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An older lady wearing purple

As we grow older our bodies change and, living in a culture obsessed with youth, it's sometime hard to feel confident about how we look. Ceri Roberts talks to some experts who share their tips on how to feel body confident in later life.

We all have days when we feel invisible, unattractive and self-conscious. Often it’s because we compare ourselves, unfairly, to the way we looked when we were young.

After all, we live in a culture which is obsessed with youth, so it’s harder to be body confident if we’ve gained a few pounds, our hair has turned grey, or our skin has started to wrinkle and sag.

'The dominant focus on youth and attractiveness means that older people are often depicted as less valuable and less visible,' says Dr Emma Halliwell from the Centre for Appearance Research, University of the West of England.

'However, psychologists have repeatedly shown the way you look is not related to the extent that someone is happy, popular, loved or successful.'

With this in mind, we asked the experts for some tips on how to improve our body image and boost our self-confidence in later life, so that we can look - and feel - our best.


DO pay yourself one compliment each day

'Self praise has as much, if not more, effect than a compliment from someone else,' says psychotherapist Marisa Peer, author of Ultimate Confidence.

'You might feel a bit silly, but say something great about yourself first thing every morning. If you can learn to feel good about yourself, others will feel positively towards you too.'

DO experiment with colour

It’s easy to get stuck in a rut, and wear the same type of clothes every day. But you’d be surprised how introducing some colour into your wardrobe can help you to look and feel younger.

If you normally wear neutral shades like navy, black, grey or brown, think about adding a colourful scarf or tie, or add a vibrant handbag or socks.

'This is an easy and affordable way to keep up with fashion,' says fashion stylist Luanne McLean.

DO see changes in your appearance as part of you

'Your body tells a story about who you are and what has happened in your life,' says Dr Emma Halliwell.

'The lines around your eyes show your sense of humour and the amount of times you laughed. Your stomach may have carried children and allowed you to bring up a family.

'By telling a story about your appearance you begin to see your body as a friend rather than an enemy to battle against.'

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DO do gentle, regular exercise

'Lots of older people avoid physical activity, and that includes walking, because they’ve lost confidence in their body and worry that they are too old, too unfit or might hurt themselves,' says Ana Barretxeguren, founder of Brighton Pilates Studio.

'But regular, gentle exercise like pilates can help you to feel less vulnerable. It improves balance and keeps you strong and flexible, which reduces the risk of falls - and means you’re less likely to hurt yourself if you do take a tumble.'

DO focus on the things you like about your appearance

'The ageing process can be tough, but it happens to us all eventually,' says Marisa Peer. 'Instead of mourning the loss of your youthful figure or smooth skin, focus on your good points.

'Stand in front of the mirror and notice all your good points - your nice smile, the twinkle in your eye, your lovely hands or your great posture. Research has shown that this is really beneficial.'


DON’T compare yourself to other people

'It’s common for men and woman to make appearance comparisons with their friends, family members, celebrities and other people in the media,' says Dr Emma Halliwell.

'Research shows that doing this leads to increased body dissatisfaction. So when you notice yourself doing this, actively turn your attention to something else until you begin to break the habit.'

DON’T spend too much time on the sofa

'It’s not always easy for older people to exercise, especially if they have a heart condition or joint issues,' says Ana Barretxeguren. 'But it’s important to keep moving as we get older, as regular exercise helps us to look and feel better.

'Pilates is a great option because a qualified instructor can work with you on gentle exercises that are suitable for your level of fitness.'

DON’T call yourself old

'This is a negative word, so cut it out of your vocabulary,' says Marisa Peer. 'Call yourself "wise" or "experienced" instead.

'Remember that other cultures place much greater value on age and experience, so focus on the fact that you still have a lot to offer which isn’t based on youth or the way you look.'

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DON’T wear clothes that are too small - or too big

'Sizes vary between stores, so don’t stick with a set size just because you can’t face going up or down the size scale,' says Luanne McLean.

'Wearing clothes that fit you perfectly is more important than a number on a label, and you’ll feel more comfortable and confident in clothes that flatter your shape.'

DON’T slouch

'Start paying attention to the way that you stand, sit and walk,' says Ana Barretxeguren. 'So many people tell me that they stand differently after a few Pilates classes.

This is because the exercises improve core strength and encourage you to focus on your posture. Standing and sitting correctly not only protects your back, it immediately makes you look taller, slimmer and more confident.'

Further information

For more information: Call Age UK Advice: 0800 169 2081