An epidemic of body dissatisfaction
Women like Butrym who develop full-blown eating disorders may simply be the most extreme examples of a widespread fixation on body size among middle-aged women, Bulik’s survey suggests.
More than 70% of the women in the survey said they were currently trying to lose weight, and 62% said they felt concerns about weight, shape, or eating had a negative impact on their life “occasionally” or “often.” Forty-one percent said they scrutinized their body at least once a day—by pinching their waist, for example.
Frustration with menopause-related weight gain, in particular, shone through in the answers to the survey’s open-ended questions, Bulik says. “A lot of the women said, ‘Who stole my waist? Where did my waist go?'”
Maine and Bulik agree that the pressures adult women face at home, in the workplace, and in society are probably making matters worse. The changes associated with menopause are perfectly natural, but they aren’t always easy to reconcile with catchphrases like “50 is the new 30” or the day-to-day demands of modern life.
Many middle-aged women are juggling child rearing and work responsibilities, or caring for aging patients. That can leave little time for planning healthy meals or exercising, at a stage of life when the amount of exercise needed to maintain one’s weight—let alone drop a few pounds—goes up.
“As a culture, we live in a very, very stressful time, and for women this is even more so, because our roles have changed so dramatically,” says Maine, coauthor of The Body Myth: Adult Women and the Pressure to be Perfect.. “We have little time [and] few avenues with which to cope with the stress, and dieting and exercise abuse and weight loss are ritualistic ways for us to manage our stress.”
The preoccupation with body size seen in the new survey can take a psychological toll even when it doesn’t develop into an eating disorder. Many women who took the survey reported feeling distracted and preoccupied by their weight and shape as they went about their everyday tasks, Bulik says.
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