Most people associate negative body image with adolescence, yet every single woman I speak with, and most men, still lament at least one physical imperfection usually weight, but also wrinkles, graying hair, sagging skin, etc. It seems the issue doesn’t spare even full-grown adults. For both men and women, vulnerability increases during life’s big transitions: marriage, having a baby, divorce, empty-nesting and retirement. Of course, unwanted physical changes are also risk factors for poor body image. Yet despite attempts to mask it, aging is inevitable, making positive body image imperative for an emotionally healthy lifetime.
Begin with the knowledge that those with a healthier mindset tend to be more content with their lives. Dissatisfaction in relationships or a job, financial struggles or stress in other areas is more likely to trigger negative body image. Focus on improving these big picture items first to avoid turning unhappiness inward.
Have you ever consoled a teenager in the throes of hating a changing body, reminding them that these changes are normal? It’s time to offer this same advice to yourself. Recognize that pregnancy, menopause and other hormonal changes, stressors and varying levels of health and fitness all significantly impact aging. It’s not realistic to expect to preserve all aspects of a younger self, but it is important to focus on optimizing physical and emotional health because together these will enable a strong body image.
Psychological struggles, especially with depression, can also inspire negative feelings about appearance. Women are especially vulnerable—particularly after giving birth, through menopause and in major life changes—although genetic predispositions put both genders at higher risk. Men are less likely to become depressed, but hormonal imbalance, some medications and major milestones affect men too. When feeling sad and unmotivated, having trouble sleeping and experiencing a sense of hopelessness, it is important to seek professional help. This is especially true if there is a history of even a minor eating disorder, as depression can trigger the return of this serious concern.
It is also vital to crush negative self-talk. Replace the criticism with a positive thought. Start a list of these body positives and review it whenever negative thoughts prevail. In addition, exercise—especially strength-training—affirms the body’s value as irreplaceably strong and powerful. And don’t pay attention to body-bashing friends either. Instead, change the subject or limit how much time is spent with them and turn to media messaging that supports unattainable perfection. Most of all, please remember that we only get one body in a lifetime. Treat this one with compassion and take good care of it.