Body Image Issues of Women Over 50

  • Joan C. Chrisler


In her poem I Met a Woman Who Wasn’t There, Marge Piercy (2006) described a common sensation experienced by midlife women: the transition from visibility to invisibility. In cultures in which notions of beauty and femininity are closely tied to youth, there comes a point when women, no matter how healthy, well groomed, and nicely attired they are, can pass by without attracting the attention of men or younger women. The point at which this happens no doubt differs for different women, but anecdotal evidence suggests that it is around age 50 when women, particularlywomen who had previously been praised as beautiful, suddenly realize that no one is looking at them anymore. This realization is a shock, but then what happens? Some women seem to react with relief—there is no longer any need to dress up and make up in order to impress; they can relax and simply be themselves. Other women panic—those who can afford it seek out cosmetic surgeons, personal trainers, and others who earn a living that derives in large part from the fear of aging. Is there any way to predict which women will react which way? How do women feel about the changes that accompany aging? How well or poorly do they adjust to those changes? These are some of the topics this chapter will address.


Body Image Eating Disorder Body Dissatisfaction Body Image Concern Body Esteem 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Alderson, B.W. (1991, March). An Overview of Emotional Issues Faced by Women Over 50. Paper presented at the meeting of the Association for Women in Psychology, Hartford, CT.Google Scholar
  2. Allen, K.E., and Wellard, S.J. (2001). Older women's experiences with sternotomy. International Journal of Nursing Practice, 7, 274–279.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Arnold, E. (2005). A voice of their own: Women moving into their fifties. Health Care for Women International, 26, 630–651.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Banister, E.M. (1999). Women's midlife experiences of their changing bodies. Qualitative Health Research, 9, 520–537.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bernard, J. (1981). The Female World. New York: Free Press.Google Scholar
  6. Bernstein, N.R. (1990). Objective bodily damage: Disfigurement and dignity. In T.F. Cash and T. Pruzinsky (Eds.), Body Images: Development, Deviance, and Change (pp. 131–169). New York: Guilford.Google Scholar
  7. Burns, A., and Leonard, R. (2005). Chapters of our lives: Life narratives of midlife and older Australian women. Sex Roles, 52, 269–277.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Calasanti, T., Sleven, K.F., and King, N. (2006). Ageism and feminism: From “et cetera” to center. NWSA Journal, 18, 13–30.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Chapkis, W. (1986). Beauty Secrets: Women and the Politics of Appearance. Boston: South End Press.Google Scholar
  10. Chrisler, J.C. (2001). Gendered bodies and physical health. In R.K. Unger (Ed.), Handbook of the Psychology of Women and Gender (pp. 289–302). New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  11. Chrisler, J.C., and Ghiz, L. (1993). Body image issues of older women. Women & Therapy, 14(1/2), 67–75.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Chrisler, J.C., and Lamont, J.M. (2002). Can exercise contribute to the goals of feminist therapy? Women & Therapy, 25(2), 9–22.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Chrisler, J.C., Torrey, J.W., and Matthes, M. (1989, June). Brittle Bones and Sagging Breasts, Loss of Femininity and Loss of Sanity: The Media Describe the Menopause. Paper presented at the meeting of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research, Salt Lake City.Google Scholar
  14. Cornwell, C.J., and Schmitt, M.H. (1990). Perceived health status, self-esteem, and body image in women with rheumatoid arthritis or systemic lupus erythematosus. Research in Nursing and Health, 13, 99–107.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Davidson, T.E., and McCabe, M.P. (2005). Relationships between men's and women's body image and their psychological, social, and sexual functioning. Sex Roles, 52, 463–475.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Davis, D.M. (1990). Portrayals of women in prime-time network television: Some demographic characteristics. Sex Roles, 23, 35–332.Google Scholar
  17. Deeks, A.A., and McCabe, M.P. (2001). Menopausal stage and age and perceptions of body image. Psychology and Health, 16, 367–379.Google Scholar
