I don’t know a woman who has not struggled with her appearance. No, really. There are a lot of women who reject culture’s standard of beauty, I know. They dress as they like, forego all the fussing of nails, hair, and makeup, and they say with much boldness that they just do not care what others think. But, somehow I have never been able to get to that seemingly sweet spot of carefree humanity – a total acceptance of the shell I call my body and appearance.
As I watch other woman deal with it, finding a place to somehow fit into what is called feminine, I can’t help but to compare their methods to my own. Do they grow their hair long or whack it all off? Do they go so-called natural with their makeup, go overboard, or ditch it altogether? Do they follow fashion trends or are simply a fashion victim? Don’t get me wrong – I am not judging any of them. I am just trying to figure out how they came to their ‘look’…are they happy? Are they comfortable in their skin? How did they get there?
As a 50-year old female who cares about her appearance, I admit that I fuss over all these things. In private, of course. In the world of social media, reality takes on a fun-house mirror quality, leaving me wondering if I am the only woman who isn’t so self-assured about her appearance. After having a hysterectomy a couple of years ago, I (like so many others) have gained some unwanted pounds. For whatever reason. This, of course, clashes with the accepted standard of beauty (tall-size4-tan-fit-longhair-brightsmile type of beauty). Maybe that is the problem – where are the examples of beautiful, over-50 women in the media? Maybe I am not really sure what I am supposed to look like anymore.
I know what I don’t want to look like. I don’t want to look unkempt, dumpy, or sport the easily-dismissible mom-look (I am a mother, but it is not my identity…but that is another post). I don’t want to look like I don’t care about my appearance, or that I haven’t a clue about fashion. I do want to present myself as intelligent and put-together – worthy of respect. Where are those types of examples? And of those examples, are they different sizes, realistic sizes?
I had a sort of epiphany while struggling to find self-acceptance while here in Greece. Truly, going back to university, and now studying abroad, has presented even more opportunities for feeling old, tired, and fat. Sitting next to fashionable 20-somethings could make anyone feel a little self-conscious. But, therein lies my epiphany: I have lived more than those sitting beside me. It may be a duh-moment for some, but it is very obvious that my body clearly shows the signs of that living. Childbirth and rearing. A multitude of diets and workout regimes. Sickness and tanning booths. Overwork and laziness. Years of getting up too early and going to bed too late. Emotional rollercoasters that have left me windblown and frazzled more than I like to admit. Yes, I have lived. A lot. Contrary to what media and diet gurus want to sell, my appearance and body weight doesn’t mean that I have given up, let myself go, or over-eaten due to ignorance.
More accurately, my body shows history. From the C-section scars to the broken elbow. From the birthmark to the cellulite to the stretch marks. To varicose veins, and multiple sunburns causing age marks, to the scars on my not-so-perfect complexion from various bouts of acne. Lots of history. And, that doesn’t even begin to talk about the laugh lines and darkened circles that show up under my eyes. My hair is starting to reveal grey and my step starts to slow down much earlier than I ever remember. All as a result of living hard in this body. I have danced hard, and exercised hard. I have laughed, and cried, and worked hard. I have struggled emotionally and physically, and have exhausted myself more often than I want to think about. I have denied myself sleep, food, and comfort at times, and indulged at others. All of which the beautiful and vibrant young woman sitting next to me in class have not had the opportunity to do yet. I realized it was an unfair comparison to hold myself to a standard of youth when I am sitting in a body that has been lived in 3 decades longer.
So, is all this just an excuse to give up and forget about being fit and beautiful? No, unfortunately. I still feel the pressure to be the 60-something that no one can believe is over 60. I still dream of dropping enough weight to get back to my weight prior to major life trauma. I still have plans to detox and continue to be active. But, I have started to come to grips with the undeniable fact – this body has lived. Actually, this body has served me very well – it is strong, healthy, and resilient. I want to appreciate my body, not hate it. I don’t want to hate my body or my appearance anymore.
Today, as I was watching women walking along the street, I thought a new thought. Regardless of their size and appearance, I thought, “they have lived, too. They are not perfect, either, because they have lived.” For me, that is freeing. And when I see a young woman who is very close to the ‘standard’, I can say, “I was once there…and now I have lived. She will, too.”
Women’s bodies change as they age. I used to think for the worse. But, now I am beginning to appreciate why.
One of the guys in my philosophy class made a comment that stood out to me. Just as a matter of conversation, he simply stated that people get bigger as they get older…right? I have thought about that, and truly wonder where he got that idea. But it is true, for the most part. And not to be despised. Getting ‘bigger’ can just be a consequence of living, of enjoying life, of making it through tough times. And perhaps, in my classmate’s mind, he was harkening back to youthful days of thinking that grown-ups were bigger. Because we are bigger. Those of us over 50 are adults, not youthful 20-somethings who have not had the opportunities to experience life for all that it is. It is not their fault that they don’t show the wear and tear of decades of living, just like it is not my fault that I don’t look like a fresh-faced 20-something. And for once in my life, I’m OK with that.