What are physical changes that take place in middle adulthood and why is there a double standard in our society for men and women in this area?

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M.P. Ossa | College Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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The physical changes that take place in middle adulthood are the following:

A. Vision and Hearing:

  • Presbyopia -difficulty reading small print; needing reading glasses.
  • Macular degeneration, if hereditary or glaucoma
  • Difficulty driving or navigating at night, or in the dark 
  • Presbycus- difficulty hearing 

B. Body shape:

  • Muscle decline; turns into fat (if the adult does not exercise)
  • Slower metabolism
  • "Middle age spread"
  • Weight gain

C. Face:

  • Wrinkles and sagging of the facial muscles 
  • Collagen production slows

D. Hormones

  • (Women) Less estrogen
  • Pre and post menopause
  • (Men) erectile dysfunction caused by less testosterone or other health problems such as diabetes.

E. Mental:

  • Slower information processing
  • Synapses in the brain are more separate hence memory retrieval and other connections may be slower to make.

The double standard:

Most of the male/female double standard comes from the physical aspect of aging. Men, whose bodies are more muscular than females do not suffer from weight gain during middle adulthood in the same way as women. Their weight gain may come slower due to the muscle. However, weight gain affects women psychologically because society has made a construct that there is a correlation between women-youth-beauty. Another construct is woman-slim-beauty. For men, the construct is different. Men are not condemned about weight gain the way that women are. Men are almost expected to have bodies that can bring themselves into fitness, but women who are not fit are considered lazy or not careful enough. 

Another double standard comes with menopause. While men do go through a similar hormone cessation period, women are literally prevented from conceiving once menopause sets. This represents a biological limitation that, when combined with the idea of "old age", immediately symbolizes labeling to a woman. It is no different than waiting for an expiration date to come up. Men do not undergo the potential trauma of finding their bodies changing to the point of not reproducing again. If a woman is not ready for that to occur, the situation may result in depression and frustration. 

Wrinkles, saggy arms and excess weight will always be more controversial in women than men. A great example can be found in Hollywood, where an average and below-average male actor can be featured as a movie star, whereas an overweight, older actress can only be limited to a few roles, if that. It occurs with other careers as well; women are expected to show themselves to a public, while men are allowed to "be" themselves. That is where the double standard takes place.  

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