Recently, I learned a new term, “appearance investment.” My friend shared this article from Psychology Today, “Can Appearance Investment Contribute to Positive Body Image?”
Appearance investment is a term used by psychologists that refers to the importance we place on our appearance and how feelings about our appearance impact our identity. The author, psychologist Char Markey examines whether investing in our appearance contributes to or detracts from developing a positive image of our bodies.
She points out that spending time and money on our looks can lead to feeling confident and a greater sense of autonomy. At the same time, Markey warns that an obsession with appearance ultimately hurts girls and women, drawing from Renee Engln’s book, Beauty Sick. Clearly, appearance investment can be a double-edged sword.
Here’s a frightening statistic from Markey’s article, “In 2020, the beauty and personal care industry was valued at 93.1 billion dollars in the U.S. According to the same source, this is more than the federal education market is valued at in the U.S.”
Those of us in our 60s often are avid beauty industry consumers. Our dilemma is that we are swimming against the current as we age. The societal standard for appearance highlights thin, young women with flawless skin and stylish haircuts. Meanwhile, our hair is turning grey, our skin is wrinkling, and we are finding ourselves with a double chin.
To make matters worse, as our metabolism slows down, it becomes tough to maintain the shape we had in our younger years. The relentless pursuit of wrinkle creams, fad diets, hair dyes, facelifts, Botox, and other attempts to maintain a youthful appearance won’t make us young again.
In her article, Markey posed three questions to ascertain the impact of our appearance investment on our body image. These questions can help us reflect on our attitudes and feelings. In addition, it can help us gain a sense of agency. So, I added some follow-up questions to apply them to women in our 60s and beyond:
How are you investing in your body now? Have you adjusted your expectations as you aged? What contributes to positively embracing your appearance? For example, does dying your hair make you feel more confident? How might you feel if you let your hair return to its natural color?
I stopped coloring my hair after chemotherapy. Since my hair had fallen out, I started fresh by letting my natural color grow and found that I liked it that way. For others, coloring their hair is uplifting. What makes you feel good about how you look? What might you continue doing, and what might you change?
Is this something you do for yourself or because you feel obliged to please a parent, partner, or others in your life?
What motivates you to pay attention to your appearance these days? Where do you spend your time? Who are the people who matter to you, and how do they impact how you take care of your appearance?
Recently, someone asked if she could say something “frank” to me. When I said yes, she continued, “You need a haircut.” While I did not consider this person a viable fashion consultant, I wondered if she was saying what others were too polite to tell me. My hair had grown long, and I had not even trimmed it for the many months of the pandemic.
But I must be honest, I care what others think. So, I found a new stylist who kept the length but gave my hair a shape. Of course, I liked all the compliments I received. There is value to finding balance. On one hand, I want to look my best for the people I care about. However, I don’t want to feel bad because I can’t meet an unrealistic beauty standard that is impossible to achieve.
Take time to reflect on the aspects of your appearance that give you pleasure and confidence. What are you doing to make you feel attractive while accepting the reality of an aging body?
Then consider any sources of stress. Is it new stress or the same old story about your appearance that you’ve felt your entire life (too tall, too short, too fat, etc.)? I realized that I never was confident about my appearance when I was younger. Yet, when I look at the old photos, I find myself wishing I looked that way again.
Some of the negative voices in my head that influence me today are familiar ones that have dogged me my whole life. Sadly, numerous studies offer evidence that negative body image, particularly about weight, is rampant worldwide.
More than 50% of adults from the US, UK, Australia, France, and Germany reported experiencing weight stigma. Approximately 91% of women are unhappy with their bodies and resort to dieting to achieve their ideal body shape.
Unfortunately, only 5% of women naturally possess the body type often portrayed by Americans in the media. Three quarters of Americans believe the media promotes an unattainable body image for women.
While I don’t want to give in to the negative voices in my head, I do want to look my best at my age. So, with that awareness, I am working on letting go of destructive feelings, focusing on positive relationships and self-acceptance. It might be challenging, but I’ve set it as a goal.
Each of us must find our comfort zone. My point is not to suggest a single correct approach. Instead, we can untangle what works for us by reflecting on Markey’s questions. Her article does not address aging, but she concludes with the following words:
“It seems likely that no two individuals will have the same answer [to these questions], but that while some appearance investment is likely to be adaptive, both underinvestment and overinvestment may move you farther from authentic body positivity.”
What has worked in your life to help give you a positive body image? How are you investing in your body now? Have you adjusted your expectations as you aged? What contributes to positively embracing your appearance?