Are you on a quest to love your body and improve your self-love? Many people struggle with these concepts, and even those who seem to have it all still deal with self-esteem issues. The fact that self-esteem is associated with achievements, body satisfaction levels, happiness, and motivation makes it more desirable!
But what, exactly, is self-esteem? The term was coined in the 18th century about the importance of thinking well of oneself to reach full potential. It refers to an evaluation of self-worth, encompassing beliefs about the self, including one’s appearance and body. It typically requires a generally positive emotional state.
Ever since the idea of self-esteem was introduced to the general public, it’s been a beautiful construct. Some people consider self-esteem an enduring characteristic that is almost innate in differing levels across different individuals. Others validate the existence of state self-esteem, or short-term self-worth, as a more malleable and variable construct.
Regardless of how you view self-esteem, one fact remains: it does experience some change on a personal level over time. And the good news is that the change mentioned above is positive and tends to happen almost naturally with time. At least, that’s what the research says! According to a study, here’s how body satisfaction and self-esteem improve with age.
1. The Study On How Body Satisfaction Relates To Age
Numerous studies over the decades have delved into the concept of self-esteem. The study came out in October 2018 and is a meta-analysis of countless longitudinal studies. This means that the study analyzed multiple studies on the topic to draw certain conclusions.
The study, entitled “Development of self-esteem from age 4 to 94 years: A meta-analysis of longitudinal studies”, was published in the Psychological Bulletin journal. The details are as follows:
- The meta-analysis used 191 longitudinal studies published from 1975 to 2016.
- The studies analyzed had varying sizes, from those with a mere 32 subjects to those with a whopping 13,401 subjects. Altogether, 164,868 participants’ data was involved.
- On average, 47% of the subjects of the studies are male.
- 61% of the studied populations are from the United States of America. More than 22% are from Europe. There are no participants from Central America, South America, or Africa.
- More than half of the studied participants are white.
- The ages of participants in the analyzed studies range from 4 years of age to 94 years of age.
- Some analyzed studies involved three waves of data collection or more, typically an essential factor in various time intervals.
Now that we understand the characteristics of this study let’s move on to its findings. In essence, the study discovered that body satisfaction and self-esteem changes over time with age.
In general, it pointed out a link between older ages and higher self-esteem, with a notable correlation between aging and better self-love. It seems that unique “low points” in self-esteem are typically simply the beginnings of long-term improvements over time. Let’s examine these body satisfaction rates in different age periods.
2. Body Satisfaction and Self-Esteem In Childhood and Adolescence
This meta-analysis indicates that self-esteem experiences an increase during the ages of 4 to 11. This seems to contradict prior findings from other tiny bits of research that suggest children lose self-esteem between the ages of 4 and 8.
Earlier theories suggested that kids at this age begin to develop a sense of self and can discern an “ideal” form of self. Supposedly, this could cause a loss of self-esteem as time moves on, especially since kids become aware of their bodies and appearances as they grow.
But why, then, does the study we’re discussing indicate otherwise? This could be because of the small sample size of previous research. However, there’s also a different explanation. A child may first start to lose self-esteem when they realize they’re not an “ideal” imagined self. But as they gain autonomy over the years, their self-esteem recovers and even rises!
But what about in adolescence? The meta-analysis found that self-esteem doesn’t change much from 11 to 15, then experiencing an increase after that. This is likely due to improvements in autonomy, with freedom lending itself to body satisfaction and esteem. Other research shows that early adolescence can have adverse effects on self-esteem, typically due to numerous other factors.
What The Study Learned About Children
Some notable research findings from other studies about body satisfaction and self-esteem in youth state:
- A child’s self-esteem may be established fully by the age of five! Research shows that kids of this age can have comparable levels of self-esteem to adults. This means that body satisfaction can have enormous implications for further growth and development at a young age.
- Parenting styles can affect self-esteem and body satisfaction in children. Warm and supportive parenting with unconditional love is likely to translate to improved self-concept, say studies.
- Performance in school can change a school-aged child or adolescent’s level of self-esteem. According to research, consistent performance in positive ways is typically associated with better self-love. The same is true in reverse.
- The body satisfaction of young individuals is often influenced by social comparison. Kids and teens naturally compare themselves to their peers and friends, say studies. This self-comparison changes how they perceive themselves, as they judge themselves based on those around them. This habit also applies to academic or extra-curricular performance.
- Social acceptance is associated with higher body satisfaction and self-esteem among adolescents. Rejection, therefore, has adverse effects, as research found. Children and teenagers need to feel a sense of belonging to feel good about themselves.
3. Body Satisfaction and Self-Esteem In Young, Middle, and Old Adulthood
In adulthood, self-esteem continues to grow, along with body satisfaction. This growth happens at a quick rate until the age of 30. While challenging for young adults to slowly get used to, additional adulthood responsibilities boost self-concept and promote various improvements. These complex improvements include:
- Personality trait development, improving conscientiousness, general emotional stability, and agreeability.
- Social role development, with many solidifying their identity as partners, employees, parents, and contributors to society.
- Autonomy or a life lived independently without the control of guardian figures.
Self-esteem continues to increase over time even beyond 30, though the rate decreases. This means the improvement in body satisfaction slowly “settles” and happens more gradually up to 60. Self-esteem then peaks at this point, between 60 and 70.
After this point, self-esteem may start to drop, with the decline increasing rapidly after the age of 90. This may be due to reasons such as:
- Reductions in health and physical ability
- Decreases in cognitive function
- Loss of complex social roles via widowhood, retirement, and more
While these are significant concerns for the elderly and their self-esteem due to these reasons, there’s still some hope in this! Medical advancements allow the elderly to have access to better healthcare and medical interventions. In the future, this may allow for the elderly to maintain their self-esteem and continue the trend of increase at a slow but steady rate.
Essentially, this means that as long as you feel a good part of society and are in good health, your self-esteem should increase with age. The only change in this trend is related to the speed of the increase, not the direction itself.
4. Study Limitations
Like all studies, this meta-analysis has its fair share of limitations. This is normal, and most research requires further, more in-depth analysis to supplement it. This study’s limitations include:
- Diversity of participants. This study included almost entirely Western populations, meaning it cannot accurately speak for the entire world.
- Broad pattern focus. The study observed overall patterns. This means the team did not account for individual differences. You can experience low self-esteem as a person that contradicts general population trends.
- Environmental factors. While the meta-analysis did try to account for participants’ various factors, it cannot be entirely conclusive on the finer points. Correlation and causation can’t be intrinsically held as the same. Various other factors may be affecting the self-esteem of different populations and groups.
Still, there are positive takeaways from the study. The resilience of people, in general, allows their confidence and esteem to remain high and continue to grow over time. Health and unsupported aging are the main factors that could disrupt this trend. This points to the need for further research into this specific area to better help the elderly prevent that decline.
Still, it’s worth noting that numerous factors play into adulthood body satisfaction and self-esteem. These factors include:
- Skill and mastery levels; greater mastery means better self-esteem.
- Risk-taking tendencies; lower risk-taking desire points to improved self-esteem.
- Extroversion; those who are extroverted tend to have social circles well into their old age, which maintains self-esteem.
- Mental health, emotional stability, and mental wellbeing are central to body satisfaction and self-esteem across all ages.
- Race; social factors related to racism and prejudice can change self-esteem trends.
Further studies point to shame as a significant determiner in self-esteem and body satisfaction. An ostracized individual or someone who doesn’t have self-respect for any reason is likely to experience declines in self-esteem.
However, self-compassion has been shown, in other research, to help to mitigate these effects. This means that despite all that you face, learning to love your body and self with kindness will work in your favor, regardless of other trends. Being able to seek aid for poor self-esteem and find help for various mental and physical health needs are also crucial in your continual positive self-love!
Final Thoughts On How Body Satisfaction And Self-Esteem Improve With Age
For many, body satisfaction and self-esteem can feel almost elusive. In a world so full of comparisons and virtually unattainable standards, you may start to despair. It’s hard to feel truly happy with yourself when you see a lot of idealized standards that you know are difficult or impossible to achieve.
That’s why it’s such good news to find out that self-esteem can improve naturally as you grow older! This means that things get better, and you have a good chance of increasing your happiness simply through perseverance. Keep in mind that you need to want these changes and work towards them for the best results!