In the Margins: The Impact of Sexualised Images on the Mental Health of Ageing Women

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This paper describes key findings of a study exploring how a cohort of 16 rural Australian women aged over 60 years think, feel and respond to the prevalence of sexualised imagery in the media. The qualitative research framework was informed by Feminist Standpoint Theory. Participants in three focus groups responded to semi-structured questions and prompts, interspersed with viewing examples of sexualised images. Five strong thematic categories emerged: concern for the harmful impacts of sexualised images on the vulnerable, the media’s portrayal of sexual content with a focus on physical appearance and youth, descriptions of the impact of viewing sexualised images, moderators of the impact of sexualised images on well-being, and marginalisation of women in the media. Findings from this research indicate that sexualised images in the media do have an impact on older women’s self image and mental health in numerous ways and in a range of situations. Emotional impacts included sadness, anger, concern, envy, desensitisation, marginalisation, and discomfort that their appearance was being judged by others. A strong sense of self apart from appearance, feeling valued by family and community, ignoring or overlooking media content, and being aware that media images are not real and attainable helped buffer the link between sexualised images and well-being. Another important finding is that the impact is variable: women may experience different responses to similar sexualised content depending on a range of social, health and lifestyle factors affecting them at any given time.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)632-646
Number of pages15
JournalSex Roles
Publication statusPublished - 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Older women
  • Sexualised images
  • Self objectification
  • Body image
  • Mental health
  • Feminist standpoint theory

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