Learning to love your body as you age

Having good ‘body esteem’ as we age means aiming for a healthy rather than a perfect body and spending more time living in the now.

According to The Butterfly Foundation, maintaining a positive body image as we age starts with a little self-respect.
 
“One of the biggest challenges to body image as we age is reflecting back and thinking, ‘When I was 20, I was amazing on a sporting field’ or ‘I looked great in a bikini’, but that isn’t respecting your body’s history,” The Butterfly Foundation’s manager of education services, Danni Rowlands, says.
 
“Your body has done amazing things such as having children, enduring injury or just getting you through 40 or 60 years of your life.”
 
Rowlands says recent research shows that that the biggest increase in the onset of eating issues is among women aged 40 and over. The reasons are complex and can also be historic. It might have been  something that started in childhood or adolescence, as well as social pressure to  stay looking young.
 
Anyone concerned that they are using unhealthy eating practices or excessive exercise to try to achieve a certain look should seek professional help, but having occasional negative thoughts about our bodies isn’t necessarily a problem.

Defining body image

Rowlands explains that the term ‘body image’ relates to how we perceive our physical selves and the feelings we have about those perceptions.
 
“Those feelings can be positive, negative or a combination of both. At Butterfly we have started using the term ‘body esteem’ to more accurately capture that sentiment.”
 
Strategies for developing a more positive body esteem include:
  • Focusing on what your body can do rather than what it can’t.
  • Being ‘present’ with your body instead of lamenting the past or worrying about the future.
  • Making optimum health your goal rather than achieving a certain look.
Grandma mum and child on beach

Benefits of positive body esteem

Developing a positive body image can be liberating. Time spent worrying can instead be used to enjoy time with  people you love or doing favourite hobbies.
 
“It’s important not to get caught up in all the trend eating and quick-fix promises out there,” Rowlands says.
 
“Doing what makes you feel great about your body and helps you achieve goals about health and functionality will give you greater enjoyment than making everything about weight loss or how you look.”
 
“There are so many activities and things we can engage in these days to stay active.”
 
However, one of the most important things about developing positive body esteem is the impact you can have on others.
 
“When someone has a healthy relationship with their body and is engaged in healthy practices, then they’re a really amazing role model for peers, children, grandchildren and others in the community,” says Rowlands.
 
“I think the way we need to impact this issue is for all of us to take responsibility for our own body image and level of body satisfaction.”
 
“If our young people can look up and think, ‘Wow, my mum or grandma, dad or grandfather is such great role model with eating and the way they view their body’ that will override a lot of the other messages they are seeing out there.”
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