Women and Aging: New Pressures Each Day

35 comments

After my Hot Topic post yesterday on Happy Weights, I received this email from J. I shared part 1 of her email last night, but I thought I would post the entire email this morning and have a discussion about some of the interesting points that she brought up:

Love this post. I am 39 and a mom of 3. Most people don’t think I’m that old because I am healthy and fit and pretty thin. However, I still struggle with feeling happy at my weight – more now than when I was younger. I used to not think about my weight and now focus on it a lot. I used to look at MUCH younger girls and want their slim legs, waists, arms, but I’ve finally realized that I am supposed to look like a woman at nearly 40, NOT a little girl anymore!  Hello?! Why did that take so long to sink in?! I am now trying to appreciate my curves. Anyway, that’s what men like… including my husband. The bottom line is inner happiness and self acceptance as the beautiful people/souls/bodies God created. Our physical appearances aren’t as important as we like to think they are as it always fades.

I keep wondering why I’m more concerned about my figure now than when I was younger.  Is it just me feeling insecure about getting older, approaching 40?  Or, is it that when I was younger (in the 80s and 90s) we were less bombarded by media images of super-skinny models and celebrities, and those same people didn’t have as much plastic surgery as they aged?  I remember Cindy Crawford and curvy models like that, not the waifs we’ve seen in recent years.  Also, I cannot believe how many regular women have plastic surgery to "fix" what they think is wrong with them, when truly, they’re quite beautiful already.  My best friend and I like to say that we have to remember what we’ll be left with when we’re 80 or 90.  Society’s outward definition of beauty will be gone.  Will we have friends, family, love, good memories & faith for our last years?

J’s email actually reminded me of the recent research that is finding that women in mid-life are developing more body image insecurities and eating disorders than they ever did in the past.

Often, I think many of us think that if we can get healthy in our 20’s, we will be able to keep this healthy mindset the rest of our life. But is it always this easy? We always hear that with age comes wisdom and more self-confidence. If this is true then why are so many women falling into the weight-loss trap and pressures to get botox?

I actually know a few women who are in their mid-20’s and get botox. I don’t know about you, but I was quite shocked to hear this. Apparently it is a new trend for 20-somethings to get botox to prevent wrinkles.

Women not only face pressures of being career women and raising a family, but they have pressures of maintaining the youthful look of their 20’s at the same time! As women we are constantly bombarded with pressures to get botox, plastic surgery, and the latest slimming diet pill. It is no wonder that when women hit their 40’s they are not feeling too great about themselves and questioning whether they could be better, thinner, more youthful, prettier, etc.

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You can’t go to a grocery store and not see a magazine cover with the words, ‘How I lost my pregnancy weight in 6 weeks’ or ‘Fittest celebrity new moms’. The pressure that women face to lose baby weight is quite sad. Not only do new moms have to face the anxieties and pressures of being a new mother, but they also have to try to fit into their jeans on the way out of the hospital!

A recent article by MSNBC talked about reasons why women are having problems with disordered eating in later life:

1) Aging bodies and the pressure to stay youthful looking

“One day, (a woman) wakes up and the kids are gone and she has a sense that nobody really needs her. She looks in the mirror and she says, ‘My body is shot,”’ said Tappen. “This woman says, ‘You know, that’s it. I’m going on a diet.”’

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2) More Baby-Boomers

“Baby boomers have always cared about how they looked, what they wear,” she said. “I think a lot of eating disorders years ago went undiagnosed because it was the thing to do.”

3) More awareness about eating disorders

Eating disorders are talked about much more than they were in the past. Is this a result for the increase in the number of cases? Or are eating disorders truly on the rise in older women?

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Today’s questions:

  • Why do you think there is a rise in eating disorders among older women? What pressures do women face that they didn’t in the past?
  • What can we do to prevent falling into this trap once we get older?

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{ 35 comments… read them below or add one }

Sam July 7, 2009

Great post Ange! I’m only in my early twenties and I definitely want to get into good habits now, but I need to accept that my body is going to chance over the years. I love all these issues and topics you’re adressing – keep up the good work!

