UBC Reports | Vol. 48 | No. 3 | Feb.
Older women think age does wither you
Bodies change but image concerns don't, study suggests
by Michelle Cook staff writer
If you think your worries about weight and wrinkles will disappear
with the wisdom of age think again, says UBC researcher Laura Hurd
In a recent study of women aged 60-92, Hurd Clarke found that all
still voiced concerns over appearance and body image well into later
"I think that a lot of people assume that when we get older suddenly,
magically we'll become wise about body image," says Hurd Clarke,
a Canadian Institutes of Health Research post-doctoral fellow in
the School of Social Work and Family Studies. "We think we'll become
less concerned about our appearance. I don't think that's realistic."
Hurd Clarke interviewed 22 women with different ethnicities, social
classes, marital statuses, and levels of health to determine their
feelings about their appearance, aging and what was most important
about their bodies.
She found that older women, like younger women, still express
displeasure with their bodies and their weight but also with declining
health and physical abilities.
As they experience health problems, they reprioritize what's important
to them, Hurd Clarke says, but they never completely shed their
body image concerns and that creates a complex and interesting tension
between beauty and health.
Although many of the women dismissed extremely thin older women
as "scrawny" and the thin "Ally McBeal" beauty ideals being promoted
to younger women today, almost all still expressed a desire to lose
weight themselves. All but one admitted to dieting at some point
in their lives.
Hurd Clarke says that despite women's continued concern with their
appearance in later life, her findings offer some hope for younger
generations of women.
"Older women tend to prefer more rounded female figures than the
current beauty standards allow. They tend to say that a beautiful
woman is more soft and rounded than today's fashion models and movie
stars," Hurd says.
With baby boomers getting ready to retire soon and greater numbers
of older adults in society, she thinks concepts of female beauty
and negative assessments about older women's appearance are going
to be increasingly challenged.
In future, Hurd Clarke hopes to conduct a similar age and body
image study with men to explore their body image-age tensions.
Currently, Hurd Clarke is looking for women aged 50-90 who married
for the second or third time after age 50 (legally or common law)
for a study on older women and remarriage. To participate, call
604-822-2589 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org