In my last post, I talked about how we construct our body image from childhood experience, media messages, and social definitions of beauty. Body image is the result of our own internal dialog, not how others actually see us. For the new year, I hope we can all remember that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and that our bodies are amazing.
If you're working on health, start small. First, use this calculator on the CDC website to assess your body mass index (BMI). This gives you a more realistic picture of where you fall on the scale of avoirdupois. Then, change one thing at a time: walk to the store. Join a yoga class. Go to the gym.
“I don't look like Jane Fonda,” said a participant in the Psychology Today survey. “I look like a normal 46-year-old woman who has had three children. But my body is beautiful because of all it does for me. I have two eyes that can see, a large nose for smelling, a large mouth for eating and smiling, two hands that can hold and hug, two breasts that have nursed three sons, an abdomen that was home to three babies, two legs that can walk everywhere I want to go, and two feet to take me there.”
Amen to that, Sister.
Focus outward. If you’re shy or socially awkward, you may also be overly sensitive about your looks. (I can relate.) If you focus on yourself rather than on the world around you, you become more critical of yourself. Try to make others feel at ease. “Once I worked on my people skills, I found that I worried less about my appearance,” said one 60-year-old woman in the survey.
Confidence is catching. People who are happy and radiate confidence are attractive, and it doesn’t matter how they look or how old they are.
Here’s a tip: If you don’t feel confident, fake it. Stand tall. “Walk like a queen,” my friend said to me. Think of yourself as attractive and interesting. Make eye contact and talk to others. Practice this until you can do it effortlessly.
P.S. Self-confidence is also sexy!
Be true to yourself. Why worry about conforming to expectations? Who has time for that? Wear what you like. Purple if necessary. Say what you believe. It’s time to let the world get to know that wise, experienced woman you are.
Body image, like our bodies, isn’t static. How you felt about yourself as a teenager or a young woman is obviously different from your body image today. The good news is that older women tend to be more comfortable with their bodies as they age. But the work of improving body image is never done. Perhaps being comfortable when we’re naked with our partner is the truest, most difficult, and most important, test of a rock-solid body image.
Dr. Barb DePree, M.D., has been a gynecologist and women’s health provider for almost 30 years and a menopause care specialist for the past ten.