In my twenties and thirties, I struggled with my body image for the reasons I outlined in my book a few years ago, It’s Not About the Food: A Woman’s Guide to Making Peace with Food and Our Bodies:
Being a short, curvy, Jewish gal, I learned from a very early age that the way I looked was not considered desirable.
• Dark hair which should have been blond
• Dark brown eyes which should have been ice-blue
• Curly hair which should have been straight
• A naturally curvy and rounded body which should have been straight up and down and bony-thin
• Small shoulders when I should have had wide bony ones from which a dress or blouse could be elegantly draped
• Short and compact when I should have been tall and lanky
• Near-sighted and needed glasses because my eyes were too dry for contact lenses when I should have had perfect vision or been able to wear contacts to hide my poor eyesight
• Long in the torso and short in the legs when I should have been the other way around
For the most part, I have made peace with these facts about my body over the years. Having recently turned 40 (41 in two weeks-ack!), however, I have some extra body image concerns to add to the above lists:
- graying hair
- wrinkling skin
- downward pointing breasts
- unexpected weight gain
All of these have come as a major shock as somehow, I guess I had thought I would be immune to all of the side effects of aging. But no, Mother Nature would have me learn otherwise. And while I am working really hard at growing older without plastic surgery, botox, or other toxic attempts to extend my youthful appearance, the weight gain has been a real doozy.
However, I have managed to lose a bit of that weight over the past couple of years through healthy and mindful eating and regular exercise. But my size and shape are definitely different from when I was in my twenties- a fact of life that I have resigned myself to as it’s better than the alternative- having no body at all.
To be perfectly honest, I am really terrified of aging and ‘losing my looks’. Even though I have never met the standard beauty ideal, I have always been considered pretty, and to some, even beautiful. And as much as I would like to think I am more than how I look, and preach to other women about the virtues of focusing on who you are on the inside as being the most important thing, I am grieving my youthful body, skin, hair, and face now that I am in my early forties and have officially entered ‘midlife’.
I do not relish the fact that gravity will get me, as it does everyone, in the end. I am not joyfully “embracing” becoming a crone, a wise elder, or a mentor to those younger than me. Frankly, I am pissed right off. I frittered away my young years by falsely thinking I was ugly, fat, or deficient in numerous other ways. Now, when I look back at photos of me during those years, I realise how young, juicy, and gorgeous I actually was. And did I revel in it? Love every minute of it? Appreciate what I had? Nooooooo! Instead, I spent so much time criticizing what I did have and that makes me really sad. Now I truly understand what George Bernard Shaw meant when he proclaimed, “Youth is wasted on the young”.
Here are my own answers to some questions my friend Julia Rice asked of me for her wonderful blog exploring women and midlife through art and storytelling:
What did beauty mean to you when you were in your 20s?
In my twenties, I think I took my beauty for granted. In fact, I didn’t give it much thought. Who needs to when your skin is glowing, your boobs are chin-height, and everyone tells you how beautiful you are? I definitely had my insecurities and in fact, feel like my 20-something body and face were somehow ‘wasted’ on me because I didn’t appreciate them back then. When it came to how I looked, I was incessantly critical and hard on myself for being too short, too dark, too curvy, and the list went on. When I look back at pictures of myself in my twenties now, I feel sad that I didn’t appreciate how lovely and beautiful I actually was. Now I truly understand what George Bernard Shaw meant when he proclaimed, “Youth is wasted on the young”.
Also, in my twenties, I was engrossed in university studies and managed to obtain two degrees during those years. I like the fact that my looks didn’t help me in any way with getting good grades or becoming a good therapist. In fact, I had to rely on my brain more than anything and that, in retrospect, is a very good thing. I learned at a very young age that I was first and foremost, intelligent and being smart and using my abilities to think critically was what was most encouraged in my family. I’m glad my family had those values, otherwise I would have been in deep trouble. I feel so much for those young women out there who are valued mostly for how they look, not for who they are. Models and pop singers come to mind. I always look at them and think, “What’s going to happen to your self-concept and self-worth when your looks are gone and you’re no longer considered “hot”?”
What does beauty mean to you now? If different, why have your ideas about beauty changed over the years?
I guess I’m becoming a more spiritual person as a result of facing these facts about my body and the ageing process (as outlined above), which in my opinion, is a good thing. I mean, who couldn’t use a bit more spirituality in their life? Plus, I’m starting to change my view of what is considered “beautiful” which is providing a great sense of peace and well-being. I’m really starting to appreciate the beauty in women who are 40+. I’m starting to realize that confidence, wisdom gained through life experience, and knowing oneself, is incredibly beautiful, and even sexy!
Sure, I really appreciate the smooth skin and gorgeous physiques of women in their twenties, but instead of comparing myself to them, I silently say “bless you sister-it’s your turn now” and make a mental list of reasons I’m grateful to be in my forties. This always helps me feel better and centers me back into myself and the reality of the wonderful life I have now. It’s definitely not the same life I had when I was in my twenties, but the more I reflect on it, the more I realize that I like the life I have now SO MUCH MORE…