Women's body image throughout the adult life span: Latent growth modeling and qualitative approaches
The objectives of this study were to understand how women view their body image throughout the adult life course and explore patterns in adult women's body image development from the life course perspective using a relatively new approach. Older female participants aged 65 and over were asked to recall and discuss their memories of their bodies in earlier life stages, as well as to rate and discuss their current body image perceptions in late adulthood. Using existing scales, a questionnaire assessed participants' perceptions about actual body shape, ideal body shape, and body satisfaction in each of three life phases. Seven open-ended questions were also adopted in the questionnaire to arrive at a deeper understanding of changes in women's body image perception throughout their adult life span as well as to improve the accuracy of retrospective data recalled by participants. Of the 203 older women asked to participate in the survey, 107 responses were returned, yielding a response rate of 52.7%. All participants were White/European Americans with mean age of 80.
Data analysis consisted of three phases of analysis: preliminary analysis for quantitative data, latent growth model (LGM) analysis for hypothesis testing, and qualitative data analysis for open-ended responses. Increasing trajectories were found in women's perceptions about their actual body shape, ideal body shape, and actual/ideal body image discrepancy throughout the adult life span. Women became physically larger as they aged: their ideal body shape increased as well, making it more realistic and age-appropriate. In contrast to the previous findings, the LGM analysis showed decreasing trajectories in five body satisfaction items (satisfaction with physical appearance, body size and shape, body weight, physical attractiveness, and physical functioning) throughout women's adult life span. Women felt that they placed more value on appearance when they were younger, while their body image concerns shifted to body function and health status as they aged. A desire to lose body weight and/or reduce body size was a lifelong issue for the women. Their ideal body shape was always thinner than their perceived actual bodies.