Aging in the time of Zoom

Most of us don’t spend hours a day looking at ourselves in the mirror. Face washing, teeth brushing, hair styling, make up, then the periodic check during the day to be sure there’s no spinach in our teeth while we wash our hands.

That’s about it, right?

Except it’s COVID time and many of us are still working from home. In meeting after meeting on streaming software like Zoom or Microsoft Teams, we’re basically looking at ourselves in a “mirror” for hours.

During menopause, our bodies are changing, and suddenly we’re faced (literally) with those changes — constantly. The dry, thin, flyaway hair, the wrinkles, the ACNE (really, nature?), flaky skin, red eyes, and what the hell is going on with my neck??

And there on the screen, side-by-side with our aging face, is our younger colleague, a decade or two away from any of this.

Aging is the surest fact of life. Staring it literally in the face for hours on end is having an impact on our confidence, our self-image, and our work.

So what’s a Zoomer to do? We turned to Gennev’s Health Coaches for advice. Their answer: It’s time to stop giving lip service to “body positivity” and actually embrace it for ourselves and others. Here’s how:

Turn negative self-talk into positive self-talk

According to coaches Jessica Gingrich and Lauren Leedy, “self-talk” refers to both our thoughts on how we perceive ourselves and how we think others are perceiving us.

“Take a scientific approach in looking at the evidence to support and refute your negative self talk,” Jessica suggests. “Often taking a step back and evaluating the evidence can help get us out of our head and into reality.” No, you do not have wattles like a turkey nor do you resemble any other barnyard animal.

And that’s another point, Lauren adds. We are often vicious to ourselves. “Talk to yourself how you would speak to a young child or friend.” You know your words would really hurt them, she adds; do you think they have less of an effect on you?

Finally, they add, recognize that in more typical situations, we are not looking at ourselves when speaking with others (as we are now with Zoom, Facetime, etc). We are immersed in the words of the person we are speaking with and not focused on our own appearance. All this added time looking at ourselves may be translating to feeling negative about ourselves and taking away from positive reflection to the person we are connecting with. And that’s not good for your self-image … or your work.

Shift the focus from appearance to health and from form to function

Still fixating on the wrinkles? Maybe you’ll do better to think about some of the belly laughs that went into forming those fine lines around your mouth.

“This is a really common issue for many women as they age. Their bodies look different than they used to, and it can be painful. But it doesn’t have to be. Move away from what things look like and what they used to be to what they did and what they can do,” says Coach Jessica. “Those strong legs carried you on hikes and around the world and still make sure you can dance the night away. That ‘belly’ and those breasts maybe nurtured a baby or two. Those are things to celebrate. We all want to look good, sure; but don’t forget that the more confidently we present ourselves and what our bodies can do, the more beautiful we are.”

Surround yourself with diversity

There’s no better reminder of the diversity of beauty than to surround yourself with it, say our coaches. Different ages, body types and sizes, cultures, races, gender identities — they’re all amazing and beautiful.

“Beauty” is determined by culture, and those standards change: soft, full bellies and round, broad hips were once the “ideal” (and will be again!) If beauty standards are so malleable, they aren’t real.

So celebrate, don’t compare. Things to keep in mind, according to Jessica and Lauren:

  • In this technological age and reduced interaction with others, social media can be a major source of comparison. Be aware if you’re getting caught in the trap of “compare despair.” Take breaks from Facebook and Instagram to reset your perspectives.
  • Examine your expectations around what “natural” and “beautiful” is – is your basis of comparison celebrities, social medial influencers that are hand selecting the images they put out, images that have been highly edited by computer software?
  • Fill your feed with others who are embracing their true self rather than presenting a “highlight” reel.
  • In streamed meetings, hide the “self” view so you can focus on the content and on your co-workers. When you can’t control whom you’re looking at, take notes by hand, so you get breaks to look down at your paper. Post messages where the camera can’t see them to remind yourself of your worth. Or use a background that makes you feel powerful and confident — maybe a picture of an amazing trip you took or the mountain you climbed or the children you raised or an award you won.

Make your home conducive to body acceptance

A personal favorite that can be surprisingly hard to do: ditch the scale.

