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Body image and body work among older women: a review

Catherine E. Marshall (Registered Dietitian, based in the Department of Human Nutritional Sciences, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Canada)
Christina O. Lengyel (Associate Professor, based in the Department of Human Nutritional Sciences, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Canada)
Verena H. Menec (Professor and the Director of Centre on Aging, Community Health Sciences, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Canada)

Ethnicity and Inequalities in Health and Social Care

ISSN: 1757-0980

Article publication date: 9 December 2014

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to review the literature on body image and aging among older women. Using existing qualitative research, this paper explores how aging affects body image and how women respond to body image issues as they age.

Design/methodology/approach

Multiple databases were used to locate original and review articles on the topics of body image and aging, with a target population of women ages 60 years and older. The findings of the literature search were compiled, summarized and sorted to create themes.

Findings

Women struggle with body image issues throughout their lives. Women tend to perceive age-related changes in appearance negatively, as a threat to their identity and social value. This is due, in part, to the sociocultural environment, which pressures women to “fight” aging and maintain an ideal (young and thin) image at all costs. Some women do come to terms with their aging body and report increased self-acceptance with age. However, others turn to various forms of body work (e.g. dieting, hair dye, makeup) in order to maintain their value in an appearance-based society.

Practical implications

Poor body image can affect older women's emotional, psychological and physical health and overall well-being. Health care professionals, community workers and policy makers need to be made aware of these issues so that they can respond appropriately.

Originality/value

There has been limited research exploring body image among older women. This paper identifies gaps in the literature and suggests avenues for future research in this area.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

Catherine Marshall has received financial support from the University of Manitoba, the Manitoba Graduate Scholarship, the Centre on Aging, and the Manitoba Health Research Council. Verena Menec holds a Canada Research Chair in Healthy Aging.

Citation

E. Marshall, C., O. Lengyel, C. and H. Menec, V. (2014), "Body image and body work among older women: a review", Ethnicity and Inequalities in Health and Social Care, Vol. 7 No. 4, pp. 198-210. https://doi.org/10.1108/EIHSC-11-2013-0042

Publisher

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Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2014, Emerald Group Publishing Limited