Academic journal article Journal of Eating Disorders

I'm Not Just Fat, I'm Old: Has the Study of Body Image Overlooked "Old Talk"?

Academic journal article Journal of Eating Disorders

I'm Not Just Fat, I'm Old: Has the Study of Body Image Overlooked "Old Talk"?

Article excerpt

Author(s): Carolyn Black Becker[sup.1], Phillippa C Diedrichs[sup.2], Glen Jankowski[sup.2] and Chelsey Werchan[sup.1]


Substantial research indicates that body dissatisfaction broadly defined is highly correlated with, and often longitudinally predictive of, both physical and mental health problems [1, 2]. For example, among adolescent girls, researchers have found that body dissatisfaction (e.g., as measured by standardized questionnaires such as the Body Shape Satisfaction Scale [3]) prospectively predicts increases in binge eating, emotional eating, stress, low self-esteem, depression, use of unhealthy weight control behaviors, decreased physical activity, and, among overweight girls, increased weight gain between 1-5 years later [4-6]. Although most research on body dissatisfaction has been conducted with females, existing research, which is largely cross-sectional, suggests that body dissatisfaction in males is associated with eating disorders (ED), steroid use, poor psychological adjustment, and exercise dependence [7].

Ageing and body image

In addition to disproportionally targeting females, past body image research also has largely focused on a narrow age range, namely adolescents and university-aged women [8]. This is despite the fact that there is little evidence to suggest that graduation from university is associated with a graduation from body image concerns. The limited research on body image in older women suggests that body dissatisfaction is relatively comparable in younger and older women [8-11]. Cross-sectional research also supports a relationship between body dissatisfaction in adult women and depression, decreased quality of life, fewer pleasant feelings, increased negative feelings, increased ED pathology, and decreased self-care [12, 13]. Finally, body dissatisfaction in adult women smokers prospectively predicts greater difficulty quitting smoking [14].

There are reasons to think that body dissatisfaction might actually increase as women age [8]. For example, normal ageing typically moves women's body weight/shape further away from the thin-ideal standard of female beauty in Western culture. Moreover, as women age, they encounter a variety of developmental stages that may accelerate this movement away from the thin-ideal. Some examples include pregnancy, decreased time for exercise and self-care secondary to demands of work, home, and/or childcare, menopause, and possibly the use of medications that may increase weight. Demands on young adult and midlife women to conform to the thin-ideal also have increased with the media's focus on pregnant celebrity women, who are lauded for losing weight post-pregnancy quickly and returning to their "pre-baby" bodies (e.g., Adding to this pressure is the fact that the thin-ideal is also a young-ideal. As evidence of this, there has been a proliferation of interest in, and advertising of, anti-ageing cosmetic products, pharmaceuticals and surgical procedures, all of which are marketed to women with the underlying message that a youthful, wrinkle-free appearance is ideal [15]. Similarly, models depicted in the media are predominantly thin and young, with a recent content analysis of advertisements in popular North American women's magazines concluding that 80.72% of the models were aged 18-30 years [16]. Thus, as women age, they increasingly move away not just from being thin but also from fulfilling the young element of the thin-young-ideal. Accordingly, ageing creates new opportunities for discrepancies between women's bodies and cultural beauty ideals.

Indeed, cross-sectional research supports a relationship between ageing anxiety and both body dissatisfaction and EDs [17]. As such, the relative stability of body dissatisfaction across age groups is, in some ways, surprising. Some evidence, however, suggests that older women may more frequently employ cognitive strategies to partially offset their increasing distance from our societies' conceptualization of the ideal woman [8, 11, 12]. …

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