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New study on Mid-Life Mirror Angst- is this a new syndrome?

Article by Fabafterfifty

Women over 50 and body image is a topic we have frequently discussed on Fabafterfifty. A new study finds that middle aged women dislike what they see in the mirror four times more than teenage girls!

Until now teenage girls were typically the group with the most physical hang-ups but, according to new research, it is actually 40 and 50-plus year old women who are the most disenchanted with their bodies and suffering from a negative self image.

The latest findings from the Invisible Women Study, by online retailer isme.com, reveals that middle-aged women dislike what they see in the mirror four times more than teenage girls.  A meagre nine per cent of women over-50 say they feel proud of what they see in the mirror – a startling figure when compared with the 42 per cent of 16-19-year-olds and 43 per cent of twenty-somethings who are massively proud of their figures. 

A staggering 94 per cent of women in their 40s, and a massive 92 per cent of those in their 50s admit to not liking how they outwardly look, and are said to be suffering from ‘Midlife Mirror Angst Syndrome’, according to adult behaviour psychologist Susan Quilliam.

Susan Quilliam comments: “All the studies show that most women reach the peak of their mental, emotional and relationship effectiveness as they reach midlife; having brought up a family, become confident in their jobs, reached a state of wise comfort with their lives, they feel good about the future.
“Sadly the same can’t be said for their feelings about their bodies. We live in an age where female beauty is defined as young – a definition that has become an obsession in society, and particularly in the media. There’s no psychological underpinning for this, but the fact remains that at midlife, women can feel invisible – or at worse, unattractive.”

Body Confidence an issue

In fact, body confidence and self-image is so low for women over 40 that all those questioned by isme would love to change something about their current figure, with 41 per cent hankering for a trim waist and flat stomach, 11 per cent craving toned arms and 10 per cent pining for cellulite-free legs. 

The research found that changes wrought by time and gravity, combined with a youth-obsessed fashion industry, lead to a dramatic drop in body confidence for women as they age, resulting in Midlife Mirror Angst Syndrome.
A statistic that might explain the trend we have seen in recent years for women in the public eye, such as Anne Robinson, Sharon Osbourne and Madonna being rumoured to have turned to the plastic surgeon’s knife upon hitting mid-life.

Two thirds of everyday mature women blame a lack of clothes that cater to their needs for exacerbating their body issues – complaining that fashion retailers are failing to provide flattering clothes for their changing body shapes, with poor design and tailoring highlighting, rather than hiding, problem areas. A further 42 per cent commented that they feel high street clothes are ‘too young’, while 87 per cent want to see more fashion forward, tailored styles made available.

Our body shape become exaggerated as we get older

A problem that has also been identified by isme.com, a spokesperson says:  “We’re all born with a specific body shape but that becomes exaggerated as you get older.  Most of us are a ‘modified hourglass’ but in our 40s and 50s, that begins to shift. We develop a thicker waist and lower bust and tend to be much more ‘straight up and down’.  So a 50-year-old woman who is a size 12 will be a different size 12 now than she was at 30. She could be up to four cm bigger on the waist but still be a size 12, for example.”

The Invisible Woman Study also asked women to describe themselves, with half of the over 50s opting for average or frumpy (six per cent), and younger women were more likely to consider themselves as attractive (32 per cent) or very attractive (6 per cent).   It even identified the top three cities where women in their mid-years felt the frumpiest as Edinburgh, Cardiff and Plymouth.

Surprisingly, women in their 20s were also the group most likely to know their vital statistics (38 per cent) – compared to just 28 per cent of women in their 40s – suggesting that the huge choice of clothes catering specifically for younger body shapes helps 20-somethings to embrace their size and so boosts body  confidence.

Susan adds: “Fashion is aimed at a youthful figure – and the more mature woman can all too often find that she isn’t catered for. Psychologically, the effect is dramatic and demoralising. She feels sidelined, even alienated, by the fact that her appearance does not fit the youthful ‘norm’. The result can be depression, or what I term ‘Midlife Mirror Angst Syndrome’.”

Loose Women presenter and isme.com brand ambassador, Lynda Bellingham, 62, agrees: “Women in their fifties feel fed up with their bodies, essentially because what you see looking back at you in the mirror is very different to what you saw 20 years ago. Add to this the fact that there is a severe lack of clothes for the more mature woman and it’s no wonder many are so unhappy with their figures. I see this amongst female celebrities in their forties and fifties, which is why many turn to cosmetic surgery in order to maintain their youthful looks and body confidence.
“Like so many people, I am tired of the high street’s ‘one-size-fits-all’ philosophy – why should we have to squeeze ourselves into fashion aimed at younger bodies?  By highlighting the whole issue of Midlife Mirror Angst Syndrome, this isme study will hopefully highlight and take a step towards reversing society’s attitudes, and allow older women as well as younger, to be celebrated for the way they look as well as who they are now.”


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  1. Ros Astaire

    April 19, 2011

    Great article! So often a client comes to me and says “I want to be back at the weight I was 20 year ago….”. Without wishing to discourage or give a negative message, this is almost impossible to achieve. If only we could accept ourselves more, as we are, and improve our self image.
    Ros Astaire [Weight Loss Specialist]

  2. Polly Salt

    May 29, 2011

    I agree totally with the article, I now no longer want to go out because more often than not I can’t find clothes that fit properly so I feel uncomfortable and unattractive.
    Ros I understand what your saying but in a society that seems to only value youth its hard, I do a responsible job and I am very experienced I find that people,and I hate to say this, men go to a younger less experienced woman then wonder why things have gone,pardon the pun, pear shaped.
    Your confidence definitely takes a nose dive when clothes don’t fit or flatter your figure and I’m not ready yet for a blue rinse and crimpline dresses

  3. Ellie Wilkie

    December 13, 2011

    It’s the bras that get to me.All the pretty ones stop (in Oz anyway) at size 14. Immediately after that you are in to reinforced fabric and motorway wide straps.I am broad in the back but every shop says they dont stock the size because there’s no call for it WELL I”M CALLING FOR IT. Dont they know most women wear the wrong size of bra. Is it any wonder? I think I may have a tantrum!!

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