Many eating disorder experts agree that the media plays a significant role in the development of eating disorders for some women. Among those women now representing a significant portion of those with eating disorders are older women over the age of 35. While some of them experience eating disorder symptoms revived from adolescent problems, some are new cases of eating disorders developed long after the teen years.
A new study has highlighted the possible relationship between the media and older women’s perceptions of their bodies. While many magazines count older women over the age of 40 as a major percentage of their readership, the study found that the models featured in the issues do not reflect the age mix of the subscribers.
The study, published in the April issue of the Journal of Aging Studies, reported that Vogue magazine, whose readership is one-fifth women aged over 50, has only featured one over-40 woman on its cover in the past year. Halle Berry was the cover model, who at the time was 43 years old. This was a marked difference when compared with the usual choices, almost always celebrities in their 20s.
The trend found in Vogue cover models continues across all magazines, and throughout magazine pages. Even though as many as 23 percent of magazine readers are older, editors choose images of women over 40 to grace the pages very sparingly. Even in magazines targeted to older readers, the images are uniformly thin, youthful and wrinkle-free. The trend may be creating an expectation that is impossible to achieve.
The study’s lead author, Denise Lewis, a gerontologist at the University of Georgia, explains that the trend can lead to problems with negative body image. When women deny aging, they may go to extremes to try to achieve the look of a younger person.
Even the magazine that fared best in the analysis conducted by Lewis and colleagues still showed a small number of older models. Essence, with 22 percent of its readers over the age of 50, uses about 9 percent of models aged over 40. Lewis said that even the women that were reported to be over 40 were made to look much younger in the pictures.
Using younger women consistently in magazines that are read by older women may present a problem for the readers. When women are confronted over and over by the message that a slim body and youthful appearance are the only standard of health, beauty and sexuality, women may be motivated to mimic the appearance at any cost.
Older women are increasingly being admitted to treatment programs for eating disorders. The message that aging is unattractive is causing them to develop dangerous eating patterns that eventually develop into a full eating disorder.