I just came across a study that revealed some sad news…it appears that only 12% of women 50 and over are happy with their body shape and size…12%!!!!
Being uncomfortable everyday about how you look in your clothes, not feeling confident, happy, or proud about your health and function…that can’t be a good place to be.
The study in Journal of woman and Aging earlier this year looked at 1789 females and asked them about how satisfied with their size and shaped. Given that only a paltry 12% were actually satisfied, it seems to make sense to look at the differences between those who were satisfied with how their bodies and those that were not. This fortunately reveals some good news too.
Why were the 12% satisfied with their body’s size and shape?
The study design was great because they sought out not to simply poll women about their satisfaction with their body, but to look at correlations with other measures of health and function so we can gain a deeper understanding of what corresponds with satisfaction with one’s body.
Those who were satisfied with their bodies:
- Had better overall function
- Had a lower body mass index
- Had fewer symptoms of eating disorders
- Exercised more (about 5 days verses 2 days a week)
Are the 12% less concerned about their appearance and aging?
Despite the above differences, there are many similarities amongst women 50 and older who are satisfied and those who are not satisfied with their bodies shape and size.
The 12% who were satisfied with their bodies monitored their weight just as often as those who were not satisfied. They also pursued cosmetic surgery just as frequently. Which isn’t surprising, because of those who were satisfied 56% (stomach), 53% (face), and 79% (skin) said they were dissatisfied with other aspects of their appearance.
Why should you care?
Obviously, if you are a 50+ female, this has direct implications to your health and happiness. Men, you probably have a 50+ female in your life…mother, aunt, and very important…wife! And if you are a younger female, take notice, because the above trends are similar for you. In a recent survey of over 5000 women from the UK averaging 32 years old, only 3% said they were completely satisfied with their bodies! As a father of three girls, I am on high alert for how to cultivate habits and an environment fostering healthy body image satisfaction.
Clearly, women of all ages suffer from issues affecting body image, and few seem to be impervious to this. Of course, many aspects of our environment and society can be blamed. But it is also clear that there are several things we can do to improve body satisfaction based on these findings:
1. Focus on function: When women focus on being strong, they see amazing things happen, especially over 50. They realize they can do things they never realized they could do. Activities like hiking or skiing become possible. Day to day actives and chores become easier. Bones become denser, falls occur less, metabolism goes up, and stubborn body fat starts to come off. Sure, there is a lot that you can change about your appearance by eating and exercising properly. But the magnitude of improvements you can make to your health and function are even greater than the improvements you can make to your appearance with a proper exercise and nutrition program.
2. Throw away the “fitness” magazines. These things are mostly littered with complete B.S. Why subject yourself to a hefty dose of garbage misinformation and images of 20 something women photo-shopped and wearing next to nothing doing exercises that have nothing to do with how they achieve their appearance? If you want to increase the chances that you have an unhealthy body image – read that junk. Marketing and media does have a role in perpetuating these unhealthy body image issues, so limiting your exposure is a good practice.
3. Lose body fat if you are overweight. This is simple, and the above research supports this. Most everything from confidence to cancer is positively affected by reducing body fat to a healthy level. Sometimes people confuse “accepting your body and being happy in your skin” with “it’s OK to not try to get to a healthy body fat level”. That is usually a self-help guru pandering to our innate desires to keep the status quo rather than addressing the facts and empowering people improve their health and esteem. You can be happy with yourself no matter what size you are, and you can be happy and healthier if you work towards bringing your body fat to a healthy level.
4. Exercise! The above study suggests that those who are more satisfied with their bodies exercise more. This shouldn’t be much of a surprise, but it is obviously something that gets ignored too much. And as the study showed, 2 times a week wasn’t enough. Many other studies suggest that it’s not simply exercising more, but the type of exercise that matters. So my advice based on the evidence is to learn proper technique with resistance training, progress to intense resistance training, add high intensity intervals, do this at least 3 days a week, and in most cases add in sporadic moderate intensity and low intensity exercise throughout the week. Most people have this order backwards. No surprise – most people struggle with weight loss!
Myths and misinformation feed off of ignorance and vulnerabilities. In contrast, knowledge based on common sense, science, and real world results empowers, making you immune from the everyday attacks on our weakness. This results in strong, healthy, confident women who feel great about their bodies.