For many women, menopause means changes to how your body looks and feels. You may start to have grey hair, wrinkles and a thickening around the waist. You may feel like suddenly you look old. It may be hard to love your body and your body image may decline.
Body image is how we see our bodies and how we think others see our bodies. It is how we perceive how attractive we are to others.
We are constantly bombarded with images of youthful faces and bodies. It is no wonder that by the time we hit midlife we feel like we look ancient. Our society celebrates youth with exuberance. We have ideas of what old looks like, but for those of us in the middle, it can be difficult to embrace how we look or even know how we should look.
Even older celebrities are hard to use a role model. Many have had plastic surgery, and they are likely to have professional help that most of us can’t afford. Not to mention the fact that most of us don’t have the genes to have ever looked like a celebrity (unless you are one).
Some women, lament their lost youthful appearance, are frustrated by the extra weight they’ve put on around the middle can’t believe they now have a hair growing out of their chins. They obsess about things losing their youthful appearance and spend thousands of dollars and countless hours trying to look young.
How is your body image?
Are you realistic in how you see yourself? It is difficult to answer because sometimes it is hard to see yourself accurately. You can’t ask your spouse or a friend if you want a realistic answer. Surprisingly poor body image can occur at any weight and any age.
Poor body image is often associated with disordered eating. This is often hard to recognize in yourself. You can take a test here to determine if you should speak with a professional. This is not meant as a diagnosis. It just lets you know if you should be concerned.
How can you learn to like your body?
Exercising seems to help with body image. It doesn’t matter if you are losing weight or not. Exercise can help to build self confidence. When we exercise we start to see our bodies differently. However, you don’t want to be exercising strictly to improve how you look. That can have the opposite effect. Try to find an exercise (or two) that you enjoy. Appreciate what your body can do. Feel strong and powerful lifting weights. Bask in the sweat and endorphins at the end of a spin class. Download this free workout plan to get started.
Here are some other things you can do:
- Practicing self compassion has a positive effect on body image. Self compassion does not mean self pity. It means accepting yourself as you are and be gentle with yourself when you don’t live up to your expectations. You can find some short self compassion meditations here.
- Try to not spend time in situations where you feel negative about your body. If friends are complaining about their bodies, it’s a good time to change the subject. Stop visiting social media or websites that make you feel bad about your body.
- When you look in the mirror, find things you like about your body, not things you hate.
- Pick a goal that isn’t an outcome goal. Instead of trying to lose 20 pounds, set a goal of exercising 3 times per week, eating a salad for lunch everyday or meditating every day. That way you are focusing on what you can do, not on things that are harder to control.
- Don’t diet. It is understandable to want to drop a few pounds to feel better about yourself, but dieting will likely backfire. Losing weight too quickly will likely result in loss of muscle mass, which slows down your metabolism, which means you’ll likely gain it back. In the process, you may have deprived your body of nutrients it needs to function properly. There is some evidence that overly restrictive dieting may lead to thyroid issues. Dieting can also lead to a poor relationship with food and an obsession with the scale and how you look, all things we want to avoid if we want to love our bodies.
- Rethink the ideal body for midlife. Research is showing that older adults are healthier with a higher BMI than younger adults. A little more weight helps to keep bones stronger. It also provides a reserve if you are sick.
Think of your midlife years as a time when there are fewer expectations about how you should look. Younger people are not expecting you to look like them and may think it is strange if you do. They are more likely to be inspired by the things you do than by how you look, more likely to be inspired by your successes, your strength and your wisdom than by how skinny you are. Isn’t it time that these things inspired you, too.
Exercise helps improve your body image. Download this free workout plan for menopausal women to get started with exercise.