Like so many women, I’ve had some body image problems at various ages.
But it hit me hard when I first started dating several years ago, at about age 60.
I had been divorced for about 5 years and had a few casual dates here and there over that time, but nothing serious.
That is, I hadn’t yet made a commitment to seriously date.
It had been thirty-some years since I’d been on a date. My body naturally didn’t look like it did when I was young.
In my late 50’s, I was in good shape but things had begun to droop and sag, like it does for most of us.
Various body image concerns kept me from seriously taking the plunge into dating, such as:
- Would men still be attracted to me?
- Would they want someone younger looking (if not actually younger in age)?
- And the big one: Would I feel comfortable being naked with a man?
I clearly suffered from body image issues, even though I was healthy and in relatively good shape.
I was worried that I wouldn’t measure up physically.
The funny thing is, it became clear once I started dating that men of my age were in much worse condition than I was.
The more dates I had, the more I realized I was worrying for no reason, so I put it aside.
The Elements of Body Image
If you’re a woman over, say 50, and dating again or thinking about it, do you see yourself in the following elements of body image?
Body dissatisfaction: a general unhappiness with your body or its parts.
Overvaluation of weight/shape: basing who you are as a person almost entirely on what you look like or what the number on the scales tells you..
Body preoccupation: obsessively thinking or ruminating about what your body weighs or what it looks like.
Body image avoidance: avoiding situations that can elicit concerns about your body, like a refusal to be weighed, wearing baggy clothes as a “disguise”, or the covering up of mirrors.
Feeling fat: a somatic sensation that you are carrying more fat than what you actually hold in reality, irrespective of actual body mass.
Body checking: repeatedly checking your weight and shape, through behaviors like self-weighing, staring in the mirror, comparing yourself with others, or pinching your body parts to assess for fat and muscle.
Fear of weight gain: irrational, illogical, and harmful fears that you’re gaining weight.
Thin-ideal internalization: buying into the belief that being thin will make you happy, popular, or successful.
Body dysmorphia: a body image disorder characterized by the obsessive idea that some aspect of one’s own body part is profoundly flawed and hence warrants behaviours designed to hide or fix these perceived flaws.
Statistics on Body Image
If body image issues are getting in your way, you’re not alone:
- In U.S adult women, 23% reported frequent body checking and 11% reported body image avoidance.
- One large cohort study reported no differences in rates of body dissatisfaction between Caucasian and African-American adult women, with around 50% of the women from each group reporting body dissatisfaction.
- Nearly 70% of adult women report withdrawing from activities due to their body image.
- In more than 50,000 adults, 60% of women thought they were too heavy and were self-conscious about their weight, 30% reported being too uncomfortable in a swimsuit, and 20% thought that they were unattractive.
Why Do We Have Body Image Problems?
It’s no wonder so many women feel bad about their bodies.
Think about the way media bombards us with images and noise about what the ideal woman should look like:
- flat belly with no fat or muffin top
- wrinkle-free face
- perky or voluptuous breasts
- tight behind (tight everything, really)
. . . the list goes on.
On social media, women scrutinize other women’s photos and call them out for what they consider to be physical flaws or imperfections. They can be brutal.
And think of all the celebrities we’re influenced by who “fix” parts of themselves to embody the ideal.
We’ve been brainwashed into thinking that a mature woman’s body is not desirable or sexy.
We should be focusing on staying healthy and stop worrying about how our body parts compare to other women.
That’s what I decided to do. I have a very healthy diet, I exercise regularly . . . and I quit weighing myself several years ago.
I don’t always succeed at putting aside body image.
But when I start fretting about it, I remind myself that what’s important body-wise is staying healthy and strong.
I wish women would stop putting time, effort and sometimes money into trying to re-mold themselves, at the expense of their health.
Because for most of us (at any age), the ideal is unachievable.
And, as we get into our 60’s and beyond, there’s the added problem of a slowed metabolism, making it a losing battle to maintain the slim body you may have had when you were younger.