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Lizzie July 7, 2009

Hi Angela:

I am really enjoying your blog – you have some very insightful and thought provoking posts. My thing about plastic surgery is that it’s so common place now that a lot of people don’t seem to understand that it’s still SURGERY. I have been extremely blessed not to have needed any surgery in my life and I hope that continues – but why anyone (apart from breast cancer patients and those seeking breast reduction – two worthy exceptions as my aunt and my best friend have been through both these procedures) would want to willingly do this is just amazing to me. As for Botox I have a feeling that about 10 years down the track they’re going to find out some sort of bad long term side effect that wasn’t obvious to begin with.
I love all women road races – they’re so much fun! Sure there’s an element of competition among the elite runners, but it’s all women, out there having fun, exercising and cheering each other on. What that comes down to is in those moments we’re not putting each other down, analyzing what she’s wearing, I look better than her, I wish I had that etc. Part of me wonders if all these images and ideas purported by advertisers and the media only fuel competition among women, when we should really be out there cheering each other on every day in all aspects of life.

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Marcia July 7, 2009

Wow, I could have written that letter myself, being that I’m 39. Only one child though.

Sometimes I think that in the 80′s and 90′s, we weren’t bombarded with images of skinny girls. But also we were in our teens and 20′s, and we were just plain busy…high school, college, first jobs, husbands, kids…I know I personally let my busy life put more than 50 lbs on me.

As far as aging gracefully without eating disorders and such…I don’t know the answer to that. Much of it has to be personality (I have a pretty strong one), and the people that you hang out with too. In my group of friends, we are all aging “gracefully” in our late 30′s/early 40′s. We’re fit and healthy, wear sunscreen, and spend time chasing our infants and toddlers.

Sure, we complain about the loose belly skin and other issues…but that comes with the territory.

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Low July 7, 2009

Wow, this is something that I think about a lot. I’m still young (23) but I watched my mother treat her body very destructively when I was younger (lots of alcohol, cigarettes, and tanning) and I have to say that I have a huge fear that I’ll end up looking as worn down as her lifestyle left her. However, I think it’s kind of unhealthy to worry that much about aging, when I should be enjoying what I have now. Thanks for always posting things that make me think and challenge me to love myself and be happy.

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Katherine July 7, 2009

I think one of the biggest reasons for the increase in eating disorders in older women (older than 20s) is due to the plethora of ‘anti-aging’ techniques. Between plastic surgery, botox, tanning and bleaching, women are being told to look perfect from a young age AND to maintain that youthful look forever or they’ll become “obsolete” or old news. Shows like The Real Housewives (just an example) encourage the concept that women are never supposed to look older than 30 and they will become undesirable and ugly if they look their age.

The two most beautiful older women I know are my mother and my maternal grandmother. Both have stunning white hair, fair skin and sparkling blue eyes. They are vibrant and lovely. Their secrets are sunscreen every day and lots of fresh foods!

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Katie H July 7, 2009

I just found out that I’m pregnant with our first baby, and although I’m absolutely thrilled, I am already feeling anxiety over my upcoming weight gain. In the past, I have heard women judging other women for how much weight they gained during pregnancy or for how they “let themselves go.” And of course, the media and its constant reporting on new celebrity moms and their baby weight only makes it worse. I am only in my second month, and I am finding myself already planning how I’m going to lose the baby weight. It’s ridiculous. I should be proud of my growing belly and how it is nourishing our precious baby inside. And when our baby is born, I should be focused on the being the best mom I can be, instead of getting back into my skinny jeans as quickly as possible. Luckily, I have a wonderful and supportive husband who will think I am beautiful no matter what.

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Danielle July 7, 2009

I agree with the comments above– every message that we encounter seems to insiunate that if you don’t look young, you have no value. As if we are never “supposed” to look any older than we did at 25…its very unrealistic, and it becomes dangerously chicken and egg. We get these messages, we seek out surgery, so companies produce more “anti-aging’ products, so we get more messages, so we but more products…and so on. We don’t get very many messages about our worth being about anything but our looks. Sure there are some messages to that end, and some really great women lookiing to promote it (like you Angela!) but its a bit like swimming upstream still.