  18. Dillaway, H.E. (2002). (Un)Changing menopausal bodies: How women think and act in the face of a reproductive transition and gendered beauty ideals. Sex Roles, 53, 1–17.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Donaldson, G.A. (1994). Body Image in Women at Midlife. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Boston College.Google Scholar
  20. Elson, J. (2002). Menarche, menstruation, and gender identity: Retrospective accounts from women who have undergone premenopausal hysterectomy. Sex Roles, 46, 37–48.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Fallon, A.E., and Rozin, P. (1985). Sex differences in perceptions of desirable body shape. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 94, 102–105.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Foerster, G. (2001). The Relationship between Body Image and Sexuality for Women in their Sixties: A Qualitative Study. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, California School of Professional Psychology.Google Scholar
  23. Fooken, I. (1994). Sexuality in the later years: The impact of health and body image in a sample of older women. Patient Education and Counseling, 23, 227–233.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Franks, V., and Fodor, I. (Guest Eds.). (1990). Women at midlife and beyond [special issue]. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 14(4).Google Scholar
  25. Freedman, R. (1986). Beauty Bound. Lexington, MA: D.C. Heath.Google Scholar
  26. Ganon, L., and Stevens, J. (1998). Portraits of menopause in the media. Women & Health, 27(3), 1–15.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Gerbner, G., Gross, L., Signorielli, N., and Morgan, M. (1980). Aging with television: Images on television drama and conceptions of social reality. Journal of Communication, 30, 37–47.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Gerike, A.E. (1990). On gray hair and oppressed brains. Journal of Women & Aging, 1(1/2/3), 35–46.Google Scholar
  29. Giesen, C.B. (1989). Aging and attractiveness: Marriage makes a difference. International Journal of Aging and Human Development, 29, 83–94.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Gillen, M.M., and Lefkowitz, E.S. (in press). Gender role development and body mage among male and female first year college students. Sex Roles.Google Scholar
  31. Glascock, J. (2001). Gender roles on prime-time network television: Demographics and behaviors. Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media, 45, 656–669.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Golub, S. (1992). Periods: From Menarche to Menopause. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  33. Greenspan, M. (1983). A New Approach to Women and Therapy. New York: McGraw-Hill.Google Scholar
  34. Gupta, M.A., and Schork, N.J. (1993). Aging-related concerns and body image: Possible future implications for eating disorders. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 14, 481–486.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Harris, M.B. (1994). Growing old gracefully: Age concealment and gender. Journal of Gerontology, 49, P149–P158.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  36. Hays, K.F. (1999). Working it Out: Using Exercise in Psychotherapy. Washington, DC: American psychological Association.Google Scholar
  37. Hyman, J. (1987). Who needs cosmetic surgery? Reassessing our looks and our lives. In Boston Women's Health Book Collective (Eds.), Our Bodies, Ourselves: Growing Older (pp. 37–45). New York: Simon & Schuster.Google Scholar
  38. Kasper, A.S. (1995). The social construction of breast loss and reconstruction. Women's Health, 1, 197–219.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  39. Kriss, R.T., and Kramer, H.C. (1986). Efficacy of group therapy for problems with postmastectomy self-perception, body image, and sexuality. Journal of Sex Research, 22, 438–451.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Lamb, C.S., Jackson, L.A., Cassiday, P.B., and Priest, D.J. (1993). Body figure preferences of men and women: A comparison of two generations. Sex Roles, 28, 345–358.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Latteier, C. (1998). Breasts: The Women's Perspective on an American Obsession. New York: Harrington Park Press.Google Scholar
  42. Lauzen, M.M., and Dozier, D.M. (2995). Maintaining the double standard: Portrayals of age and gender in popular films. Sex Roles, 52, 437–446.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Lewis, D.M., and Cachelin, F.M. (2001). Body image, body dissatisfaction, and eating attitudes in midlife and elderly women. Eating Disorders, 9, 29–39.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. MacRitchie, K.J. (1980). Prenatal nutrition outside the hospital: Psychosocial styles of adaptation. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 25, 308–313.Google Scholar
