GenX and Body Image: Why we Need More Positivity

Women who are critical of other women’s bodies are doing a disservice to themselves, their kids, and their peers. We’re old enough to know better.

By alison gary
body image on social media


The method to my madness

I was just doing my job. I didn’t think it would cause middle-aged women to freak the eff out.

For almost 15 years, I have been writing about fashion and sharing my personal style through my blog, social media, and freelance pieces for various sites like this one. As I have gotten older, I have found that I get increasingly greater benefits from reading real-life reviews online from women like me. With age, gravity, fad diets, breastfeeding, and different needs and desires, the age and shape of a reviewer makes a major difference in determining whether I’ll buy an item. Like the famous quote “Be the change you wish to see in the world,” I strive to be the influencer I wish to see in the world — one who is honest, shares those little details necessary to shop online successfully, and showcases products that are beneficial to women around my age and around my shape.

My Relationship with Body Image

As a 5’3” woman whose weight fluctuates between 185 and 195, I am pretty much what the CDC reports as the average American woman’s height and size. A large portion of my audience is similar to me – maybe a couple inches taller or shorter, a couple sizes larger or smaller, but I am relatable. Sharing myself online and connecting with women across the globe who are similar to me has empowered me to show more of myself so I can empower others. And this has given me the confidence to move from fully-dressed outfit shoots to well-lit studio sessions wearing swimsuits and bras.  

As someone who works from home, I was interested in a comfort bra a few weeks ago. I don’t need to have my bust lifted up to my chin when typing in my home office all day, but I want a bit of lift and shape so I can open the door for the UPS person or welcome in an unexpected neighbor for a quick visit. Thanks to my job, I often have intimates brand reaching out offering to send me their bralettes, sleep bras, and comfort bras to review. Here’s how it usually goes: I share that I’m 44, a 36G bust, I breastfed my child for almost three years and am experiencing the results of a lifetime of weight fluctuation and gravity. They tell me their product in the largest size will work great. I go to their Instagram and see a woman around my size, though 15-25 years younger, wearing the bra. She looks lovely and lifted as she gazes out her bedroom window, warming her hands around a mug of coffee. I tell them I’m happy to try it out. The bra arrives, and if I’m lucky it will lift my bust a half inch while everything falls to the center giving me a monoboob.

But then I found one that worked. It was comfortable, not ugly, and didn’t just lift but also separated. It still worked great after hours of wear and trips through the washing machine (gentle cycle in a lingerie bag, I’m not a heathen). I was so excited, I wrote an extensive review about this fab comfort bra for large busts. Dozens of readers wrote in thanking me for the review and following up after they ordered the bra to share that they too loved it. The post was so successful that I decided to put a little money behind it and promote my review on Facebook. When you boost a post or do an ad on Facebook, you can choose a target audience; I chose women aged 35 and older who have already shown an interest in fashion, style, and/or shopping.

I was shocked by the comments I received on the post.

"Have you no shame? My children could see this how am I to explain a mother exposing her body on the internet?”

“The AUDACITY to think YOUR BODY is hot and we want to see THIS MUCH of it! You’re delusional!”

“This is disgusting no one wants to see an old body like ours, cover up!”

“The last thing I wanted to see in my timeline was a fat middle-aged woman in her bra. No thank you if I want that I can look in a mirror.”

“Why post? This should be personal.”

“My dear, women our age were taught to cover up.  No one desires a body of this size or condition.”

“Any decent mother would cover herself out of respect for her family!”

Staying Body Positive on Social Media

These comments have since been deleted as they drowned out the women who were thankful for the review, helpful with feedback on this and other bras, or had questions before placing an order. I am used to skeevy comments from men but wasn’t expecting so many women having a problem with me standing confidently, looking straight into the camera while wearing a bra.  

Sadly, we women over 40 were raised to suffer in silence. We lead corporations, run households, raise human beings, and educate the population while suffering through hot flashes, fibroids, mastitis, infertility, cysts, heavy periods, heavy breasts, foot and back pain from heels, and gas pains from Spanx. The younger generations — millennials and GenZ —thanks to the internet, learned that we can’t feel better if we don’t admit what is hurting. They’re not afraid to share personal issues, and they’re thrilled to share products that make their lives easier. Younger generations are also apt to support fellow women. They throw around compliments like confetti, they motivate complete strangers, and they find ways to use their social media platforms to educate and empower. They learned from us, their parents and grandparents and aunts and teachers, that suffering in silence isn’t smart and it isn’t chic. We could learn a thing or two from them.

I’m the body I want to see in a bra, not the body of a woman 20 years younger, 6” taller, and far firmer. I want to see women in midlife who are happy and confident even if they aren’t Maye Musk. We deserve to see ourselves represented in the media, we need to normalize women’s bodies — all bodies of all sizes and shapes and ages and abilities. And so, I look straight into the camera wearing only my bra. And I delete the negative comments because they aren’t benefitting anyone, including those who wrote them. 

When we criticize women’s bodies for not fitting an unrealistic ideal, we hurt everyone, including ourselves. Studies have proven that the words we use to describe ourselves and others have an effect on our self-image and the confidence of those around us. I think many of us can share stories of how our mothers and other female role models affected our diet, fitness, and body image through their own negative self-talk. 

So, to those angry GenX women of Facebook who voiced their disapproval of my post, you will continue to see me in my bra, and I hope that between typing out rants and covering the eyes of your kids, you will realize that your negative talk is more damaging to them than my wrinkled cleavage. If anyone deserves recognition for having an amazing body, it’s us. We’ve lived life, we’ve accomplished great things, our bodies have gone through journeys and deserve to be recognized and honored … and supported in well-fitting bras!

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