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Middle-aged women weigh in on body image satisfaction

Teresa Tanoos's picture
Middle aged women and health

When it comes to middle-aged women being satisfied with their bodies, there are two different schools of thought:

1) One is that women over 50 become more accustomed to their bodies and therefore have accepted their body image for what it is.

2) The other is that women over 50 have to grapple with the fact that no matter how much they exercise and eat right, gravity takes a toll; thus, forcing them, perhaps for the first time, to deal with sagging body parts that they may never have previously experienced before.

While cosmetic procedures like liposuction and body sculpting can surgically remove fat and reshape an aging woman’s body, a new study published in The Journal of Women & Aging found that the majority of women aged 50 and older are still unhappy with the way they look.

However, the study also found that some middle-aged women were actually happy with their body size, and it was those women the study focused on in an effort to learn the secret to their satisfaction.

“Of course, the fact that so few women are satisfied with their body size is concerning,” said Cristin Runfola, PhD. “But we were interested in how some women remain happy with their size and shape, given ubiquitous social pressures to retain a youthful thin appearance, and the influence of a multibillion dollar anti-aging cosmetics industry.”

For the study, researchers examined data involving 1,789 American women from the Gender and Body Image study (GABI). What they found was that more than 12 percent of the women said they were satisfied with their body size, with satisfied meaning their current body size was the same as their preferred body size.

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The women who reported satisfaction with their current body also worked at it by participating in regular exercise and eating a healthy diet. They also had lower body mass indices and fewer symptoms of eating disorders.

By the same token, that did not mean these satisfied women were happy with every aspect of their appearance, according to the study’s co-author Cynthia Bulik, director of the University of North Carolina's Center of Excellence for Eating Disorders.

“They are not impervious to dissatisfaction with other aspects of their physical appearance; especially those aspects affected by aging,” Bulik explained.

So what were these women unhappy about?

At the top of the list was the appearance of their skin, with nearly 80 percent of the women reporting it concerned them. Another 56 percent reported concern with their stomach, while 54 percent were unhappy with their face.

Interestingly, those who had cosmetic surgery were no more or less satisfied with their body image than those who had no surgery, suggesting that a woman’s weight and shape still play a significant role in how she evaluates her appearance.

"Our findings underscore the need for a multifaceted approach to studying and assessing body image in women as they mature, as their bodies undergo constant age-related change," added Bulik.

SOURCE: Characteristics of Women with Body Size Satisfaction at Midlife: Results of the Gender and Body Image (GABI) Study, Cristin D. Runfola et al.,Journal of Women & Aging, DOI:10.1080/08952841.2013.816215, 11 October 2013.



Of course, part of the problem is the emphasis of our society upon a 20-something "Barbie" look. Resulting in very beautiful women being unnecessarily dissatisfied with their body image.
I for one agree, Steve!