“Stepping on a scale can actually derail progress toward body acceptance,” says Coach Lauren Leedy. “Too often, that number dictates our mood for the whole day. When the scale doesn’t do what we want, we often abandon those good habits that support our health. If ‘it doesn’t matter anyway,’ we might as well eat the donuts, right?”

And don’t punish yourself for weight gain by forcing yourself to wear clothes that no longer fit comfortably, says Coach Jessica. “You’re not ‘rewarding yourself for bad behavior’ or ‘giving up’ when you buy clothes that fit. You’re allowing yourself to be comfortable and confident so you can concentrate on the important things.”

Reframe aging

Like the switch from soft bellies to six-packs, perspective on aging is largely cultural, our coaches remind us. So keep these truths in mind:

  1. No stage of life is “more valuable” than another. All have their rewards and challenges, and all are important. People in every stage are necessary to a healthy society.
  2. Anxiety and stress around aging can lead to disordered eating behaviors. Changes in hormones may mean weight gains happen in different places. Changes in metabolism mean those old methods for losing weight may no longer work. Desperation to return to a younger, firmer body can lead women to develop very unhealthy relationships with food.
  3. Older age brings new opportunities for growth, contribution, and self expression. Many women experience a surge of confidence and creativity in this time. Embrace it, enjoy it, grow with it.

Struggles in menopause don’t just affect our bodies. “Menopause can impact our confidence, our concentration, our sleep, how we exercise, our mood, … pretty much everything head-to-toe is involved in the change,” says Gennev Director of Health Coaching Stasi Kasianchuk. “That’s why Gennev incorporates menopause solutions for every woman, and the whole woman. We have doctors to help women understand the available medications that can help with hot flashes, bone loss, heavy periods, and more. And we have Health Coaches who are all registered dietitians to help women who want or need a behavioral route, or who want to support their better health generally. It’s about meeting women where they are and working together to get them to optimal health.”

Aging may have its challenges, but it is a privilege denied to many. Wrinkles, belly fat, wobbly thighs, and “chicken wings” may not be the beauty ideal in this culture or this time, but who cares? Wisdom, experience, compassion, and humor are always in style, and every middle-aged woman we know has these in abundance. And that makes us truly beautiful.

 

Resources to consult:

  1. Eating disorders afflict women at the most sensitive development periods of reproductive change, making perimenopausal women more vulnerable: Baker JH, Runfola CD. “Eating disorders in midlife women: A perimenopausal eating disorder?” Maturitas. 2016;85:112-116. doi:10.1016/j.maturitas.2015.12.017
  2. Body acceptance lowest in those with eating disorders: Scheffers M, van Busschbach JT, Bosscher RJ, Aerts LC, Wiersma D, Schoevers RA. “Body image in patients with mental disorders: Characteristics, associations with diagnosis and treatment outcome.” Compr Psychiatry. 2017;74:53-60. doi:10.1016/j.comppsych.2017.01.004
  3. Coach-recommended reading on disordered eating: Samuels, K.L., Maine, M.M. & Tantillo, M. “Disordered Eating, Eating Disorders, and Body Image in Midlife and Older Women.” Curr Psychiatry Rep 21, 70 (2019). https://doi-org.offcampus.lib.washington.edu/10.1007/s11920-019-1057-5
  4. Understand the psychology: Study of healthy young adults who stared into a mirror; after a minute, 66 percent of them reported seeing “huge deformations” in their faces. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4258311/
  5. The dangers of stress: Higher cortisol levels from stress around appearance can actually lead to fat deposition around the abdomen, hurting our health (increased risk of heart disease and diabetes): Hewagalamulage SD, Lee TK, Clarke IJ, Henry BA. “Stress, cortisol, and obesity: a role for cortisol responsiveness in identifying individuals prone to obesity.” Domest Anim Endocrinol. 2016;56 Suppl:S112-S120. doi:10.1016/j.domaniend.2016.03.004. Incollingo Rodriguez AC, Epel ES, White ML, Standen EC, Seckl JR, Tomiyama AJ. “Hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis dysregulation and cortisol activity in obesity: A systematic review.” Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2015;62:301-318. doi:10.1016/j.psyneuen.2015.08.014

 

 

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