'Does my bum look big in this?': Women become more body confident with age, study suggests

Senior beautiful woman wearing elegant shirt standing over isolated blue background showing arms muscles smiling proud. Fitness concept.
Women may value the function of their body over its appearance as they age. (Posed by a model, Getty Images)

Many young women dread the onset of "middle-age spread".

According to new research, however, females become more body confident with age.

Scientists from Griffith University in Australia analysed more than 15,000 people, aged 18 to 94, of whom just under two-thirds (62%) were women.

Results – published in the journal Body Image – reveal a "very slight increase in body satisfaction" takes place across a woman's life, particularly "from roughly 60 onwards".

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Although it is unclear why this occurs, older women may value the function of their body over its appearance. Movements like Dove's campaign for 'Real Beauty' may have also reduced societal pressures for a woman to remain youthful.

NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 18:  General view as Dove Real Beauty Productions and Shonda Rhimes host Dove Self-Esteem Workshop at Penthouse 45 on September 18, 2017 in New York City.  (Photo by Monica Schipper/Getty Images for Dove)
Dove's campaign for 'Real Beauty' aims to 'oppose restrictive beauty standards'. (Getty Images)

How we perceive our body is known to have a "significant impact" on our health and wellbeing.

"As women age, they naturally deviate from the youthful and thin ideals commonly propagated in Western cultures," wrote the scientists. 

"The thin and youthful beauty ideals encompass rigid sociocultural standards of beauty, with high value placed on excessively slender and youthful appearances as markers of attractiveness."

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Pregnancy and the menopause "may each impact women's body image experience".

"Pregnancy and postpartum periods typically incur physiological changes inconsistent with rigid beauty ideals, such as weight gain, body shape changes, hair thinning and skin blemishes," wrote the scientists.

Young women may also endure "appearance-based pressures, often tied to finding and securing a partner".

Nevertheless, studies have thrown up mixed results when it comes to how a woman's body confidence changes over time.

To learn more, the Griffith scientists assessed the body satisfaction of more than 15,000 adults who took part in the New Zealand Attitudes and Values Study.

The female participants generally "displayed an upward trajectory in their body satisfaction" as they aged.

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"Women specifically felt more satisfied with their bodies from roughly age 60 onwards", wrote the scientists. 

"Contrary to existing research, the findings also suggest recent improvements in body image for women, with young and middle-aged women growing happier with their bodies during the study’s assessment periods".

The scientists also studied men, who "relative to women, consistently displayed higher levels of body satisfaction across the lifespan".

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Although it is unclear why women become more confident in their physical appearance as they age, they may "place less importance on evaluating the appearance of their bodies" in later life.

Older adults could also "value body function over body appearance", helping them to accept "physical imperfections".

These "body-related perceptual shifts may gradually occur" and "buffer against the impact of the damaging thin and youthful ideals upheld within Western cultures".

"Societal trends" may also be behind the positive trend.

"Examples such as Dove's 'Campaign for Real Beauty' – a corporate campaign claiming to oppose restrictive beauty standards – and the 'Health at Every Size’' movements on social media each represent a relatively recent shift in the way the 'typical' female body is presented across mainstream media," wrote the scientists. 

In addition, recent "feminist oriented 'Body Positivity' movements have been recognised across many social, political, and beauty platforms". 

"Mounting empirical evidence credits feminism for shifting the focus of women's worth away from superficial characteristics such as appearance, towards more intrinsic factors such as intelligence," wrote the scientists.

The team has pointed out, however, "the shifts were extremely small", with body concerns not being "eliminated" with age.

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