I was in college – probably 20 or 21 – the first time I heard someone talk about getting preventative botox. The person was my age and explained that she learned that if you “start young,” it slows the aging process. She continued by *encouraging* me: “You should consider it! My injector said he has clients who are in their late thirties and still look like they’re in their mid twenties!” And if I’m honest, I started to do some research. Do I need this to avoid looking “old”? Do I already have wrinkles?

In my research deep dive that then ensued, I learned all about “preventative anti-aging,” about the “importance” of not forgetting about your hands and neck when doing your skincare routine to avoid them aging *prematurely.* I learned that there is a whole market of products and services for just about any age – even teenagers – that promise to keep you “looking young.” So naturally, in that moment, I felt like I was missing something, like I was behind on my anti-aging game. Sigh. The relationship between aging and body image is complicated. Not only is there the ever-present pressure to get, stay, or get back to being “thin,” but with getting older comes the pressure to defy the physical evidence that you are, indeed, getting older. 

5 Steps to Safeguard Your Body Image As You Age

Aging is a natural and beautiful part of life, but rarely do we see marketing or messaging that promotes aging without intervention – weight loss, face creams, botox, fillers, serums, anti-aging skincare routines, lifts, tucks, wraps. So it is no wonder that many of us struggle with body image as we age–not only as it pertains to the size of our bodies, but also the look of our skin,  the color and length of our hair, appearance of our eyes, teeth, veins. And these types of societal pressures surrounding body image tend to be magnified as we grow older.
The question is: How do we protect or help repair our body image as we inevitably age in a world full of anti-aging propoganda?

1. Understanding body image

Body image is multifaceted; it encompasses how we perceive, think, and feel about our bodies. The American Psychological Association (APA) defines body image as “the mental picture one forms of one’s body as a whole, including its physical characteristics and one’s attitudes toward these characteristics.” It is crucial to recognize that as we age, our physical bodies naturally undergo transformations. And these transformations paired with overt and covert messaging we see and hear for a lot of our lives can cause us to struggle with our body image.

2. Recognize the “anti-aging” products and marketing for what they are

The relentless bombardment of airbrushed images and advertisements promoting anti-aging products and services can leave us feeling inadequate and constantly striving for an unattainable ideal. It’s important to first recognize that that “why” behind all of the anti-aging stuff has little to do with a need for anti-aging products, and much more to do with creating a perceived need in which marketing can then do its thing. If the beauty and wellness industries can convince us that signs of aging on our physical bodies are bad, they can also sell us on products and services that “fix” this “problem.” 

Limiting exposure to such media, seeking diverse representation in what and who we engage with can help mitigate its negative impact. And all of this to say: there is nothing wrong with using an anti-aging eye cream; it just may be worth assessing if we are doing so out of a perceived lack or fear. This way, we can be cognizant of which products and services we actually want vs. ones that we are getting/partaking in to fix something that is not actually a problem.

3. Shifting our perspective

As we started to explore above, society often promotes an idealized image of youthfulness, leaving many of us questioning our own body image and feeling pressured to defy the aging process. It’s worth asking why we feel such pressure to meet the arbitrary and unattainable standards set by society. In order to protect our body image and to honor the process our bodies all naturally go through as we age, it’s essential to shift our perspective and celebrate the novelty and beauty each stage of life brings. Our changing bodies – including our wrinkles, scars, age spots – tell the story of how we got to where we are, and that is worthy of celebration and admiration. Aging is a natural and inevitable part of the human experience, one that should be embraced rather than feared.

4. Challenging societal standards

Societal standards of beauty tend to be rigid and ever-changing, making it nearly impossible to keep up. It is crucial to recognize that these standards are often constructed and perpetuated by industries that profit from our insecurities. When our body image is heavily influenced by the standards impressed upon us by outside sources, we are always going to be left trying to attain  something that always ends up out of reach. We can ask ourselves:

  • Do I actually think and believe what I’m being told? Have I internalized a believe I have heard or seen elsewhere?
  • If I do believe this message, where did it come from? 
  • Does it help me or hinder me from accepting myself and the aging process?

Our answers to these questions can help us determine and, if needed, challenge any internalized societal standards that are not healthy for our minds, bodies, or body image.

5. Finding, creating, and fostering supportive communities

Navigating body image concerns is always challenging, especially as it relates to aging because there is such an overwhelming narrative that everyone wants to slow, halt, or reverse the aging process. Finding support within communities from individuals who do not make you feel inadequate or insecure for simply aging can be a helpful way to ensure that you remember your worth or value does not decrease one bit with age. Surrounding ourselves with individuals who accept and celebrate all bodies and embrace the changes that some with aging can provide a safe space for self-expression, growth, and authenticity.

Embracing the Aging Process

As we age, it is important to recognize that our bodies are vessels of our life’s experiences, rather than objects to be constantly scrutinized and modified. By understanding body image, redefining societal standards of beauty, challenging the pressure to conform, and finding a community that helps us feel comfortable with ourselves, we can continue to cultivate a positive body image or help repair a negative one.

Whether you are 22, 42, or 62, you have the opportunity to celebrate the wisdom that grows, resilience that builds, and physical changes that happen with each passing year. By embracing the beauty of aging, we can walk into each year with less fear, more confidence, less tendency to compare, and the ability to be less influenced by the false advertising that tells us we are only as good as our appearance is young. 

By: Erika Muller, Assistant for Wildflower Therapy LLC

All images via Unsplash

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