For some reason I imagined living in my body while it aged would be a graceful experience, because I respect the female form for all she is, I just assumed observing my curves appear would feel like a right of passage, a manifestation of all my physical achievements. I am a woman. I own my body, I am strong, I have carried children, I have shared my body, I’ve tattooed it, pierced it, it’s only mine and I know the detail of every last mole, blemish and scar. I notice and appreciate alluring women such as Lauren Hutton, Charlotte Rampling, Vivienne Westwood, Ines de La Fressange and admire how effortless, intelligent, feminine and vital they are, even Elon Musk’s mother, Maye, is rocking the age thing. But as I head down this road of examining my own ageing body I realise I had completely overlooked the clout one needs to stay reassured, moving on from girl to woman requires swathes of mental stamina!
Through my twenties my body didn’t wobble too much, ups and downs but it pretty much stayed in one place. I fell pregnant with twins when I was 29, my bump grew huge, from the back I looked relatively normal then as I turned around people would wince. The skin on my tummy was ruined and my belly button an utter disaster, I tried really hard to love it but just couldn’t. Although, I do love my stretch marks because I can see where my babies once lived, their tiny elbows and knees prodded outwards contorting my tummy into odd shapes, my children will touch the scars even now and marvel that they were once in there together.
I didn’t notice much difference to my body through my 30’s, it was all going rather well. But then of course in your 30’s one is still relatively young, on the scale of an ageing body it’s clearly not as fantastic as being an 18 year old but has not yet gone to the dogs either. Even when I turned 40 I was still feeling pretty jammy about it all, I was still in jeans I’d had before I’d given birth. High five.
And then I turned 41.
This isn’t about being skinny or of a certain weight or body mass; understanding that your body is coming of age requires a different set of skills, one needs to maintain a constant self-reassurance with a muted confidence that you are not the only woman to wake up wondering where the hell that turkey neck came from. To keep poise and spirit even when you are on all fours and looking at yourself aghast, thinking someone left the party balloons out from last weekend. When I deliberate this with my girlfriends it would appear we are all quietly having the same disaster, we all seem to be pouring ourselves into Spanx and padded bras, and those who aren’t are working like trojans, are eating funny diets and cutting out all sorts of food groups. We’re working out which parts of our bodies are ok to still be revealed and which parts will never see the light of day again. I have a friend who wears shaping leggings under her jeans, and I thought she just had a fantastic bum. I had dinner with a friend of a friend who is naturally beautiful and I was so impressed given she was mid-40’s, but then learned she had a tummy tuck and a boob job. Good for her, she looks great, but it gets me thinking, what on earth am I aiming for?
Dismayed, I reckoned I could get it back on track. I set about a ridiculous routine of going to one those cross-fit places that essentially make you feel like you are going to have a stroke, in fact, someone told me their mate actually did have a stroke after a session! I live in Los Angeles and I’m mainly surrounded by body-conscious people, the people in these gyms are basically athletes and I have no idea why I thought I could compete on that level. I just wanted nicer boobs and a sexy tummy without having to crawl home weeping because some bloke called Eric has just spent the past 60 minutes bullying my soul while SexyBack was being played at an absurd volume.
Next, I languorously considered all sorts of plastic surgery, I investigated boob jobs, tummy tucks, mini tummy tucks, acid injections, liposuction, the lot. I researched surgeons in London and Los Angeles and I discussed at length with my girlfriends, we had such a giggle sharing information and looking at pictures, which went on for months and until I finally realised I couldn’t redesign myself to be a better version, I would just be a different version. So that was the end of that.
There are times when I’m naked and staring in the mirror, pinching and turning, trying to pinpoint the moment when illustrious youth left and the woman began to settle in, then I get to wondering; who really cares? Most men aren’t thinking about the state of their partner’s body when they’re having sex, they themselves are caught up in all sorts of insecurities to give our sagging a second thought, the cellulite situation is really not registering. Why do so many of us become lost on a physical ideal that is pretty much unachievable?
I’m almost 43 now, and my daughter is turning into her teenage years. I recently gave her a book that has turned it around for me; ‘Strong Is the New Pretty’, Kate T. Parker. An insightful photo-driven book celebrating young teenage girls and all it means to be strong, brainy, bookish, courageous and loyal. It champions the notion that girls are perfect in their imperfections, and in their chaotic, brave, wild, messy and full lives their authenticity over looks wins hands down. Being silly, funny and strong is enough.
So I’ve made a pact with myself. I’m appreciating all the things about my body that make me the woman I am. The softness of my thighs, the folds of my tummy, the shape of my boobs, the ageing skin on my face and wrinkles on my forehead, my sun-spots, the creases about my knees, the skin on the back of my hands. These are signs of a living being. I think about trees and how they age in a way that we can tell how old they are; the phloem and xylem leaving rings in the dead wood so we can see the years that have been and their bark simply revealing maturity, the way some trees pass through dormancy only to rise with longer, more shapely branches, becoming more stoic and beautiful with each passing season.
It will always be boresome to wake to a new wrinkle and add to the tally of grey hairs, but I’ve stuck a picture of my beautiful daughter to my mirror and now appreciate the reflection of one’s own youth living on in my strong and wondrous girl, understanding that ageing is not actually about body and looks but about spirit and vision, it’s a process to be appreciated as it has the power to reveal our true inner strength.
Originally published at medium.com