Only 12% of women aged 50 and over report satisfaction with their body size. That means that 88% of women prefer to be a different body size than the one that they currently inhabit. I find those numbers to be staggering. And I don’t believe that the picture would look much different for women under 50. Despite the pressures of aging in our youth-obsessed culture, it has always been common wisdom (or wishful thinking) that women become more comfortable in their own skin as they age. Even as a psychologist specializing in disordered eating and body image, I’m shocked and disturbed by those numbers. I always imagined that there were women out there who were happy with their bodies; it is just that they aren’t walking into my office.
A research study conducted by Cristin Runfola, Ph.D. and her colleagues at the University of North Carolina, published in the current issue of the Journal of Women and Aging, found that 12.2% of women over age 50 are satisfied with their body size. But this study wasn’t just about the prevalence of body image satisfaction in women. The authors also wanted to study that elusive 12% of women who actually are satisfied with their body size to find out their secret. What resilience did these women exhibit that protected them from the body dissatisfaction that was present in the other 88%? The disappointing answer: nothing. Weight and shape still played a primary role in their self-evaluation. While these women were satisfied with their body size, 50% did not like their stomach or face and 70% did not like their skin. They were fearful of gaining weight (40% stated that a 5 pound weight gain would make them moderately to extremely upset), weighed themselves at least a couple of times per week, and exercised frequently to stay slim. In short, these “satisfied” women were holding on by a thread.