Years ago I saw a cartoon of a balding middle-aged man standing in front of the mirror in his underwear, gut spilling over, grinning and giving himself a thumbs-up. The caption read, “I’ve still got it.” In the next frame, a gorgeous woman stands in front of the mirror with the caption, “Ugh. I’m so fat.” I have thought about that cartoon many times since I turned forty and have become more self-confident in some departments, yet more insecure in others. Why are we so self-critical and hyper-sensitive? And why do we knowingly chip away at our self-esteem and ego?
In my experience, albeit limited, women who are at peace with their bodies fall into two categories: Those who have gone through a life-threatening illness and those who are older and wiser. My women friends who have battled serious health issues, seem to be grateful to be alive and if not completely well, dealing as best they can. They thank their bodies for not giving out, and are grateful for every day that their parts function. They do not obsess over a few extra pounds or a new wrinkle. Last year, I celebrated with friend who completed chemo, and was thankful to fit back into her larger clothes. Her increased appetite, hair growth and roundedness moved me to tears. Does it take a close encounter with death to appreciate our bodies?
In general, my older women friends possess more of the proverbial wisdom that comes with age. They are less consumed with the circumference of their thighs, and gracefully accept this next phase of life. Maybe there is a correlation between slackening of muscle tone and increased brains cells. Older women seem more confident, opinionated and settled. And what, exactly, do I mean by “older?” I mean, I AM forty-five! Should I just relish the strength and self-assurance that comes with age, or continue to fight the aging-process inside my head?
While busily dividing women into categories, I neglected to mention the young women (I’m old enough to call them girls) who have not struggled with true body changes due to childbirth, health issues or natural aging. Perhaps I am jaded, but I have lumped those young women into a category of victims of mass media’s portrayal of the perfect figure. And we’ve all finally acknowledged that the ideal six foot tall and rail thin woman, only exists in a starved and photo-shopped world. Magazines, runways and advertisements make it almost impossible to be satisfied because the “ideal” is shoved in our faces everywhere we turn. No wonder so many girls and women struggle with eating and exercise issues.
I know I am making generalizations, but the rest of us who have not yet found perspective, seem to be forever absorbed in our every curve, lack-thereof and what we wish we had more, or less of in the body department.
At a dinner last week, I complimented my friend, who looked gorgeous in her dress, and she promptly replied, “I look fat.” She then complimented me and I swiftly rolled my eyes and responded, “I’m too short to be wearing this dress.” Why couldn’t we say thank you and dig into our meals?
I promised myself when my daughter was born that I would set a good example of a balanced lifestyle, and healthy approach to my body. I have always been physically active, so I exercise, eat and cook healthfully, but indulge when I feel like it. I am simply not willing to give up sugar for life, but understand that my metabolism just cannot support carbohydrates for breakfast, lunch and dinner at this stage. While I believe moderation is key, I’m convinced my metabolism lost its hearing recently. There’s a reason why they make Spanx even in a size small.
Even the fittest trainers at my gym admit that after childbirth nothing stayed the same. They look like models to the rest of us, but humbly acknowledge that they struggle with self-image too. We always want more, or less than what we naturally have, and we cannot turn back the hands of time. On days when I am feeling positive and philosophical, I remind myself that this body is not what it was at 20. But it has earned its stripes, producing two great kids, and I should be grateful it’s still kicking. But the cosmic karma has to be aligned just right for me to find that grounding (and sadly fleeting) thought.
Why is it so damn hard to be accepting and grateful? I’m annoyed there is more of me to love. But I also know they’re also called love handles for a reason…