What women worry about: It’s not what you’d expect
What women want is not something that Freud nor Mel Gibson could figure out.
But, what do women worry about?
Well, new research by the Jean Hailes organisation for women’s health may provide some insight into that.
The survey of 3236 Australian women ahead of Women’s Health Week reveals that Australian women are more worried about their weight than they are of getting cancer.
Weight gain was the top health concern for 23 per cent of respondents, ahead of cancer (17 per cent) and mental and emotional health (15 per cent). Additionally, 83 per cent of respondents said they felt self-conscious about their appearance before going out in public.
I suggest the findings are worrying to Dr Mandy Deeks, the deputy CEO of Jean Hailes. She replies that it depends how you read the results.
“I think you can look at it in a couple of ways – if you look at it at a top level and go ‘oh my golly women are more worried about their weight than female-specific cancers’,” Deeks says, trailing off. “I think it’s important to put a bit of context in there.
“I think we’re very short-term thinkers, we’re in the ‘now’ – we’re not great at thinking about something that causes us fear. Cancer is obviously something that we fear because we link it to death and I think if we fear something we tend to brush it aside.”
Also, our view of weight often represents more than the number on a scale or the size of a dress.
“The message is that thin equals beautiful and successful and the person who is in the queue with you who is perhaps more beautiful and thinner tends to get served before someone who’s older,” says Deeks.
I wonder aloud whether our bodies are simply something tangible to pin our deeper worries on?
“Potentially,” Deeks says, adding:
“We’re bombarded by constant messages and images and there’s a lot of good research now around that says looking at those kind of images, even for a really short period of time, actually impacts how we view ourselves.”
Interestingly though, the surveyed women did not compare themselves to images in the media so much as those around them.
Nearly 60 per cent of respondents compared their body to friends while less than 20 per cent compared themselves to models.
Deeks says this is consistent with what she sees in practise as a counselling psychologist; that we’re affected by the comments and appearance of those closest to us.
“A lot of women would come to me and they’ve got really negative body image or disordered eating and it seemed to me that what had tipped them over the edge was comments or their relationship with family and friends,” Deeks adds.
In this way, our physical selves often cop the brunt of what is happening in our emotional lives.
Deeks says starting conversations about what worries us in secret can help us to realise others share our fears and experiences.
This extends to other aspects of health that women worry about but do not necessarily feel comfortable talking about, like bowel health, menopause, memory loss and mental health (all topics raised in the survey that women expressed discomfort asking questions about).
“The whole theme of Women’s Health Week this year is ‘Am I normal?’ because we kept getting women say to us ‘I really worry that I’m different to other women’,” Deeks explains.
“They’ll do ‘doctor Google’ searches and they’ll try and work out what’s wrong with them, but they don’t really have anyone say to them well this is what other women are also experiencing so let’s have the conversation… they can often be treated easily or allay a fear.”
This opening up of conversations, Deeks believes, is what can lead to change and greater understanding.
“I think it’s important to ask women what they are worried about and then we can do something about it – not make assumptions, because you’d think women were more worried about getting cancer,” Deeks says of the survey’s primary finding. “So it’s quite good to understand what they’re thinking about.”
Jean Hailes Women’s Health Week is September 5-9
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