Posted in A Day In the Life

The Body Beautiful

While older women counsel young women to love their bodies, we often fail to have that conversation with ourselves.

As a young woman I starved myself to stay thin.  My relationship with food was not a healthy one. My relationship with my body was worse.  The angst about body image came from two places.  One was cultural. In my generation, men often commented on women’s bodies in disparaging ways, leaving us to question if our worth was somehow related to the size of our thighs.  The message about thinness also came from my dance studio where I spent most of my teenaged years.  We were constantly told by our instructors that no extra weight was allowed.  By fourteen-years-old, I knew to order the burger without the bun, no fries and a side salad without dressing.  I was always hungry.

As the 1970’s dawned, the feminist movement was taking on the cultural narrative about body image.  Women were encouraged to love their bodies as they were. The new message was a needed one, because trying to sculpt your body to fit a man’s idea of what he thought you were supposed to be, was right up there with sculpting your mind to fit his image of you, too.

The decade of the 70’s and 80’s pushed women to know themselves. Changes came about as more women entered the work force, aspiring to be the CEO and not the secretary. Women demanded equal access to higher education.  The patriarchy was met with a rising matriarchy that would usher us into a new cultural paradigm.

By the time I was middle-aged, I was eating again and I did gain some weight, healthy weight that made me look like a woman instead of a starving waif. All around me the world was changing and now women have become much more comfortable with their bodies than they were in my generation. Plus, they’re much more comfortable with their smarts and their ambition.  

Yesterday, I walked into the salon where I get my hair trimmed, and my stylist came to greet me in a form fitting, rose-colored dress.  She’s seven months pregnant. She looked beautiful. It’s such a pleasure to see women showing off their baby bellies.  Not that long ago pregnant women were expected to hide their bellies.  I celebrate the change. I celebrate that a woman’s body takes on so many different forms in the course of a lifetime.

Even though women are feeling good about who they are and we’re mentoring younger women to do the same, there is one group that still suffers a poor body image. Too often I hear women my age talk about their bodies in mean and unloving ways. They lament the loss of muscle tone, curse sagging skin, and try to cover arms and legs that used to turn golden in the summer months — an attempt to hide what they think has grown unattractive. They criticize a natural process that is part of the cycle of life.  

I’m the first to admit that I too mourned the loss of my younger years. That’s just part of the process. I understand the grief of losing one’s youth. And I understand not wanting to succumb to the inevitable. Part of that is a fear of mortality and part of it is that we lose our way in loving ourselves, because there still exists a false standard of what beauty is.

Beauty for an older woman is a truly natural state.  It is health. It’s joy. It’s the happiness of living long enough to tell the tale. Wisdom is beautiful and earning the title of elder is beautiful.  Those definitions must be what we strive for in these silver years. 

I recently joined a Facebook page made up of a couple of thousand women who are letting their hair go grey.  I’ve tried, but I keep adding streaks.  But after scrolling through the posts on that page, I was inspired by the self-acceptance and self-love that these women possessed.  I made another appointment with my stylist in a couple of weeks and I’m going to ask her to help me transition to grey.

I want young women to understand that their value in life has nothing to do with the size or shape of their body.  “Ignore the advertising industry standards,” I tell them. They’re toxic and unrealistic.  This morning though, I realized that the conversation I’m having with the younger generation is a conversation that I need to be having with myself.  My value and my significance does not rest in how toned my muscles are, or whether or not I sag in places that I didn’t used to. Or my weight.  And regardless of softer arms that have lost most of their definition, I want to wear sleeveless tops and shorts in the summer months.

I believe in health and in supporting each other to be healthy. I believe in the power of self-love.  And I know that self-love not only heals our own selves, it shines as a light to others.

How do you feel about your body as you grow older? Please share your precious thoughts with me in the comment section.

Author:

Novelist, essayist, blogger, wife, dog-mommy, dancer, dreamer, grateful.

35 thoughts on “The Body Beautiful

  1. Zowie. So timely. I’ve been mulling this over since my birthday in April or so. What I’m trying to remember goes like this: I have a body. It’s a bigger part of my “me” than I usually acknowledge. I guess I bought that mind/body duality deal. Since I’ve been partnerless since 2010, I forget it’s there and serves to move me around in this amazing world. Interestingly enough, this consideration wasn’t prompted by my own self-compassion questions but around whether or not I would ever again get into bed with another person, and how I’d manage that when I’m shocked that I’m not still in my 30s when I get in the shower. Haha. Food for thought on more than one count. And you’re spot on that I’d have a totally different conversation about all of that with younger friends or acquaintances. So, lately, I’ve been asking myself: in what way am I being kind to my vehicle? Thanks for the post!

