You'll love yourself more as you age

BELINDA WALLIS
Last updated 06:30 04/03/2014
Ageing

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When you looked in the mirror this morning, did you stare hard at those fine lines and wrinkles? Perhaps you passed a critical eye over those not-so-perfect hips and thighs as you swore you'd get back on that diet and into those skinny jeans stuffed at the bottom of your wardrobe.

But, if you happen to be over 45, there's a good chance that instead you thought, "Well, not perfect, but not too bad after all."

An Australian study has found that, at about this age, women start to think more kindly about their appearance and learn to like and accept their bodies, flaws and all.

The research, conducted in South Australia by Flinders University psychology professor Marika Tiggemann in late 2012, also showed women starting to be more concerned with health rather than just appearance.

"If you measure negative body image, that stays pretty stable across all age groups," Tiggemann says. "But if you look at positive body image, we found that it increases as we get older, and that as we age, we appreciate our bodies more. The age of the women who took part in the research ranged from 18 to 75, and we found that the turning point for this body acceptance and positive body image was 45 to 50.

"Many young women are miserable because of the way they look and they spend a lot of time worrying about it, and a lot of time trying to be thin. But as women age, they become more concerned about eating and exercising for health, rather than just to be skinny."

Victoria McGlothren, 56, a marketing consultant from Sydney, says her own life mirrors the research findings. "Especially when I was in my 20s, I was obsessed with trying to be Twiggy-thin, but I have yo-yo dieted for decades," she says.

"My natural shape is curvy and it took me a long time to realise you can't diet your way to a different body shape, even though I've certainly tried.

"When it comes to diets, I've done them all: the 17-Day Diet, The Zone Diet, Weight Watchers, Atkins and Metabolism Miracle. There was the Fat Flush Diet and the Park Avenue Diet. I've cut out carbs, I didn't eat fruit for two months and I stopped eating all lactose products.

"And while I lost weight on them, as soon as I deviated in any way, I put the weight straight back on."

McGlothren says it was at about age 50 that she realised she needed to follow a healthy eating plan that was sustainable over the long term, and at the same time step up the exercise to keep her weight steady and to feel well.

Tiggemann believes there are two main factors that come into play for women at this age. "As women age, they become more aware of what their bodies can and cannot do, and they become more concerned with good health rather than purely about being thin.

"Secondly, it takes a while for women to realise they cannot really match up to society's ideals, and that to try to do so actually makes you miserable.

"It's an acceptance that all those ideals - being thin, having perfect hair, smooth skin and no wrinkles, the whole celebrity image - is impossible for ordinary people to achieve.

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"It's about letting go of those ideals. And that acceptance of our bodies, faults and all, leads to a happier mind in general, and a happier life."

McGlothren remembers well the moment she let go of trying to achieve the body beautiful. "As I approached menopause, I started looking, really looking, at older women: women in their 60s and 70s. Many of them had faces frozen into this perpetual sort of frown. They didn't just look unhappy, they looked angry.

"Then it hit me: the older we get, the more our inside shows on the outside. From then on, I've paid far more attention to my inner life: am I doing all I can to manage stress? Am I setting a good example for my child? Am I behaving well?"

It's this attitude, she says, that has boosted her perception of her body in a more positive way than any diet she's ever tried.

- Daily Life

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