Media Images of Fitness & Aging
The Mass Media portrays fitness as exclusive to the “body beautiful” set even though only about 2% of the population could look that way no matter what they ate or how much they exercised. This unrealistic ideal is therefore personally irrelevant to 98% of the population, placing fitness out of reach of the average individual, regardless of age. This preoccupation with perfect bodies and youthful images is especially demeaning to older adults. It creates negative associations with age-related changes and aggressively promotes a belief that these changes are highly undesirable. A multi-billion dollar industry is built upon the message that we must do whatever we can to defy "aging".
Our cultural image of aging is dominated by caricatures, leaving mature adults both seriously underrepresented and marginalized by the media. (Krueger, 2001) One extreme is characterized by frailty and dependence, spawning endless jokes about aging and commercials and sitcoms portraying older adults as non-vigorous, sexless, confused and a collective drag on social programs and the economy. The other extreme showcases “woofies” (well-off-older-folks) as slender, healthy, financially secure and at leisure in some fabulous resort community. These extremes dominate the media and our perceptions even though it is clear the majority of older adults exist in a broad range between the extremes.
Negative stereotypes and limited views of “successful aging” can have a significant impact on self-esteem, body image, and self-efficacy of older adults. (Bradley & Longino, 2001) Evidence has long suggested that beliefs, assumptions and expectations can contribute to sickness and death, as well as to healing. Now research documents that the mind’s perception of health status or a health incident can determine physical symptoms, health choices and behaviors, and ultimately outcomes. (Ray, 2004)
Media images are so damaging because perceptions of self and perceptions of how you are viewed by others, significantly impacts motivation to make changes. Relentless negative messages about aging can prevent people from believing in their ability to affect change, ultimately contributing to unhealthy lifestyle choices and premature disability. If a person honestly believes that functional decline with aging is unavoidable why would they exercise if they don’t enjoy it or make any other lifestyle changes? What do you think?