Body Image Development
Adulthood and Aging
SUSAN KRAUSS WHITBOURNE
KARYN M. SKULTETY
The concept of body image holds important promise for understanding fundamental issues of aging and identity. Yet, body image has not received much attention in the gerontological literature. While much research has been done to elucidate the self as an abstract concept, little scholarly or empirical research exists on how individuals respond to the physical changes constantly occurring throughout adulthood. This chapter explores how identity process theory can help us better understand how adults conceptualize the self as both a mental and physical entity.
Although most people regard themselves as having completed physical development by their teenage years, the fact is that the body continuously changes up until death. Evaluating how people react to changes in body shape, appearance, and functioning is central to fully understanding psychological adaptation throughout adulthood.
Three components of body image requiring evaluation in adulthood are appearance, competence, and physical health. Physical appearance provides many important external cues to the self and others, including information regarding age and attractiveness. The internal feelings of body competence are based, in part, on the physical sensations associated with aging, including feelings of agility, endurance, and power. The experience of physical