  45. Mahalik, J.R., Morray, E.B., Coonerty-Femiano, A., Ludlow, L.H., Slattery, S.M., and Smiler, A. (2005). Development of the Conformity to Feminine Norms Inventory. Sex Roles, 52, 417–435.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Markey, C.N., Markey, P.M., and Birch, L.L. (2004). Understanding women's body satisfaction: The role of husbands. Sex Roles, 51, 209–216.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  47. Maoz, B., Dowty, N., Antonovsky, A., and Wijsenbeek, H. (1970). Female attitudes to menopause. Social Psychiatry, 5, 35–40.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. McFarland, M.B. (1999). A Descriptive Study of Body Dysphoria and Body Image in Midlife Women. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of North Dakota.Google Scholar
  49. McKinley, N.M. (1999). Women and objectified body consciousness: Mothers' and daughters' body experience in cultural, developmental, and familial context. Developmental Psychology, 35, 760–769.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. McKinley, N.M. (2004). Resisting body dissatisfaction: Fat women who endorse fat acceptance. Body Image, 1, 213–219.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  51. McKinley, N.M. (2006). The developmental and cultural contexts of objectified body consciousness: A longitudinal analysis of two cohorts of women. Developmental Psychology, 42, 679–687.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. McLaren, L., and Kuh, D. (2004). Body dissatisfaction in midlife women. Journal of Women & Aging, 16(1/2), 35–54.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Meyerowitz, B.E., and Hart, S. (1995). Women and cancer: Have assumptions about women limited our research agenda? In A.L. Stanton and S.J. Gallant (Eds.), Psychology of Women's Health: Progress and Challenges in Research and Applications (pp. 51–84). Washington, DC: American psychological Association.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Miller, D.J. (2001). Weight satisfaction among Black and White couples: The role of perceptions. Eating Disorders, 9, 41–47.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Nett, E.M. (1991). Is there life after fifty? Images of middle age for women in Chatelaine magazine. Journal of Women & Aging, 3(1), 93–115.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Neugarten, B.L., Wood, V., Kraines, R.J., and Loomis, B. (1968). Women's attitudes toward menopause. In B.L. Neugarten (Ed.), Middle age and aging (pp. 195–200). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  57. O'Brien, J. (1980, April 24). Mirror, mirror: Why me? Nursing Mirror, pp. 36–37.Google Scholar
  58. Ostenson, R. (2004). Who's in and who's out: The results of oppression. In J.C. Chrisler, C. Golden, and P.D. Rozee (Eds.), Lectures on the Psychology of Women (3rd ed., pp. 16–26). Boston: McGraw-Hill.Google Scholar
  59. Pecor, M.J. (2004). The Impact of Breast Cancer on Body Image in Ethnically Diverse Women. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Auburn University.Google Scholar
  60. Pettus, M. (2001). Kudos for me: Self-esteem. In J.J. Robert-McComb (Ed.), Eating Disorders in Women and Children: Prevention, Stress Management, and Treatment (pp. 283–290). Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press.Google Scholar
  61. Piercy, M. (2006). I met a woman who wasn't there. NWSA Journal, 18, 1–2.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Platte, P., Zelton, J.F., and Stunkard, A.J. (2000). Body image in the Old Order Amish: A people separate from “the world.” International Journal of Eating Disorders, 28, 408–414.Google Scholar
  63. Pliner, P., Chaiken, S., and Flett, G.L. (1990). Gender differences in concern with body weight and physical appearance over the lifespan. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 16, 263–273.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Pruzinsky, T., and Cash, T.F. (1990). Integrative themes in body image development, deviance, and change. In T.F. Cash and T. Pruzinsky (Eds.), Body Images: Development, Deviance, and Change (pp. 337–349). New York: Guilford.Google Scholar
  65. Rackley, J.V., Warren, S.A., & Bird, G.W. (1988). Determinants of body image in women at midlife. Psychological Reports, 62, 9–10.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  66. Roberto, K.A. (1990). Adjusting to chronic disease: The osteoporotic woman. Journal of Women & Aging, 2(1), 33–47.Google Scholar
  67. Roberto, K.A., and McGraw, S. (1991). Self-perceptions of older women with osteoporosis. Journal of Women & Aging, 3(1), 59–70.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Rodin, J., Silberstein, L., and Striegel-Moore, R. (1984). Women and weight: A normative discontent. In T. Sonderegger (Ed.), Nebraska Symposium on Motivation (pp. 267–304). Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press.Google Scholar