Even Unlikely Women Have Body Image Problems
Even the lovely actress Emma Thompson, who looks to fit the ideal at age 63, has body image problems:
“To be truly honest, I will never ever be happy with my body. It will never happen. I was brainwashed too early on. I cannot undo those neural pathways.”
She begins a video call with the reporter of the article above by covering her monitor so she can’t see herself:
“The one thing I can’t bear about Zoom is having to look at my face. I’m just going to cover myself up.”
The Opposite of Body Image Problems Is Body Neutrality
“the ability to accept and respect your body even if it isn’t the way you’d prefer it to be”,
The term was popularized by body image coach Anne Poirier, who uses it to help her clients have a healthier relationship with food and exercise:
“Body neutrality prioritizes the body’s function, and what the body can do, rather than its appearance. You don’t have to love or hate it. You can feel neutral towards it.”
The article above goes on to explain:
“Over the past several years, the philosophy of body neutrality has gained traction among people living with chronic pain or disability, as well as those who feel marginalized by a fitness culture dominated by thin, lithe instructors who exhort the benefits of punitive workouts and restrictive eating plans.
The premises behind body neutrality aren’t new, of course, and plenty of people adhere to them without specifically trying. But for others, they can provide a radical break from chasing the bandwagon of unattainable physical standards.”
How to Feel Better About Your Naked Body
Like I mentioned above, when I first started dating, I couldn’t imagine being comfortable enough to get naked with a man.
My worries were premature.
That’s not something to dwell on when you first meet someone. Especially because my dating plan included not having sex before getting to know someone for a few months.
By that time, I WOULD be comfortable getting naked.
It stands to reason that if you have body image problems, like I did and sometimes still do, you’ll probably have problems being naked around others.
Here are some tips to feel better naked, that I wish I had known about when I was dating:
Spend more time naked
“There is cathartic power in simply doing stuff in the buff. You could do your laundry au naturel or sunbathe for 20 minutes if you have a private backyard, relishing the warmth and breeze on your bare skin.
It’s important, however, to make sure you are in a space that feels safe, whether that is in the privacy of your bedroom or a more public setting, like a nude beach or resort.”
Focus on how your body feels
There are times when you’re alone that you HAVE to be naked, like when you bathe or shower. Try being at peace with your body in that circumstance.
“Focus on the sensations. What does it feel like on my skin when I step in the shower? What is the temperature like? What does it do to my body?”
Ask yourself: Am I avoiding being naked?
Do you avoid exposing parts of your body that you don’t like the looks of?
“Let’s say you’re someone who is really uncomfortable with their arms out, even alone. You might start with one minute a day when you are without a cardigan.”
“Then you build up to two minutes. Eventually, you try it around others. It can also help to look at your body in the mirror for short periods of time and train your brain to describe it using simple, nonjudgmental language.”
Surround yourself with images of different body types
“Print out, say, 20 images of bodies that are closer to yours and bodies that are larger. Save them to your phone or put them around your mirror so you see them often.
Curate what you follow on Instagram, Facebook or TikTok as well. Research shows that spending time looking at body-positive content online can boost your mood.”
I don’t know if I would have followed all of these suggestions, but I hope you can see that doing things like this may help you get over your fear of being naked with others.
Here are some more tips from my article, Mature Women and Dating: Slogging Through the Dating Scene
- Tell yourself at least once a day that you’re beautiful, sexy and desirable. I mean, say it out loud. Verbalizing is very empowering.
- Stop saying negative things about your body and, when you find yourself thinking them, do your best to nip the thought in the bud.
- Stand naked (yes, naked) in front of a full-length mirror. Notice and say out loud how beautiful your body is.
- Embrace who you are. Literally hug yourself.
In general, instead of dwelling on what you think is wrong with your body, remind yourself that your body houses “you” and all that you are. Think about how well your body performs for you.
I can tell you from my own experience that countering negative thoughts with positive verbal statements does work.
Instead of saying to yourself,
“Ugh, I look so fat today”,
Try saying out loud (even if you don’t mean it at first),
“I love who I am. This body does some amazing things.”
I hope you found the information above helpful.
To be more successful with dating and find your soulmate sooner, build your dating game plan, like I did.