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UBC Reports | Vol. 48 | No. 3 | Feb. 7, 2002

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 Clarke.

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 life.

"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 lcclarke@interchange.ubc.ca


Last reviewed 22-Sep-2006

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