Warning: Salty language ahead. If swearing offends you, don’t read this post.
Getting older is not for the faint of heart. I guess that’s true literally and figuratively, but for me, the increasing level of awareness and change of perspective in terms of my diet and body image has been..well, interesting.
My age is nowhere to be found on my website, so it always makes me laugh a bit when I get hate mail that has some variation of, ‘you’re so young, you’re in your early thirties, you don’t understand what it’s like to be me’.
Except no. I’m actually in my forties, and even though I take care of myself in all the ways I think are necessary – healthy diet, lots of exercise, a few laughs, lots of love – I’m seeing real live aging happening to my own body, at what appears to be warp speed. AHHHHHH!
It’s something that nobody can stop, but as I always say, aging is good; the alternative is unacceptable (ie being dead).
I know a few of you aren’t going to like me saying this, and even more of you are going to laugh and nod your head in commiseration: What time does to your body is really not so pretty at times.
Maybe that’s a shock to hear, because I’m supposed to be body-positive, and I am. Always for other people, and most of the time, for me.
Even so, I sometimes look at my thighs and stomach in natural light and want to crawl under my bed. I noticed a new wrinkle above my lip the other day, and was like, ‘where the hell did that come from?’ And when I look at photos of myself in my 20s, I realize in how many ways I will never look like that again. SHIT. It’s like a punch to the gut. I’m just being honest here.
But then something else happens.
I think about how many hours I spent between the ages of 16 and 40 trying to look a certain way, how I wasted so much energy berating my body and how I squandered so much time not enjoying my life to the fullest because I was afraid that I was going to deviate from the body ‘goals’ I had set for myself.
How many times did I pinch the tops of my thighs and stare hatefully into the mirror, vowing to work that shit off? Ick. I actually feel terrible about how I treated myself, and even worse about how negative my mindset was about how I looked. How ironic that fifteen years later, I realize that I looked incredible just the way I was. Too little, too late.
I’m older and wiser now, which is what this article is about. It’s about the fact that aging is one of the things that has triggered me to be accepting of how I look. How I’ve made peace with my changing form and how I wish this peace would have happened decades earlier, even before these changes took place. I wish that for all of you, too, which is why I’m writing this.
Before you comment on how mixed-up I seem, you should know that feeling more at peace with your body, and also occasionally feeling like crap about the three dimples that have recently appeared on your right butt cheek, are behaviours that can co-exist even in a reasonable, intelligent person. I’m living proof. Old habits die hard, and even the most confident person feels weird about themselves sometimes. That’s okay.
The good news is that I don’t think or act like I did in my 20s and 30s. So even though I’ve acquired baggy knees and have times where I feel weird or sad about what my body is going through (because your 40s are a weird time, just in general – and that’s another blog post altogether) – I’ve also gotten over the disdain for my body that I’ve had throughout most of my adult life.
The very important difference between now and then is that even though I might not be happy about some of what’s happening to my body, I respect my body like I didn’t before.
In my 30s, a harmless bloated stomach would have sent me on a downward spiral of self-loathing, maniacal exercise, and restrictive dieting. Now, I just sort of move on with my life and check in with myself to make sure I’m living healthily, physically and emotionally. I’m not brutally reactive like I was, because that got me nowhere. Overexercising just made me hungry and prone to overeating. Trying to diet made me isolated and deprived. And telling myself mean shit about my body always felt absolutely horrible. Like, I wanted to cry while I was doing it, and if that isn’t a sign, I’m not sure what is. I’ve gained and lost weight over the past year, but I’ve managed to be a lot more relaxed about the entire situation.
Hey, I don’t have to love the elephant skin on my stomach every single second of my life, but at least I can laugh about it and be thoughtful about the way I manage my response to it.
And just so you know: In no way am I giving up on looking faaaaaabulous, being healthy, and rocking a bikini until I’m 110, because let’s face it: Now that I’m practically middle aged, I’ve earned the right to show off my cellulite and own the shit out of it, and so have you. Regardless of your age!