I don’t have any answers, other than we all have to be very good to our daughters/future daughters to make sure the next generation can buck the trend!

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Brandi C. July 7, 2009

This is an AMAZING post Angie and I’m not even going through this at the moment. However, I always like to be prepare.
I couldn’t agree with you more about the media causing a lot of this. For example, The show Desperate Housewives shows all these GORGEOUS women with kids, jobs, husbands, etc. and make it seem so real and easy to keep up that look. Let’s be honest with ourselves for a second, it’s not real! Some of them don’t even have kids AT ALL only actors that play their kids on tv. But we are so busy caught up in the show and wanting to look just like them that we forget their ACTING and haven’t been through HALF the stuff they portray.

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Katharina July 7, 2009

Well my parents live in an area where eating disorders are rampant (Boca Raton), and I see older women and young women who are chained to this deadly illness. I think it comes from this idea that being super thin is beautiful.. then it turns into nothing ever being “good enough”. Also, I know that as you age it’s harder to lose/maintain weight, and people in general have a tendency to want a quick fix – and the extremes of eating disorder behaviors would seem to be like quick fixes.

I wish people could strive for balance and happiness rather than striving for the “ideal” body.

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leslie July 7, 2009

i was just reading an interview with scarlett johansson where the interviewer asked her how she felt about botox. she’s 24! all i could think was what an absurd question it was – until i realized that it’s actually not that uncommon. i remember a line of skin products (dermacol i think?) that had wrinkle creams for different age brackets, and i was shocked to see an entire line for people in their twenties. i think this all goes back to the idolization of a teenage figure – now it’s just extending beyond body shape. what i don’t understand is why – i mean, what teenager is happy with the way they look? it’s an awkward stage for everyone, but once we reach womanhood, we criticize ourselves even more.

i think the rise in eating disorder awareness has a lot to do with generational differences. i see women from my mom’s (baby boomer) generation, my mom included, who display such disordered and restrictive eating habits based on the “fat free, sugar free, snack free” advice they were given, but they have been doing it for so long that it seems completely normal to them. and now i am seeing women in my generation, many of whom inherited those ed habits, instead seek out valid nutritional guidance in recovery. but for older women, when you’ve been living your life that way for 20 or 30 years, changing your habits seems nearly impossible, particularly because your body is naturally going to be different due to age. i think what needs to happen is for all of us to stop coveting the idea of being a different age and start loving where we are right now. easier said than done!

ps angela: thank you for making me think about so many different topics every day!

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Judy July 7, 2009

Well, I suppose I am a little conflicted on what I see going on out in society in regard to women and aging. Let me start by saying I am 55 and I grew up in the 60′s. That was the era of Twiggy and I was exposed her “standard” of beauty, I never felt thin enough, and still don’t, for what that may be worth!
On one hand, I feel that our youth oriented or attractive to men, and they DO feel the pressure to compete and do whatever they need to do so they will not appear “old” and completely ignored by men (of any age.)
On the other hand I can see another position that society takes toward older women and there seems to be a certain standard of beauty we are expected to abide by once we reach a certain age. That is, we should “act our age” and let our hair go gray, cut our hair short, start wearing polyester etc. Like it’s no use trying to stay young ,so we should give it up.
I have noticed that beauty magazines will often have articles on how to be beautiful in your 20′s, 30′s and 40′s. Then it stops. Every so often there may be a 50′s category or everything gets dumped into a 50′s and beyond or a 60′s and beyond category. It is like once you get to a certain age you fall off a cliff into this deep dark hole.
I am trying to sneak this in at work and this is not very well thought out, because I am rushing, but I hope I have made my point in an understandable way.
Thanks for asking our opinion. Great topic.

