Improving your self-image in the age of perimenopause
Many of us in our late 30s to early 40s can be harsh critics of our own bodies. How many times have you looked at a photo that’s taken of you today and you’re horrified by how you look. “There is no way you’re posting that!”
Isn’t it amazing though, that when we see this same picture 10 years later, we think, “Wow! I look really good in that photo! Why didn’t I post it?” We’re funny that way. But maybe it’s not all our fault.
Let’s face it: our Western society is not the kindest to aging women. There are unrealistic expectations for women’s bodies everywhere, especially as we age.
Think about it. Growing up, we saw movie and TV characters who were meant to be in their 40s and 50s, portrayed by women in their early 30s. Usually with makeup and hair to make them look even younger.
It’s pretty easy to be hard on ourselves at this age for another reason – perimenopause. This is a time when we often find ourselves struggling with changes in our bodies that feel out of our control. We wake up one morning and barely recognize ourselves in the mirror. Our skin has lost its youthful glow. We’ve gotten puffy in all the wrong places and our skin is starting to sag.
And society’s incredibly unrealistic beauty standards only make it harder for us to accept and embrace these perimenopausal changes.
Perimenopause can take a toll on self-image
During perimenopause, those of us born with a uterus and ovaries can experience physical and emotional changes that feel, well, overwhelming. Even uncontrollable. Because weight gain, hot flashes, night sweats, and mood swings can all take a toll on our self-image.
Between “fake” beauty standards, ageism, and negative attitudes towards menopause, our self-worth can really take a beating at this age. Some days, looking in the mirror, we see a reflection staring back at us that is unrecognizable.
That’s why body positivity and neutrality are so important for all women — but especially women over 40.
Body positivity vs neutrality
Body positivity and body neutrality are two different movements that promote self-acceptance and self-respect.
Body positivity encourages self-love and acceptance of our bodies regardless of what society says about them. It can help boost your mood and reduce negative thoughts.
Choosing to be happy about our bodies despite EVERYTHING that is going on is pretty badass, frankly.
Because no matter what’s going on in our bodies or our personal life. Or what’s happening in society at large…Choosing to be positive is a real middle finger to what the world has to say about our appearance.
Body neutrality challenges the idea that we have to love our bodies in order to feel good about ourselves.
It emphasizes the idea that our bodies don’t need to be a source of constant judgment and comparison. Rather, we should accept our bodies as vehicles that carry us through life. And pretty strong vehicles, at that.
It’s like taking the appearance of your body out of the equation altogether. By prioritizing how you feel in your body, it creates space to step back from conversations about appearance in general.
It’s another radical form of self-love that also rebels against patriarchal ideals. Where can we sign up!?
How body positivity or neutrality can boost self-image
Both body positivity and neutrality can help us improve our self-image. Regardless of bloating, loss of muscle mass, or weight gain in perimenopause.
Embracing these rebellious concepts helps us focus our energy on building our self-esteem while spending less energy on negative self-talk and punishing behaviors. We learn to create a space for self-compassion, too. A space where we can get curious about ourselves, accept our difficult emotions, and have compassion for our bodies.
Depending on your own experiences, preferences, and needs, one approach may be more helpful than another. Or maybe, a combination could work for you. It’s all about trying strategies, seeing what works, and letting go of what doesn’t serve you.
No matter which approach you take, the important thing is that you’re actively working towards being kinder to yourself and understanding your needs.
Kindness is free after all. Sprinkle that shit everywhere.
Could your self-image during perimenopause be improved?
This is a time of significant changes in our body, so it can feel easier than ever to fall into negative self-talk. Developing a more positive relationship with our bodies through body neutrality or positivity during perimenopause can help us improve our self-image.
It’s been shown that positive relationships with our bodies can indirectly support healthy weight management and lower stress levels.
And that’s the best possible scenario for developing new healthy habits too. When you’re kinder to yourself and more in tune with your body’s needs during this transition, you’re doing the work to support yourself through the physical and emotional changes that come with perimenopause.
It can be hard work, but you’re capable. I promise.
Critiquing is easy
Society has ingrained in us that we should be critical of our appearance, especially as we age. So of course the negative self-talk can sometimes feel like second nature.
Though we’re all going through different experiences in perimenopause, there are often negative thoughts we have in common…
- Sometimes, we feel unhappy with our changing bodies.
