Body image distress is often a significant trigger for eating disorders in many people. This is mainly due to the unattainable beauty standards that our society and media place on individuals of all ages, sizes, races, and genders. When people experience body changes linked to their social identity, the media’s representation of similar individuals is more likely to influence them.
By Dawn Lundin
This past June was National Age Without Apology Month. It intends to provide a different perspective of what aging can look and feel like. Many physical changes happen with age. While you may automatically think about gray hair and wrinkles, other changes affect bone density, body composition, digestive system, taste, and smell.
Changes in taste, smell, and digestion may affect a person’s relationship to food and eating. With these changes in mind, especially in conjunction with society’s representation of aging, it can be helpful to develop a body appreciation practice to counteract body image distress.
Ways to Appreciate Your Body at Any Age
Even amid physical changes due to aging, it is still possible to appreciate what your body can do. Focusing on your body’s function versus appearance is a component of body appreciation. Body appreciation includes four core features that can help you develop this practice:
- Holding a positive attitude toward your body, regardless of appearance.
- Accepting your body and appreciating what makes it unique.
- Respecting your body by attending to its needs and caring for it.
- Protecting your body by rejecting unrealistic appearance ideals in the media.
Beauty and Bodies Do Not Have A Look or Age
The media offers a narrow window of what beauty looks like. These standards do not include a person’s internal characteristics like their personality. However, when we define beauty broadly, many looks, appearances, and body sizes/shapes become beautiful and include inner characteristics like confidence. Defining beauty broadly can lower self-objectification and is associated with positive body image in teens & adults. Seeing a wide range of physical appearances allows space for a positive body image and positive internal characteristics to shine through, like confidence and self-acceptance.
Recognizing the beauty in others is one thing, but the real challenge lies in seeing the beauty within ourselves. Defining beauty broadly for ourselves and others are linked to higher body appreciation, self-compassion, and improved quality of life. It is vital to define beauty broadly for yourself and others to build resilience against societal beauty ideals, body image disturbance, and eating disorders as we age.
Learn from the Elders in Your Life
It can be helpful to redefine the beauty of aging for yourself. Look to your personal life to identify the characteristics and qualities you admire of older people. You can specify the traits you’d like to embrace as you age. What have you seen and learned from the elders in your life? What would you like to emulate?
Challenging Beauty Ideals
One way to challenge society’s views of aging is by dressing comfortably regardless of the current style. If you love a particular clothing item, try to feel comfortable wearing it irrespective of whether it is “in style.” Consider showing the world your natural style and self, even as they change over time.
Holding your body to an unrealistic ideal can significantly impact your body image, quality of life, and healing. Appreciate what your body is capable of today and how it has served you in the past, and anticipate that it will continue to change in new and wonderful ways.
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This post was written by Redefine Wellness Blog Contributor, Dawn Lundin (she/her).
Dawn Lundin, MS, RD is a registered dietitian and owner of Restore Ease Dietetics which is a virtual nutrition private practice that focuses on mental health + sports nutrition. She primarily with adolescents and young adults with eating disorders. She believes in meeting clients where they are at which provides a unique client-focused approach to recovery. She lives in Marquette, Michigan with her husband and three sons. As a family, they love to travel and spend time outdoors. She also enjoys mountain biking, running, cross-country skiing, being on or in the water, and knitting.
Changes in the Body with Aging – Older People’s Health Issues. Merck Manuals. https://www.merckmanuals.com/home/older-people%E2%80%99s-health-issues/the-aging-body /changes-in-the-body-with-aging#v8967945. Accessed June 2023.
Older Women and Body Image: Beauty Standards are Not Democratic. The Oxford Institute of Aging. https://www.ageing.ox.ac.uk/blog/older-women-image. Accessed June 2, 2023.
National Age Without Apology Month. Willowberry.
https://www.willowberry.co.uk/pages/national-age-without-apology-month#:~:text=Willowberry% 20holds%20an%20annual%20National,age%20and%20the%20ageing%20process. Accessed June 1, 2023.
Wood-Barcalow N, Tylka T, Judge C. Positive Body Image Workbook. Cambridge Press, 2021.