On older women and body image.


The other night I discovered the following on BuzzFeed: “Women Over 50 Plagued By Eating Disorders, Body-Image Issues.”

The hell you say!

Reports BuzzFeed:

Today’s dieting young women plagued with body-image concerns aren’t necessarily likely to grow out of them when they get a little older, have kids, retire — just you know, age — according to new research. A study from the International Journal of Eating Disorders shows that women over the age of 50 commonly struggle with body image and eating issues. Researchers from the University of North Carolina Eating Disorders Program, led by Dr. Cynthia Bulik, found that 62 percent of 1,849 women aged 50 and older surveyed across the U.S. said their weight or shape had a negative impact on their lives.

Ok, I have a question: Why on earth would we be likely to “grow out” of our body image issues?

Women are told, our entire lives, that our greatest worth is measured in conventional attractiveness, and that furthermore, we are never attractive enough. We are told this in our movies and TV shows, in our supermarket check-out lines, in our social circles, in our jobs, and often in our families. We are told this by bloggers, by commenters, by Twitter, by Facebook, by complete strangers on the street. We are told this from the moment we are born (else why did people feel the need to assure me that my chubby girl baby would “thin out”?), and we are told this until the moment we die.

We are told this so often, and so convincingly, that we women punish ourselves with deprivation, torture ourselves with self-doubt, and sometimes spend our own money to cut out our own flesh. And then we bond over it all. I don’t think I exaggerate when I say that I don’t know a single woman who doesn’t suffer from a certain amount of body-image anxiety (or flat-out self-loathing) or hasn’t had to struggle on occasion to keep that anxiety/self-loathing at bay — and every single one of us talks about it (or is expected to).

One never just eats — one laughs about how much one is eating, or announces that one will have to not eat tomorrow to make up for it, or compares and contrasts the relative fat contents of Food A vs. Food B. One never just gets dressed — one has to consider what will be said about one’s muffin-top, or flabby arms, or cankles. One never just ebbs and flows with the years — one is expected to constantly strive for a physical ideal that is rooted in pre-pregnancy youth and which for many women isn’t even remotely possible (or healthy).

To think that we might lose these thoughts and behaviors as we age and get ever farther from that youthful mirage would be laughable if it weren’t so tragic. There is health — there is a body functioning at or near its potential peak because it has been well-maintained (and its owner lucky) — and then there’s this destructive, obsessive bullshit.

The BuzzFeed post goes on to devote about a third of its text to the following:

The trend is concerning not only for women over 50 — who are assaulted daily with reminders of how bad it is to age like a normal person — but their kids. Research shows that moms who are unsatisfied with their bodies can easily pass those insecurities on to their daughters.

…A mother who expresses concern about her own not-thin-enough body — or openly admires a “neighbor with the long, thin legs,” for example — sends the message to her kids that physically looking a certain way is what’s valued and praise-worthy.

And you know what? I agree, and I am all for raising our daughters to value themselves in all of their many sizes and shapes — but fuck that.

Fuck the idea that women over the age of 50 cause troubles for others with the attitudes and social cues forced on them their entire lives by a society that devalues them daily — they are suffering themselves, and that matters.

The report to which the BuzzFeed piece refers finds that

[Of those surveyed] 62 percent said their weight or shape had a negative impact on their life, 79 percent said it affected their image of themselves and 64 percent said they thought about it daily…. In all, 66 percent didn’t like their overall appearance. Their dissatisfaction was highest with their stomach (84 percent) and shape (73 percent).

Sure we need to model good, healthy, self-affirming behavior for our daughters and the other girls in our lives — but we deserve lives that are free of this kind of collective body dysmorphia. We deserve lives full of joy and creativity and unabashed enjoyment of these wondrous machines in which we live.

Oh look – Time also wrote about the eating disorders study! And you’ll never guess what articles the piece directs interested readers to: “5 Tips to Overcome Emotional Eating,” “Why Sleep Deprivation Leads to Overeating,” and “How People-Pleasing May Lead to Overeating.”

:: headdesk ::


  1. wearyvoter

     /  June 22, 2012

    My favorite? Women’s magazines with ooey, gooey cake recipes PLUS diet advice. Double bind anyone?

    • Oh my God yes.

      This month in O, the Magazine:



  2. zenobiajo

     /  June 22, 2012

    Thanks for this!

  3. zenobiajo

     /  June 22, 2012

    P.S. race, age, and body type shown in the ad posted fit me to a tee 🙂

  4. Dude!! I love this post. Once we were controlled by religion…now by are own greed and insecurities. Thank you :).

  5. Once the seeds are planted in youth and given time to take root, why should they ever leave of their own accord? Women are fighting an uphill battle, because they know that they are truly beautiful no matter how they look, but they are constantly bombarded by signs from a society that try to tell them they are lying to themselves.

    This is a wholesale societal change that needs to take place, along the lines of many such changes. It is interesting to note that in 2000 years, humanity has made such great strides through the application of knowledge and reason, except in the area of treating each other decently, which, frankly, was never a difficult proposition to begin with. What profit in denigrating others, other than to puff yourself up as somehow better? We know that’s a bad way to behave; most of our holy books tell us so.

    This can be fought, but to do so means a recognition of a salient point: we control the narrative. People who are judgmental? Shun them. Companies who seek to profit from our insecurities? Avoid them. News sources that simply perpetuate stereotypes? Ignore them. We have more serious problems like hunger, poverty and injustice to fight.

  6. Cassandra2

     /  June 28, 2012

    Thank you.

    As I sat down to dinner tonight (broccoli, a potato and mushroom gravy) I mentioned that I hadn’t eaten much for lunch and my mother took this as an invitation to say, “well, do you only want half the potato? You shouldn’t use the excuse that you didn’t eat lunch as a chance to gorge yourself now.” I replied, “one potato and some broccoli is hardly gorging.” But I felt so foolish for even mentioning to her that I’d not had much lunch in the first place–even though I hadn’t eaten lunch mostly because I can’t go shopping because I don’t currently have any money, and am relying on what my parents buy for themselves, most of which contains meat/cheese/dairy which I can’t eat, or frozen vegetables/fruit, which is basically my current diet.

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