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Krista July 7, 2009

Being 35 I can say that in the late 80′s and 90′s, diet and exercise wasn’t as prevalent as it is now. Sure, I remember the 80′s aerobic phase, but there was very little “low fat, no fat, low carb, eat this super food, work out” type awareness that we have now. It really wasn’t until 5 years ago or so that I really started to “notice” my weight. Before then I was quite comfortable in my skin. What bothers me most about my body now is that I care so much about what size it is or how it appears to others. And I do constantly remind myself that my 20′s are long gone and that I’ve had kids which, for most of us, affects our shape….not always negatively, either. Funny enough, I was most confident and proud of my body in the last 3 months of my pregnancies. Go figure, eh?! :)

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Katrina (gluten free gidget) July 7, 2009

My own mother is struggling with accepting her new mature body. Luckily, she has taken a proactive approach including hiring a personal trainer and revamping her diet. (I have been trying to get her to do the whole new diet thing for a while now. It just took a stranger telling giving her the exact same advice for her to take it! LE SIGH…) She feels out of place in her body and no longer knows how to dress it. I have been trying to help her put together outfits, plan meals, etc…. It is sad because she is a beautiful, strong, smart, active woman, wife, and mother. This new approach she is taking is giving her hope. You can see it in her face. I hope one day soon she will love her body again. I see that day coming. I just hope it hurries up!

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Aoife July 7, 2009

It’s so hard for women these days to accept that it’s OK to grow older gracefully and without resorting to plastic surgery to look younger/thinner/etc.
A lot of the pressures do come from the media – magazines and TV programmes that make us feel like we’re too fat/ugly/unfit etc and ruin our self esteem. There’s always an emphasis put on the ‘quick fix’ and unrealistic body shapes (not everyone should be the same shape or size, being healthy is the most important thing!) that most of us just can’t achieve.
I gave up reading trashy magazines about a year ago and it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done. Now if I pick one up in a friend’s house or read the covers in my local shop I see immediately why I gave them up – they make me (and so many other women) feel like crap.

I agree with Lizzie about Botox – I’m sure as hell that in a few years they’ll discover it’s very very bad for us!

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Cait (Cait's Plate) July 7, 2009

I love this. I think the ever-presence of scarily thin celebrities has a lot to do with this. Women look up to these celebrities and it’s unfortunate that they don’t set a better example. Like Aoife I too have given up reading tabloids and following pop culture – I’d much rather envelop myself with happy and healthy information!

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Alex July 7, 2009

Hey Angela,

This is a really interesting post. I find it sad that there appears to be a rise in body image issues at an age when all of that is “supposed to” have passed. I think it’s happening just as a result of this being the first aging generation that was exposed to so much pressure and celebrity idolatry throughout much of their lives.

Unfortunately, if our generation doesn’t actively try to change things (and I think many of us are trying!), we may end up no better.

On a lighter note, my mum who is almost 55 (and doesn’t have the body of a 25 year old but is incredibly beautiful anyway) told me just the other day that she feels more comfortable and more beautiful than she did when she was my age. I’m going to try and follow her lead!

Keep up the HOT topics!! I’m LOVING them!!

Ps. I would love it if you checked out my blog! My latest post is on the idea of the “perfect diet”.

Alex

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shannon July 7, 2009

What a great post! I agree with the fact that the media is so much more obsessed now than they ever were in the past. The standards that girls and women are to live up to are completely unfair and unrealistic. I am in my mid twenties and I am trying to take the best care of my body now and hope that it continues into my 30s, 40s, 50s and beyond. I think the most important key to looking great is feeling great.

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SnowKat July 7, 2009

Great post Angela !

I think that there are more older women being diagnosed with eating disorders because:
1) It’s more socially acceptable to talk about it
2) Societal pressures to keep up with ‘girls’ 20 years their junior
3) I think it was always that way… we are just ‘allowed’ to talk about it now

I think the only way we can prevent from falling into the same trap is by accepting and loving ourselves for who we are, no matter what the weight or how many wrinkles.

~Mary

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Cindy July 7, 2009

Angela – thank you for this post as well as all the wonderful information you pass along to all of your readers. This is an interesting one for me as I am 38 and have been battling what I call an OCD attitude towards food, calories, and exercise. I am a divorced mother of two, and due to the “divorce diet” am at my lowest weight and best fitness level ever. Due to a hip injury last year that I am still dealing with, I am very concerned about maintaining where I am. It’s amazing that at my age it has become an issue again. I guess being single makes that so as there are so many women getting botox and plastic surgery that it makes the dating field more difficult. Thankfully, we know that it’s what is inside that matters. We cannot turn back the clock.
Keep up the great blogs reminding women to just be themselves – healthy and happy!

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Kasondra July 7, 2009

this is such an important current topic! it is funny because in other cultures the elders are respected and admired for their experience and wisdom. i don’t know why if is the reverse in our culture. i agree with taking care of your body and protecting it from premature damage. however, i do think that age is something so be respected. People who age gracefully and without stress, naturally, are gorgeous. they glow from the inside! Just dont try so hard focusing on what the outside looks like. if you are at peace with yourself you will GLOW from the inside!

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So July 7, 2009

Thank you Angela for posting such inspirational thoughts. I just had my second child 6 weeks ago and felt really bad when I looked at magazines on which celebrity moms tell us how they lost all their pregnancy weight in 4 weeks. I was thinking about keeping a diary of my weight loss, but since discovering your wonderful website, I decided to ditch the scale. I focus on eating healthy and exercising (including the SGBC) and I feel much better and I have even been told that I was glowing!

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April July 7, 2009

I agree with everything said so far. Unfortunately I also believe it’s due to the divorce rate. People leave their marriages and then try to look better and stay younger in hopes to find someone else. That’s just my opinion of course but I believe it’s a valid one.

Of course with Hollywood, it’s Hollywood and it’s to be expected. Someone like Denise Richards won’t get the roles she use to because someone perkier and younger will come along.

I intend to grow old gracefully. I’ll do everything EXCEPT surgery. SPF, creams and of course green monsters ;)

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Mrs. Myers @ Eat Move Write July 7, 2009

I think one of the biggest issues in today’s society is our need for instant gratification (sooooo true in American society). This is scary as you get older. We think our men will want the newer, better thing in the same way they trade in that tv. I know that sounds simplified, but in a huge way, it is. Whose to say they won’t? It’s supremely wrong that society has lost sight of what’s really important about a human being and especially what’s beautiful about a woman. We are the givers of life. Our bodies are AMAZING. It breaks my heart to see those pictures of women getting botox or to hear my own mother talk about aging. I want to believe it doesn’t have to be that way. I’m committed to being healthy body, mind and soul so that I will ALWAYS recognize my worth (and so my children might have an easier time finding theirs).

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Courtney July 7, 2009

I do hope that being in my early twenties, I am able to develop a healthy relationship with my body and age gracefully. :) This was a great post!

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Fitzalan July 7, 2009

This post mildly terrified me. I have fought so hard to stop having an eating disorder that I would be downright ANGRY if I happen to fall back into that trap just because the variables of my life change.

The idea of losing baby weight does make me a bit fearful. When I do get pregnant, will I behave appropriate during pregnancy regarding eating and will I also be healthy while losing the baby weight? Both are concepts that as a recovered anorexic, I am fearful of losing control when put into that situation.

Happiness Awaits

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katey July 7, 2009

I think that older women are becoming anorexic/bulimic because just like teenagers they are plagued with images of celebrities. 40 year old’s want to look like Jennifer Aniston and Angelina Jolie, and they choose to do that in unhealthy ways. Its really sad to see how much the media effects all generations. The media focuses more on unhealthy people like Lindsay Lohan, than praising healthy females like Scarlett Johannson ( love her by the way)who actually have curves. That’s my opinion, but love your blog :)

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Bree July 7, 2009

Just finished reading “Lying In Weight: The Hidden Epidemic of Eating Disorders in Adult Women” – really great book.

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Beth @ CrossBorderCravings July 7, 2009

I think that older celebs are giving women of today an unrealistic idea of what they can and should look like. Women in their 40s and 50s who have amazing bodies have GOT to work at it, yet celebs are always claiming, “I eat what I want. I never work out.” Instead of acting like it’s effortless, I think these women should be proud of the hard work they’ve put in to be in great shape!! Women in the “real world” probably don’t have the time/money to look identical and that’s okay! I think we should all focus more on our PERSONAL best, not to look identical to an image on a magazine.