  2. I am working on my body – hired a personal trainer 6 months ago – only because as I age I want to feel strong and be healthy. And after 3 months, I am seeing wonderful changes in strength and endurance! Plus, if I eventually need a hip or knee replacement, or any other surgery, I know I will be able to recover more quickly if I am in top physical form – or as top as I can get at 76! lol

    I graduated h.s. in ’61 and college in ’65: what I remember is being compared to Playboy bunnies by thoughtless young men – talk about being made to feel inadequate!

    We are now living in a better time, and we all need to treat ourselves kindly….

    1. What a bad combination: young, clueless men and Playboy Bunnies. We’ve seen it all. I love that you work on your health. I do too and it’s a blessing. The “top” of our game has changed, as you point out, nonetheless, mindful health creates energy and vitality, not to mention that it helps ameliorate a lot of pain and discomfort. 😉

  3. I stopped dying my hair with henna and indigo. Henna and indigo are permanent dyes, they don’t fade much. So I now have bi color hair, silver gray on top and brown on the bottom. I love it. Everyday, the color changes as my hair grows. Once I get all gray, then I will look into occasionally using temporary dyes to go purple or green or what ever I feel like doing!

  4. Truthful article and comments yet I too struggle to be truthful to myself. Due to numerous surgeries my body is a landscape of scars yet these are the very evidence of my survival. I will not allow anyone to take my photo as I always hate the person I see so I leave no record of my journey. I think it is time to re-evaluate what my values are.

    1. I understand the burden of self-disdain . . . at times in my life, I’ve been there too and it’s painful. Scars and wrinkles, lines and divots are part of the map that shows the world who we are and what we’re capable of enduring. Our best bet I think, is to encourage and support one another and try to be kind to ourselves in the same way that we are kind to others. I wish so much goodness for you. Big hugs.

  5. What an absolutely excellent article, Stephanie! I am turning 69 this month, and deal with osteoporosis and a few other challenges. I do exercise a lot, life weights, and keep my weight stable after losing 20 pounds last year on WW. And both of those are for my health, mobility, and fear of both diabetes and/or strokes (both in my genetics). I used to lament birthdays, but a wise friend reminded me that “birthdays are to celebrate. Many don’t get that opportunity.” And now I do celebrate. Life is to celebrate at every phase. Find the joy — it is there in spite of circumstances.

  6. I observe younger women confidently wearing tight stretchy clothes that expose their plump bodies and something inside me says they should be ashamed for doing so. They should know they must hide and camouflage their imperfections. Then I hear my inner conversation and realize that I am the one with the problem, not them. Granted, we all would do well to keep our bodies trim and fit, but my mind is living inside a story that if you do not succeed in this goal you don’t deserve to be seen. How did that happen?!

    1. “How did that happen” is something I wonder about too. I think we all struggle a bit, antiquated tethers to a patriarchal POV that doesn’t really matter anymore — or at least that’s what we tell our selves. It comes down whether or not we can be kind to ourselves and then to others for well . . . just being human. Thank you for such a thoughtful and honest comment.

  7. Hair: still dying (age 63)
    body: yoga, cycling, walking the dog, swimming.. and never seem to lose a pound..
    so bought baggier tops. and elastic waist pants.
    Feet: never going to be a pretty sight; so don’t worry about! Happy to have them. Hope to avoid bunion surgery.
    Goals: To be active as I can and continue to enjoy what I like to do.

  8. Hi Stephanie – Thank you for raising this. I’m fairly grey at 48 but with naturally very dark hair, it’s quite hard to feel comfortable with the silver against dark brown contrast. There are a handful of women of my age in my community who have greyed gracefully already and I admire them greatly. I’m working up to it but always feel so darn good after a fresh cut and colour. Tricia xx

  9. “Beauty for an older woman is a truly natural state. It is health. It’s joy. It’s the happiness of living long enough to tell the tale.” Beautifully written and expressed. This should be our mantra, and we should remind each other that our bodies are testament to the wonder of our years. Thank you! I’m sharing your post with many friends.

  10. You’re describing so well how I presently feel. I’m 68 and proud of it. Sometimes I look into the mirror and complain: Who is this woman? It’s not me! And then I see the sparkle in my eyes… I smile to myself and tell me “You go girl!” I still want to war nice dresses an nude shoulders and bare arms. If somebody does judge me on my appearance, that’s their problem. Mine is to take care of my health, my appreciation for who I am, whom I became and continue to walk my path. I so like reading you. Take care.

  11. I used to think I was fat ( but was actually at least 30 pounds lighter)…..now that I am reaching 40… I still feel chubby but I am learning to love myself better although I do sometimes feel like a whale ….

    1. 40 holds all kinds of surprises: knowing yourself and loving yourself more fully among them. Peace and goodwill along your path . . . Big hugs and thanks for taking the time to comment.

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