  69. Ross, M.J., Tait, R.C., Grossberg, G.T., Hamdal, P.J., Brandeberry, L., and Nakra, R. (1989). Age differences in body consciousness. Journal of Gerontology, 44, P23–P24.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  70. Rozin, P., and Fallon, A. (1988). Body image, attitudes toward weight, and misperceptions of figure preferences of the opposite sex: A comparison of men and women in two generations. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 97, 342–345.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Saltzberg, E.A., and Chrisler, J.C. (1995). Beauty is the beast: Psychological effects of the pursuit of the perfect female body. In J. Freeman (Ed.), Women: A Feminist Perspective (5th ed., pp. 306–315). Mountain View, CA: Mayfield.Google Scholar
  72. Schumacher, D. (1990). Hidden death: The sexual effects of hysterectomy. Journal of Women & Aging, 2(2), 49–66.Google Scholar
  73. Segar, M., Spruijt-Metz, D., and Nolen-Hoeksema, S. (2006). Go figure? Body shape motives are associated with decreased physical activity participation among midlife women. Sex Roles, 54, 175–187.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Shaw, J.M., Ebbeck, V., and Snow, C.M. (2000). Body composition and physical self-concept in older women. Journal of Women & Aging, 12(3/4), 59–75.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Sontag, S. (1979). The double standard of aging. In J.H. Williams (Ed.), Psychology of Women: Selected Readings (pp. 462–478). New York: W.W. Norton.Google Scholar
  76. Spencer, S.M., Lehman, J.M., Wynings, C., Arena, P., Carver, C.S., Antoni, M.H., Derhagopian, R.P., Ironson, G., and Love, N. (1999). Concerns about breast cancer and relations to psychosocial well-being in a multiethnic sample of early-stage patients. Health Psychology, 18, 159–168.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Stevens, J., Kumanyika, S.K., and Keil, J.E. (1994). Attitudes toward body size and dieting: Differences between elderly Black and White women. American Journal of Public Health, 84, 1322–1325.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  78. Stokes, R., and Frederick-Recascino, C. (2003). Women's perceived body image: Relations with personal happiness. Journal of Women & Aging, 15(1), 17–29.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  79. Theisen, C.X., Mansfield, P.K., Voda, A.M., and Seery, B. (1991, June). Predictors of Attitudes Toward Menopause among Midlife Women. Paper presented at the meeting of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research, Seattle.Google Scholar
  80. Tiggemann, M., and Stevens, C. (1999). Weight concern across the life-span: Relationship to self-esteem and feminist identity. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 26, 103–106.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. Toerien, M., Wilkinson, S., and Choi, P.Y.L. (2005). Body hair removal: The ‘mundane’ production of normative femininity. Sex Roles, 52, 399–406.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  82. Vernon, J.A., Williams, J.A. Jr., Phillips, T., and Wilson, J. (1991). Media stereotyping: A comparison of the way elderly women and men are portrayed on prime-time television. Journal of Women & Aging, 2(4), 55–68.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  83. Voda, A.M., Christy, N.S., and Morgan, J.M. (1991). Body composition changes in menopausal women. Women & Therapy, 11(2), 71–96.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  84. White, J.W. (2005). Psychology of Women Quarterly, 2000–2004. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 29, 107–109.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  85. Wilcox, S.J. (1996). Sex and Age Differences in Body Attitudes Across the Adult Life-Span. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Washington University.Google Scholar
  86. Wilkinson, S., and Kitzinger, C. (1993). Whose breast is it anyway? A feminist consideration of advice and treatment for breast cancer. Women's Studies International Forum, 16, 229–238.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  87. Wolf, N. (1991). The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty are Used Against Women. New York: Morrow.Google Scholar
  88. Young, C.M., Blondin, J., Tensuan, R., and Fryer, J.H. (1963). Body composition studies of older women, 30–70 years of age. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 110, 589–607.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Joan C. Chrisler

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations