover Girls and Victoria’s Secret models and you’ve got a recipe for systemic insecurity.

So, how do some women (and men) come to have a better relationship with their bodies than others? The more focus you place on an issue such as this, the worse it can become. The more you value yourself (and allow others to value you) based on your looks, the less valuable you will feel. A confident person will walk into a room and look for their friends; an unconfident person walks in and wonders who’s looking at them and what they’re thinking.

Anyway, I’m no expert. That’s just what I’ve learned.

What have you learned about having a good body image? Do you struggle with body image? Do you think the positive responses from the 56 per cent and the negative responses from the 40 per cent of women are a reflection of how women in wider society feel?

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Written by ameliath


Total Comments: 24
  1. 0

    The older you get, the tougher it is to lose weight, because by then your body and your fat have become really good friends.

  2. 0

    Five years before menopause and the world starts to right you off. The men don’t offer any favours let alone service. The body is still fine but you are of “no use”. The lady shop assistant will call you dearie or sweetie and your inner self will cringe. When you do hit menopause the body rapidly starts to fulfill the general opinion of you. The parts become misshapen and the word sexy moves into the archives. You get passed over for promotion and instead of talking about men and entertainment you start talking about ailments. Sorry – I can’t agree. We accept our lot but its hard to accept the lack of value a woman has once her looks have faded.

    • 0

      Rosret: I agree with much of what you write (e.g. the way people you don’t know relate/react to you). BTW: no shop assistant/customer service person should use the term dearie or sweetie etc. to a customer; that is bad customer service. However, I was concerned about your use of the word “misshapen” to our natural bodily changes. Also your last line: You don’t have to accept the lack of respect and value: Some of it comes from within, and some comes from others; you can change both if you’d really like to. BTW: your ‘complaints’ are some of the reason the 1960’s-70’s wave of feminism addressed this overall issue, which I greatly appreciate, whatever other things about feminism may be said, good or bad.

    • 0

      Ladies, do you not think men suffer in much the same way, with loss of self esteem due to baldness, facial wrinkles/creases, weight increase due to changes in metabolism/less exercise due to physical restraints, flabbiness because of flagging muscle tone? As much as I can empathise, it is not always about just feminism.

    • 0

      Umm…I did mention that in my general posting further down…yes, men experience it also, as I said. But overall, I think men’s essential ‘value’ and/or ‘worth’ are not linked so strongly to their bodies as are women. For example; the old adage that when men go grey & get wrinkles, they look ‘distinguished’ whereas when the same happens to women, they look ‘old’. I do agree with you about the balding part, though. Hence the proliferation of ‘hair restoration’ ads. It’s not just about feminism, F.E. Perhaps we over 50’s plus should incorporate this into the things we experience as discrimination

    • 0

      Abngo, your comments about how older men are thought of may hold true within women’s minds and perceptions, but not with the male friends and associates I have around my age, the and I am 70. A guy who looks after himself physically, in physique, hygiene, and grooming, is admired by his male peers and often envied and sometimes unjustly by those who are unable to replicate those admired features due to their own genetic makeup, illness, or some cruel quirk of heredity. Anyone, she or he, can only do so much to ward off those inevitable telltale signs of “growing up”, but I CAN assure you that it is NOT only womanhood that fights this battle knowing there will be no win.

  3. 0

    Go skiing Eddie. I lose 6 kg every year…..and gradually put it back on when I come home. Oh for the bulge. Not that I have that.
    There is a place for exercise and healthy eating which comes into this equation as well.

  4. 0

    My body image has improved as my vision deteriorates

  5. 0

    I find it interesting (or perhaps, indicative?) that out of the first four postings, three are from me. Interesting insofar as the article is primarily about how [the idea of] women’s ‘worth’ and ‘value’ being established by their looks/body and/or how aging changes your body changes and therefore, your ‘worth/value’ to society (or at least, to many males). Nowadays, men have more social pressure on them to look good also, so in the future, men may experience this sort of thing more. However, historically, women have copped it MUCH more.

  6. 0

    Oh boy, as a man I would guess all this would apply to us also? My partner and I always chuckle when we think about the ageing issues. Below is an extract from a posting we were asked to do elsewhere recently about attaining a healthy lifestyle. There will always be critics of the PhotoTherapy patches we use (The same as used now in hospitals in Europe), but we wonder who is going to have the last laugh?

    “My partner and I are in our 70’s, do our best to avoid ALL traditional medication and have a wonderful happy, stress free, pain free, energetic life travelling the world like teenagers. We never suffer ageing problems or flu, never have flu injections anyway and have a healthy lifestyle. My BP is 120/70/60 consistently by the way and I certainly do NOT take medication to attain these readings! The regular use of the patches create an “Aura” about us and strangers often comment on the way we appear to them when cruising on ships, walking into a restaurant etc. I have also had my Varicose veins disappear (Many of my family have had theirs medically attended to – before the patches were discovered), age spots near faded completely, scars fading, wrinkles less noticeable, periodontal issues disappear (All my lose teeth have locked themselves firmly back onto my jaw) my eye sight improving to near what I was in my late 20s early 30s and we both have that wonderful feeling of wellness. And that is not all. Blood tests are already showing improved organ function in us and others using these patches. I have also repaired my painful knee where I had lost cartilage, overcome sciatica pain extending down my leg, also arthritis and removed these and other pain issues completely using the patches. We have lost count of the number of knee operations we have had cancelled when people have used the patches toward knee issues.”
    So in effect we are doing our best to age gracefully and happy and enjoying every bit of the process!

    We will now watch what the sceptics have to say – bless them 🙂

    • 0

      ROB: OK; I’ll bite. Not necessarily a sceptic, but definitely curious. Are these mysterious ‘patches’ hormonal ones e.g. Testosterone for men, Oestrogen or Oestrogen/Progestin combo for women? If not, what are they? I also presume (from your lifestyle description) that you can afford these patches; however, it might be less affordable for some of us on this blog. How much does it cost you, for what period of time? I look younger facially & skin-wise (have always looked after my dry skin since my 20’s & didn’t grow up in the strong Australian sun). And I colour my hair. I am 66. But body-wise & internally, I have some of those conditions you mentioned have improved, so I am curious to know more.

  7. 0

    I have more time and money to look after myself now than as a young, poor harassed mother in my 20s when I often felt frumpy. I have more wrinkles, and more weight, but I believe better self acceptance and self esteem.

  8. 0

    To “Ageing but not getting old”, Thanks for the comments. It would appear you have a healthy outlook on life so that will be to your advantage for the future.

    The patches are Non Transdermal, meaning nothing going into the body – they communicate with infra-red light with the body’s energy system to provide a powerful positive effect. Safe, easy to use and NO harmful side effects. I won’t go through all the benefits here, but suffice to say they are used to ease severe pain in minutes, even seconds, along with advanced healing and assistance with many other conditions. They are used extensively for disaster victims worldwide, are available in over 100 countries including Australia and have extensive double blind clinical studies proving their effectiveness – Not just relying on the experiences of doctors or manufacturers!

    Personally we use around 3 patches each week, not every week and for around the price of a cup of coffee each week we do use them. The effects of the patches are usually felt quickly for pain and energy improvement but can take longer with other health issues. The feeling of wellness however can also happen very quickly and often within hours. We have been using them for nearing 10 years and have been directly supporting hundreds of people (medical professionals also) in many countries with these patches.

    Individual patches are generally sold for around $5 each. The cost is much less at the wholesale pricing where most users purchase packets of 30 patches in each.

    We are in Adelaide and do offer free support worldwide, as many other users do so there is always help available for why, how, where and when to use the patches. Naturally we do not sell product in this forum but if you search about for the Lifewave product in Australia you may find some answers? Laura Bond in UK also has a blog where these patches are mentioned, search for Laura Bond Lifewave. Users now often have direct assistance toward the use of the patches through the medical system in a growing number of countries.


  9. 0

    Im over 70+ & I dont really care

  10. 0

    Body Image Improve with age U have 2 B joking . I can fool some of the people some of the time but never myself . I always feel men don’t have to B handsome just I
    suppose to be men & kindness is a big thing to me . If a man tries to understand that is everything .Where as a woman seems always to Be judged on her appearance . But I have seen men who love their wives as they grow older , it always puzzled me so did my husband I felt he saw me through rose coloured glasses Bless him I .loved his blindless.

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