- Other times, we feel guilt and shame about our mood swings.
- Changes that come with aging have us doubting our abilities and confidence.
- And challenges with our libido, self-doubt, or anxiety can make us feel insecure.
The thoughts and emotions we have during perimenopause can be powerful. They can make us feel like we’re not in control of our bodies, or that our sense of worth is tied to how we look or feel.
When we focus on the negative aspects of our bodies instead of celebrating what they allow us to do, it’s harder for us to maintain a positive mindset. And that can lead us to more feelings of guilt and shame.
But remember to be compassionate towards yourself, because you’re unlearning things that have been taught to you your entire life.
Society and culture have a huge influence on how women perceive and experience our bodies, especially women over 40. There is an abundance of media and advertising messages that perpetuate unrealistic beauty ideals, making it difficult for many women to feel good about their physical appearance at any age.
The prevalence of ageism also adds to the problem, as many women report feeling invisible or devalued as they age, particularly during this life-stage transition. And there are negative attitudes and stereotypes related to menopause that contribute to our self-image struggles.
So when you’re doing this work, remember to recognize these societal pressures that you’re up against. And recognize your courage to unlearn habits that don’t serve you.
Before we start judging ourselves, let’s try to practice some new strategies to improve our self-image.
Strategies for Improving Self-Image During Perimenopause
Focus on what your body can do:
Try to shift your attention from the appearance of your body to its capabilities. Our bodies’ abilities are all pretty remarkable, when you stop and think about it.
Our bodies can heal themselves and create life. And with our bodies’ help, we fix things, take care of others, explore the world around us. The list goes on.
When we focus on what we can do rather than how we look, we get a bit more comfortable celebrating our strength and resilience.
Even the littlest moments where you take time to value your body are wins!
Self-care doesn’t need to be big, inspirational moments. And it doesn’t mean making every task aesthetically pleasing or grand for no reason.
Simple activities can really help improve your mood and shift your mindset, allowing you to experience more positivity.
So get back to basics. Prioritize your sleep daily (as best you can). Stay hydrated and get fresh air regularly. These habits support our minds and our bodies.
Exercise releases endorphins in the brain, which can reduce stress and improve mood. And of course, some additional exercise can help to manage weight gain in perimenopause.
Remember, any movement will do! Find an exercise routine that you enjoy and that feels good for your body.
You’ll also support your cardiovascular health.
Practice mindfulness and self-compassion:
Mindfulness practices such as meditation and yoga can help improve mental health. Better mental health = a better, more positive self-image.
Self-compassion is something that needs to be cultivated. And it is worth the effort as it can do wonders for your mental and physical health.
Surround yourself with positivity:
It’s hard to stay positive and compassionate internally when faced with external negativity.
So let’s make it easier to go easy on yourself.
Surround yourself with people who have a track record of being supportive. Embrace opportunities to focus on positive messages and images that promote body positivity and self-acceptance.
Remember to get support:
There’s nothing wrong with needing some extra help with your self-image.
Reaching out to a therapist or other professional can give you an opportunity to express yourself without judgment. It creates a safe space to discuss your feelings, thoughts, and insecurities.
The right mental health professional can also help you find resources to support some of the strategies we mention above.
Embrace your body
As we journey through the ups and downs of aging and perimenopause, it’s crucial that we prioritize taking care of ourselves. That we try being kind to ourselves. And that we learn about embracing our bodies.
Sure, it can be tough at times. But challenging negative attitudes about our bodies is essential to our mental health.
Remember to focus on what your body can do instead of what it looks like. Give yourself plenty of TLC. And, practice mindfulness and self-compassion.
Whatever changes you experience during perimenopause, they are completely normal and valid.
It’s never too late to learn to love or accept yourself no matter where you are in life.
- Healthline: https://www.healthline.com/health/body-neutrality
- Very Well Mind: https://www.verywellmind.com/body-positivity-vs-body-neutrality-5184565
- Good Housekeeping: https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/health/a36865992/what-is-body-neutrality/
- Doctor Mariza: https://drmariza.com/5-practical-ways-to-take-care-of-yourself-during-perimenopause/
- Women Living Better: https://womenlivingbetter.org/improve-perimenopause-symptoms/
- University of Pittsburgh: https://sova.pitt.edu/bepositive-self-care-why-exercise/