The writer of the 1930s show tune lyrics, “Keep young and beautiful, if you want to be loved” was probably unaware that these sentiments would resonate with so many women.

And the line, “It’s your duty to be beautiful,” must seem like manna from heaven to the billion dollar advertising and cosmetic industries.

So it is hardly surprising that a new study published in The Journal of Women & Aging found the majority of women aged 50 and older are still not happy with the way they look.

But instead of focusing on the negative, this study focuses on the positive – those who are happy with their body size – in an attempt to unlock the secrets of satisfaction.

Cristin Runfola, PhD, says:

Of course the fact that so few women are satisfied with their body size is concerning. But we were interested in how some women remain happy with their size and shape, given ubiquitous social pressures to retain a youthful thin appearance, and the influence of a multibillion dollar antiaging cosmetics industry.”

Using a sample of 1,789 American women from the Gender and Body Image study (GABI), researchers discovered that just over 12% of participants reported they were satisfied with their body size. Satisfaction was defined as having a current body size equal to their preferred size.

Mature lady sitting in fieldShare on Pinterest
Research shows that women who are happy with their body image are more likely to take regular exercise and less likely to have eating disorders.

This may not be something that comes automatically. The researchers say that those midlife women appear to have to make a concerted effort to both achieve and maintain this satisfaction.

But the women who felt good about themselves had lower body mass indices and reported fewer eating disorder symptoms. They were also more likely to take regular exercise than dissatisfied women.

Cynthia Bulik, director of the University of North Carolina’s Center of Excellence for Eating Disorders and co-author of the study, says this does not mean that they are delighted with every aspect of their appearance.

They are not impervious to dissatisfaction with other aspects of their physical appearance; especially those aspects affected by aging.”

The appearance of their skin caused the most upset, with almost 80% of the women citing this as a cause for concern, followed by their stomaches (56%) and faces (54%).

In addition, weight monitoring and appearance-altering behaviors (including cosmetic surgery) were the same between satisfied and dissatisfied groups, showing that weight and shape still play a considerable part in women’s self-evaluation.

Profess Bulik adds:

“Our findings underscore the need for a multifaceted approach to studying and assessing body image in women as they mature, as their bodies undergo constant age-related change.”