When I was younger, I thought that as women aged, they just naturally felt freer and stopped caring so much about their appearance. I thought that magically, they became totally comfortable and confident in their own skin as time went on. I have no idea where I got that notion from. Maybe, I thought that because my childhood TV role models were characters like Murphy Brown and Blanche Devereaux from the Golden Girls, but then again, there was a fair amount of Peggy Bundy in there, too, so I digress.
After the birth of my first child, I started making an effort to end the self-hate war I have been waging against my own body since childhood. I wanted to set a good example for my son (and eventually daughter) and be that strong, confident woman who never ever felt less than, wanted to shrink herself or cried because her jeans wouldn’t button.
I started talking about it in therapy and attempted to recognize and challenge my negative self-talk.
I got rid of old clothes that no longer fit my new “mom body” and tried to accept my size as I shopped for new ones. I put stickers on my mirror that said, “You are beautiful.” I created an Instagram account where I posted body-positive quotes and even pictures of myself in a two-piece. I made lists of my strengths that had nothing to do with my appearance and followed every body-positive influencer I could find on social media. I worked through body image workbooks, and I started working out for the first time without a weight loss goal. I tried yoga and found out that I could run much farther than I ever would have believed was possible.
So how is it that despite some good effort, I found myself standing in my closet on my 40th birthday with tears in my eyes because I felt that I looked terrible in everything? I have been feeling all of this enormous pressure around turning 40 this year. Like, it’s ok to age if I am at my top physical condition or it’s ok to age if I don’t actually look my age like JLo or Jennifer Anniston. I considered plastic surgery, I dipped my toe into the Botox fountain of youth, I tried fad diets and yet, there I was turning 40, just regular, old me. This is the part of this story where I am supposed to say:
“But then, I learned to accept and love myself and now things are great.”
But I am not sure that’s the case. Learning to accept my body is an ongoing struggle, and I think that it is being compounded by aging.
When I was reading books on body image, I came across The Woman in the Mirror by Cynthia M Bulik, PH.D. There is a chapter titled “The AARP Years” where she tells the stories of women in their 70s and above who still struggled with negative self-talk. In that chapter, is a story about a woman who becomes ill and when she is making her final plans, she makes her daughter promise not to bury her in a blue dress because it “makes her look fat.” I don’t want to feel that way or think that way in my 70s and 80s, or even my 40s for that matter, but I think there is work to be done. I don’t think that I will naturally be able to age feeling more and more fabulous every day (like Blanche) unless I put in some more effort and probably even ongoing effort and even then, I might not.
My Mom gave me a cute homemade, probably Pinterest-inspired 40th birthday gift. It was a bucket full of spicy flavored snacks. At the top, it said, “You’re still hot (or at least your snacks are… haha), but it’s time to write your bucket list!” She had written funny bucket list things all around the bucket, things like “take a vacation to Europe” or “get your name in the Guinness Book of World Records.” Cheesy as it was, I think she had a valid point. Life is too short not to think about goals and what you want your life to be like. And with that, I think I have added one more to the bucket list – self-acceptance. Wish me luck.