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Faith July 7, 2009

Great post! I agree that we (as women) are bombarded with so much pressure to be thin in our society. Worse yet, it seems like the media equates being thin/skinny with being beautiful! I’ve heard that Marilyn Monroe was a size 12. :)

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Quinn @ Daily Moderation July 7, 2009

Fantastic post! I have a friend from high school who three years ago – when we were 24 – told me she’d been getting Botox treatments every six months to remove crows feet and forehead lines that had developed after nearly 20 years of playing softball in the sun. I was so sad, and scared, for her that she’d begun such extremes – and so early. Aging is such a beautiful and natural thing. Why do we fight it?

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AGS July 7, 2009

How to prevent falling into a trap of disordered eating? That’s a tough one! I have thought about this a little over the course of the day. I think we’ve always had a focus on women being slender/gorgeous in society, but with the internet, and increased access to other media/communications avenues, we’re facing that focus *much more*. Not to mention, it sells!

In the face of massive media bombardment on being thin/perfect, I have found some of the answer to avoiding disordered eating right here: in the new health blogs/online communities of women trying to be their healthiest, fitess, happiest, best selves! I think a lot of these blogs (like OSG) are showing us that there are a lot of ways to be happy on the road to healthiness. So I hope that these online communities keep going strong. . . as I’m sure I’ll rely on them as I move into my 40′s, 50′s, and beyond.

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Kathy July 7, 2009

I really hope I am able to keep my healthy mindset forever. This may be hard, but I think what motivates me most is that I KNOW I want kids one day, and if I have any daughters, I would really really hate for them to develop the same insecurities I used to have about my body. There was an article in SHAPE about how a mother’s eating habits influenced her daughter’s, and I really do believe that kids — especially girls- truly notice everything about their mothers and their habits, whether women realize it or not. My mom never had an eating disorder, but she has always been extremely tall and thin naturally. In addition, while she snacks a ton at home and loves dessert– I see her eat it all the time, once she is faced with a buffet, she gets overwhelmed and loses her appetite (she gets excited/nervous really easily when there’s a lot of people and food- aka a party). I know that this has influenced me to wonder why I can’t always control myself like my mom does at a buffet. Even though I know this is stupid because most of the time, my mom is trying to gain weight, not diet. But just knowing that kids are easily influenced by their parents’ actions is a huge motivator or why I want to maintain a healthy attitude towards food and fitness in the future!

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Nicole July 7, 2009

I just happened to walk by one of those trashy magazines at the grocery store today and it had the Top 50 hottest bodies and Top 50 Worst bodies. They took obviously the most unflattering pictures of people in awkward positions and circled and highlighted “fat” spots and cellulite and made comments about their guts and thighs, etc. It made me laugh because it’s so absurd. They also highlight who looks “old” and I think this is a major contributor to the women out there who start worrying about their wrinkles and not so perfect bodies. You can’t go by movie stars…they spend $$$$$$ to make themselves look like they’re 20 years younger than they are. Have you ever seen Chong’s wife (of Cheech and Chong?) She’s the prime example. And to be honest, I think she looks like crap because it’s SO OBVIOUS how FAKE she is! But why? What are you proving? That you have enough money to do it?
We are beautiful, us women, and we need to remember that. The media has, is, and always will do whatever they can to make money, and unfortunately, this shit sells. So we, as women, need to look past the fakeness on every level and continue encouraging each other to be find balance. Everything else will follow.

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Natalie M. July 8, 2009

You know I will never understand why women feel intense amounts of pressure to stay “young”. In Hollywood I get that “its competitive” and in order to get decent gigs you have to look as young as your co-star (which is a load of crap anyway) but women should see frown lines and wrinkles as parts of a journey… those are milestones.. be happy that you’ve made it to the point in life where you can age gracefully… tomorrow isn’t promised to anyone so the more laugh lines a lady develops the more fabulous she should feel.. just my opinion. I can only hope that this body gets me to a point where everything starts to droop and sag.. LOL that’s a life that was worthwhile.

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Kaley July 8, 2009

I am 22 and I feel the pressure to look young. I work at an ice cream shop part time, and my coworkers thought I had just graduated from high school (when in reality it was college), and I was so pleased. I put on anti-aging skin care products, LOL. And I am 22??!

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