One of the many stumbling blocks to positive body image is feeling like we don’t recognize our own bodies as we age.
It can feel jarring to look in the mirror and not see yourself. Yet this seems to happen to all women as they get older and begin to experience normal shifts in their bodies.
In a world where we are inundated with expectations of agelessness (and with the paradoxical idea that it is to be achieved effortlessly but also at great expense with fancy creams and dermatological treatments), this idea that we can, and therefore should look exactly like we did when we were in high school is hard to escape. It can make looking in the mirror and seeing a frown line feel like a failure.
I’m here to tell you that these thoughts about our aging bodies not being good enough are lies. They are lies we can bust with the help of science, psychology, a heaping dose of self-love and a positive body image.
5 Lies About Our Aging Bodies We Don’t Have to Believe
Lie #1 – Your body should be the same size as when you were 22.
Not only is this false, but it leads to a lot of us doing some pretty unhealthy things in order to try to live this lie. It is very much okay if your body is not the same size as it was when you were 22.
First and foremost, the biological and chemical makeup of your body has changed. The way you process calories and the speed with which your metabolism works means that after the age of 30, people tend to lose lean tissue and women often see an increase in their body fat up through age 65.
Further, things like medication, pregnancy, and natural lifestyle changes that come with age (like the fact that our joints often ache more and therefore our ability to engage in the same exercise we did when we were 22 is limited) are normal aspects of life that can lead to body change.
This does not mean that pursuing health is impossible. It is to say, stop beating yourself up if you’ve noticed a slight weight increase. Remind yourself that not only is it normal. It is not an indicator of whether or not you are healthy. If you’re really concerned, consider seeing your primary care doctor.
Lie #2 – Ok, but then at least your body shape shouldn’t change.
For women, the shifts in estrogen levels that come with menopause and pregnancy mean that the places where our bodies hold extra weight changes. There is often a shift from being pear-shaped (holding your weight in your thighs and buttocks) to becoming apple-shaped. While this shift happens primarily during menopause, the number of sex hormones our body produces does decrease as we get older. You may start noticing this shift as early as your 30s.
This change does not mean you are deficient in some ways, or if only you worked out more frequently this wouldn’t happen.
Lie #3 – My hair should be just as full and luscious as my teenage self’s hair.
Although the natural recession to a mature hairline is usually a conversation reserved for men, it is normal for all of us to experience hairline and hair fullness changes as we age.
Additionally for women who have a tendency to often wear their hair pulled back, traction alopecia or the gradual recession of hairline due to the pulling force of a ponytail/bun/braid is common.
Further, having a baby can also affect your hair’s texture. It is normal to experience some hair loss up to18 months post-baby. None of these things mean you are going bald; it is par for the course. If you are concerned that your hair loss or hairline recession is out of the norm, see a specialist.
Lie #4 – Our bodies should “bounce back” after having a baby.
We are fooling ourselves if we think there are not going to be permanent changes to our bodies. Rather, plan for tons of shifts. For example, expect an increase in your shoe size. The hormones released to help relax your ligaments and muscles for childbirth will also relax your feet, so you’ll have a larger footprint as those toes get room to breathe. If you’re breastfeeding, your sex drive might change too: we produce lower estrogen when we breastfeed.
These are not things to apologize for, they are a celebration. This is how your body made and continues to sustain, a baby! Plus, now you have an excuse to go shoe shopping.
Lie #5 – In order to age gracefully, you can’t have grey hair or wrinkles.
First, there is no mandate that women have to age gracefully at all! Second, there is more than one definition of what “gracefully” means. In fact, in French culture, a woman is considered to come more into herself as she ages. Think about it: you know more now than when you were 15 about what kind of skincare products your face likes and what hairstyles are most flattering for your face’s shape.
These are not things to be taken lightly. The self-editing we do as we age helps us to become more ourselves, not less. This does not mean you have permission to stop wearing sunscreen. Instead, invite yourself to celebrate your laugh lines. After all, it means you’ve been having a lot of fun.
What are some age-related body changes you are struggling with? What are you doing to promote a positive body image within yourself instead?
This article is for informational purposes only, even if and to the extent that it features the advice of a mental health professional. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional mental health treatment or diagnosis and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice.