1. Understand what's normal, and what's not. "Men and women face separate physical challenges as they age and these affect not only what our bodies can actually do but also how we feel about ourselves in general," says Schwartz. Physiologically, men's erectile capacity starts to diminish in their 30s and 40s. By the time they hit the 50-plus years the ability to have and sustain an erection may be a huge psychological mountain to climb. "This is something they counted on; it's how they defined themselves," explains Schwartz. What's more, if a man has always been very athletic, not being able to play in his weekly tennis match, or shoot baskets every Tuesday night is going to chip away at his self esteem.
Menopause, Schwartz notes, affects every woman differently. "For some it's a minor event; they may even find that not having to worry about pregnancy is liberating in every way. For others, it's horrific. They can't sleep and they suffer night sweats and mood swings leave them feeling desperate. Their skin becomes dry, their hair brittle, and all that's going to have a huge impact on body image."
Then, too, when backs and knees give out, even can-do boomers will feel as if their body is letting them down. "But there are things we can do to help, so don't just sigh and think, 'Well, I'm getting older, what do I expect?'" says Schwartz. "Make an appointment with your physician to talk honestly about what's bothering you and find out what medications or treatments might be best for you."
2. Forget about looking young. Boosting body image shouldn't be about looking younger but rather about looking, and feeling, the healthiest and best you can right now. The first step: Changing your mind-set. Start by deleting the self-deprecating messages you send yourself, often unwittingly. Eliminate the phrase "anti-aging" from your vocabulary and replace it with "healthy aging" — a subtle but important distinction.
Now, make a list of all the negative things you say about your body: Where do those messages come from? (Your weight-conscious parents who called you pudgy when you were 10? The celebrities you see on TV, who have a slew of personal trainers and chefs whose job it is to keep them looking svelte?) Now, consider whether you would say the same thing about a friend if he looked like you. Probably not. We're much harder on ourselves than others.
Make a vow to simply stop repeating disparaging things about your own body and weight — even seemingly harmless things such as, "I can't believe I ate that frozen yogurt! I'm so bad!" Instead of being your own toughest critic, focus on the physical traits you like most about yourself: your hair, your shapely shoulders, whatever you feel good about. Think of them as gifts to yourself and your partner.