I turned 50 last year.
When people talk about a milestone birthday like this, they usually say one of two things (or both): “I can’t believe I’m 50” and “I still feel the same on the inside.”
Well, I don’t feel the same on the inside — and that’s a good thing. And I can believe that I’m 50 — I just can’t believe it took me this long to figure some things out.
I want to talk about those things. Things like body image, people pleasing, perfectionism, female sexuality, rage, authenticity, and the outdated concept of the midlife crisis.
So if you want to go there with me, keep reading.
I learned how to resist my body and silence my voice at a very early age. Both of these were done for the approval of other people — so that I could be the “perfect” girl.
The perfect girl has the perfect body: small and thin with no visible imperfections. Her hair and her makeup are always in place. And if anything about her isn’t perfect, she will suffer any amount of abuse to make it that way.
The perfect girl also does all the right things. Or, more precisely, she doesn’t do any of the wrong things.
The perfect girl doesn’t demand anything. She doesn’t speak up, and she doesn’t talk back. She doesn’t fight back. She doesn’t get angry, and she doesn’t offend people. She doesn’t challenge other people’s opinions. She doesn’t embrace her sexuality because she was taught that that part of herself was bad. She doesn’t get what she needs, because she never asks for what she needs.
In fact, she forgets she has needs at all.
The perfect girl is quiet, demure, unobtrusive, and inoffensive. She doesn’t inhabit her body, and she doesn’t take up space. She defers to others and denies herself.
I spent the first half of my life being that girl.
Before we go any further, let me ask you: What is a midlife crisis?
I think if you asked most people they would tell you that it’s someone frantically trying to grasp on to their fading youth or going temporarily insane as they see the second half of their lives approaching.
I don’t see it that way at all. Especially as it relates to women.
To me, a midlife crisis is all about authenticity. It’s not an identity crisis — it’s a woman’s real self finally emerging. It’s not a cry for help — it’s a woman’s true voice finally speaking after being shoved down for so long.
I believe that a midlife crisis is the crossroads at which the perfect girl is annihilated and the real woman is born.
Some massive and truly unexpected things have happened to me in the last few years. And if you had told me that any of it would have happened I never would have believed you.
I’m sure there are people out there who think I’m having a midlife crisis. Because I’m now doing things that seem out of character or not like me.
The truth is that most of the life I’ve lived up until now is what’s not like me. The person I’ve presented to the world thus far was nothing more than a seriously watered-down version of myself.
Have you ever heard about how elephants are trained for the circus? When they’re young, they’re tethered to the ground with a chain. They continue to be held as adults by that same small chain, not knowing that they could rip it from the ground at any time, freeing themselves from a life they never chose. One where they have to constantly perform to make other people happy.
I didn’t notice growing up that the same thing was happening to me. I didn’t know I was capable of more and that I was holding myself back. I didn’t know that I was being conditioned socially and culturally to be someone I’m not and to believe things about myself that weren’t true.
That what I had to say wasn’t as important as what a man had to say. That the better I looked the more value I had. That I should aspire to be a good wife instead of having a career. That it was acceptable to use my sexuality as a tool to influence people but that it wasn’t mine to enjoy. That my voice didn’t matter and that I had no right to express it.
I was conditioned to live my life according to how others perceived me. I was taught to shape myself — mentally, physically, socially — into a version that made other people feel comfortable.
Presumably, making myself into someone that other people wanted would make me feel more connected to them. But the opposite was true.
That’s because that version of me wasn’t authentic — it wasn’t the real me. And true connection can’t happen without authenticity.
It’s vitally important that you connect with your authentic self if you want to live a meaningful life — because a meaningful life is created through your relationships with other people. So if you can’t connect with yourself, you can’t connect with others. And if you can’t connect with others, you die.
I think a lot of women aren’t connected with their authentic selves.
The main reason is that you can’t connect with your true self while you’re simultaneously resisting your body. And we resist our bodies in all kinds of ways.
We stare at ourselves in the mirror and pick ourselves apart. We fanatically diet. We binge and purge. We starve ourselves. We get plastic surgery. We airbrush our photos. We stand in awkward positions so our fat doesn’t show. We talk about what we hate about ourselves with our friends. We see ourselves as a collection of body parts instead of a whole person.
How can you possibly connect with yourself if you can’t get below the surface? How can you connect with yourself if you spend your time focusing on what you hate about yourself? How can you connect with yourself when you’re sucking in your stomach and can’t even breathe?
Women also aren’t connected with their authentic selves because they’re not allowing their true voice to speak and make itself known.
We act like the perfect girl I described earlier. We have wants, needs, feelings, preferences, values, and opinions — many of which may not align with those around us. And for the sake of keeping the peace, not rocking the boat, and smoothing it over, we don’t speak.
We also smile when we’re irritated, we move out of everyone’s way, we apologize for every little thing, we spend time with people we don’t enjoy, and we do everything for everyone else but never for ourselves.
So our authentic voice turns into a voice of rage that gets expressed inwardly. On some level we know we’re not being authentic (even though we don’t want to admit it), so we turn that rage on ourselves. And we try to make the inner pain go away by fixing ourselves outwardly.
My business is about helping women lose weight without dieting, but what’s behind it is what you’re reading here. The weight you see is there for a reason — a lot of them, it turns out.
What a waste of a life to spend it trying to lose weight, trying to be perfect. Dieting over and over again and failing over and over again. Never figuring out who you really are and what you’re truly capable of.
A researcher named Bronnie Ware studies regrets of the dying. She interviews people on their deathbeds and asks them what their biggest regrets are.
The most common one is, “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself and not the one others expected of me.”
I don’t want that for myself, and I don’t want it for you.
To me, turning 50 is the best thing that ever happened to me. I’ve never been more sure of myself or excited about my life. And most of that comes from knowing that there are things I no longer have to do.
Now I don’t have to agree with others when I really don’t. I don’t have to sit quietly and endure vaguely demeaning comments and subtle put-downs. I don’t have to cower while someone physically abuses me. I don’t have to feel shame because other people think I should. I don’t have to look a certain way to be confident or successful. I don’t have to make everyone else feel good while I definitely don’t.
And now I get to make my own choices and stand by them, even if other people don’t get it. (Especially if they don’t get it.) And when they don’t, refuse to apologize or explain myself.
I remember an argument with my (now) ex-husband a few months after my birthday and while we were in the process of divorcing. He told me that what we really needed to talk about was my rage.
Well, I don’t need to talk about it. Because that rage was borne out of being inauthentic and disconnecting from my true self. And I don’t do that anymore.
That rage came from a girl who was living for everyone but herself. And I’m not that girl anymore.