Years ago, I conducted a cross-cultural research survey on Body Image Disturbance. One of the instruments I used, the Figure Rating Scale (FRS) (Stunkard, 1983) is meant to measure the gap between how we see our bodies, and how we would ideally like to see them. This gap of dissatisfaction was clearly greater among American versus Italian women. The reasons (at least to me) were obvious. First, there is a strong positive correlation between a woman’s weight and how much she likes the way she looks. The more overweight we are, the less good we feel about our appearance. In my samples, Italian women had a lower Body Mass Index (BMI) than did American women.They were thinner.
Second (and this is just my own observation), American women seem to have a more androgynous (rather than feminine) appearance. In Italy, sensuality is celebrated, and women are still considered sexy and vibrant well into their over-50 years in the bel paese. They dress appropriately but not as if they stepped out of a stifling portrait from Victorian England.
Take TV host/actress Mara Venier. She is in her early 60’s and breathtaking. Or Sophia Loren, in her 80s and still looking glamorous. Both agree that staying beautiful requires putting in some daily effort to take care of oneself, maintaining a great appearance, not let oneself go, and staying interesting and curious. Neither of these women believe in going overboard or doing too much in terms of makeup or beauty routines. They do, however do SOMETHING. And they do it every day. Sophia, in her book “Women and Beauty” outlines her simple calisthenics and stretching exercise routine. Mara once told an interviewer that when she notices she needs to lose a few pounds, will cut portions, some of the carbs, and up the visual presentation of her meals to make up for it.
Doing SOMETHING rather than NOTHING makes us feel better about ourselves. Which is why Body Image is important. When we feel more confident, we interact differently, and others react to us differently. More positively.
Unfortunately, research indicates that Body Image Disturbance may still be as strong among older women as it is, among their younger counterparts. There is no magical fountain of youth, and no potion or procedure that is better than good self-care, when it comes to liking what you look like, at any age.
Eating healthy foods, staying active, and keeping our minds stimulated by learning something new every day–can change the way women over 50 feel about themselves–and at the same time will gradually also change the way they look. It is a win-win.
Please comment below and tell me what you will do THIS WEEK to take better care of your appearance. Think about the clothes you will choose to wear, the foods you will cook for yourself to eat, the exercise you will commit to, the cultural activities you attend, the books you will read.
Stay tuned for upcoming tips on your over-50 body image makeover. Let me know what body image issues concern YOU and what you would like to read about.
Till next time…