Body image is defined as the perceptions of our or another person’s body and our feelings regarding what we perceive. It is a concept that involves both cognitive and emotional components.
With age comes confidence and certainty. Well, yes and no. This is true for some, but not for all. By the time a woman reaches 40, she has typically had a career, may be retired, may or may not be a grandparent or an empty-nester.
Women at this age sometimes experience multiple lifestyle changes while their bodies also go through psychological and physical changes that can sometimes leave them confused and insecure.
These body changes can also leave women feeling anxious, out of sync and out of control of their lives. These feelings and emotions can contribute to the body image issues they often experience.
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The physical cost
At this age, women tend to lose flexibility and elasticity in their bodies, their metabolisms slow, and they often experience more health problems. And don’t forget the hot flashes and night sweats during the early onset of menopause.
Women also tend to store more fat around the stomach, thighs, and hip areas at this stage in their lives, coupled with muscle loss and changes in the colour, firmness, and suppleness of the skin.
Between the many responsibilities women may have, such as running businesses, managing careers, retiring, caring for their families, dealing with grey, thinning hairs, grandchildren and hormonal changes, it can seem like a never-ending cycle. Amid these commitments, finding the time for self-care is not seen as important or beneficial to their quality of life.
A misconception persists in society that people are happier when they look like models; that you will be happier and more accepted when you fit the mould of what society deems healthy.
This pressure has lingered with women of all ages and stages. The result is that most women seek to live up to the general public’s stereotypical opinion about what is a normal weight and how a woman should look.
In some cases, these societal ideals lead to depression and self-harm among women. Additionally, cultural norms define a lot of how we view ourselves and how we feel about our bodies. The media, the people in our lives, and the people we chose to surround ourselves all influence how we view our bodies.
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No fairytale ending
Popular stories we read as children (and to our children) are written in a manner that defines our general beliefs and definition about beauty. Some of what we are told as children about what is beautiful and what is not can haunt us even into adulthood and can affect our self-esteem.
Mainstream and social media now also play a significant role in how we measure ourselves against others.
All women are not affected in the same way with regard to body image issues or low self-esteem, though. Some may not experience any of the symptoms mentioned.
However, a vast majority of women experience a great deal of stress, which contributes to the way they feel about their bodies. As a trainer, I feel honoured to serve these groups of women because I can relate to the changes they are experiencing. I am going through menopause and the unpredictability of the body’s response can be nerve-wracking.
Mind and body
As a trainer serving women aged 40 and over, I aim to transform and empower them holistically. By focusing on mind and body, I help them transform from timid, insecure and unsure to emerge as bold, beautiful, confident and sure of themselves.
What women seek is a life without unrealistic expectations and limiting beliefs about our bodies. Women want the freedom to be care-free about how they live their lives and not be concerned with cellulite, wrinkles, grey hairs, and the inevitable process of ageing.
Women want to live a life without judgement or concern about how they act or dress. We simply want to be comfortable at all shapes and sizes.
Whose standard are we trying to live up to anyways? And why is there a dress code for being a fierce 45-year-old grandma?
Embrace the journey
Ladies, this how you improve your body image: Accept and embrace the journey through all the phases of our lives to make the transition through each decade. Accept that our bodies are constantly changing. It is inevitable. This mindset will make the process a lot less stressful.
By changing how we see, feel and speak to ourselves, and disregarding society’s definition of beauty, will better equip us to create our own idea of beauty and instead live up to those standards.
If women continue to try and fit into society’s unrealistic mould of what ideal beauty is (or isn’t), we will never be happy or comfortable in our own skin.
The place to start this journey is asking yourself, how do I feel about my body now? The body is amazing – treating it properly with regular exercise and proper nutrition will elicit positive emotional, mental and physical changes in our lives when done consistently – and that’s a scientifically-proven fact.
Setting goals and scheduling time for fitness and wellness are important to combat self-deprecating self-talk and negative thoughts.
Take time to appreciate the body we have rather than fixating on every flaw and the things we do not like about our bodies. Speak positive words of affirmation to yourself daily and believe that you are the person you say you are.
Ageing can be a great experience or a dreaded one – it all depends on how we chose to go through the process.
Take the time to think about how much our bodies have endured and what we have achieved with it up until this point in our lives. We should be grateful because things could be so much worse. We must work on extending gratitude, patience and grace towards our bodies.
And create opportunities to talk about what you’re experiencing. Earlier, I mentioned that our beliefs about who we are and how we see ourselves are also shaped by our childhood and cultural experiences.
I come from a culture where feelings about ageing are not taken seriously. It was just a part of life.
Everyone went through it, and now it’s your turn. Although our family was close, there we never discussed about the stages of life when I was a child and we did not share our feelings.
Unless you were lucky enough to escape a similar scenario, it is important to find groups to network with and connect with people who are having similar experiences and are looking to support people who feel stuck and need guidance. If that is not enough, it is always advisable to seek professional help.
If this pandemic has taught us one thing, it’s that we are social creatures and we cannot get through a crisis or situation without one another. So don’t do it alone.
Author: Pedro van Gaalen
When he’s not writing about sport or health and fitness, Pedro is probably out training for his next marathon or ultra-marathon. He’s worked as a fitness professional and as a marketing and comms expert. He now combines his passions in his role as managing editor at Fitness magazine.