Some of you might comment and say that I’m still ‘thin’, so my argument isn’t valid. There’s always a few of you naysayers out there. To you I say, the experience of aging transcends size, and how we feel about our bodies transcends aging. Changes in your body can trigger emotions, no matter how old, big, or small you are. It’s about accepting and loving your body and not talking down to it, punishing it, and feeling crappy about it every single day of your life. It took me 40 years to figure it out.
Here are the strategies I’ve learned:
Celebrate what your body has done for you.
I know this sounds simple, but I actually want you to think about it. How has your body served you? Maybe you’ve had kids. Maybe you’ve run a marathon. Or, maybe you’ve just simply been alive and well and you know what? That’s something to be happy about, too. I love how my body has put up with me and my crazy lifestyle, how it carried two children without a complaint, and how it has given me so much joy by just…being. Does that even make sense?
Your body works hard to keep you going about your daily business. Maybe you don’t think about it like that, but it’s true. And is it fair to punish yourself because you have some bulges or skinny arms or extra fat or thick thighs? No way.
Your body responds so much better to love, than it does to harsh discipline, yet we’re conditioned to think ‘no pain, no gain’. Bullshit.
Reframe your thoughts and focus on what is RIGHT about your body. Thank it by nourishing it with whole, minimally processed foods, occasional cake, and daily activity.
Stop punishing it because it doesn’t fit into the weird idea of ‘perfection’ that’s impossible to reach without severe dieting and misery.
Understand that ALL bodies are beautiful, and you are, too.
Someone posted something the other day about how the models in Victoria’s Secret catalogs are airbrushed an unbelievable amount, to look a certain way. Chances are, you aren’t going to look like an airbrushed VS model in underwear. Or, for that matter, an un-airbrushed VS model in underwear. And, that’s okay! This crazy idea that ‘beautiful’ equals ‘worthy’ equals only one single thing (read: thin) is absurd, and if you hold yourself to those standards or look to others for your example of the ‘ideal body’, you’ll never feel like you’re good enough. Comparing your body to everyone else’s is chasing a fantasy, and can even have negative health effects..
And what if you never look the way you think you should look? Would your life be a failure?
Associating your size/body shape/fat level/boob size/muffin top with whether you’re acceptable and successful in life and as a person is shitty and irrelevant to who you are. There will always be someone ‘better’ than you, so be your best self and let go of all that other crap before you waste another second on it. Let it go.
The truth is, you ARE good enough. Right. Now. I’m not saying that you should stop trying to be as healthy as you can be, but there’s a line that needs to be drawn. At what point is it too much? Where’s your line?
Which brings me to…Cost Benefit.
The line in the sand: What’s the Cost Benefit of trying to change what you want to change.
I’ve written an entire post on this concept, and it’s one that I believe in wholeheartedly.
There’s a cost benefit to every choice we make in life – what does this behaviour cost us, physically and emotionally, versus what it gives us? I think that’s where a lot of people lose the plot: They don’t think about how chronic dieting and body hatred affect them, especially emotionally. For me, I’ve realized that the cost of wanting to be a few pounds lighter or having the smooth stomach I had in my 20s is completely not worth my time. It would take a diet that’s too restrictive, a number of exercise hours that would be unsustainable, and a disdain for my body that I refuse to entertain at this point in my life. No. No more. Abby is out.
I will continue to exercise, eat well, enjoy my cake and my life, and occasionally give the stink eye to my dimpled flesh; then I will move on and love myself and my life.
Beating yourself down year after year because of the way you look is NOT WORTH IT.
Are those last 5 pounds, or pants that are one size smaller really worth everything you’re putting yourself through? What would happen if you just relaxed a bit? Many of you probably think you wouldn’t be at all happy if you stopped trying to squeeze into the preconceived notion of what you should look like. You’re even afraid of the thought. You’re scared that you’d ‘blow up’ like a balloon and gain 100 pounds. I’ve heard it hundreds of times.
The truth is though, that you probably won’t. What will most likely happen is that you’ll realize that life’s too short to run yourself down for a few pounds. That fresh, warm bread actually tastes better than those 5 pounds feel, that a cocktail with your girlfriends (or the guys) is actually fun and soul-nourishing, and that foods that you forbade yourself because some fad diet told you to, are enjoyable. That allowing yourself to be happy instead of letting the scale and a too-small pair of pants rule your life is really living, in the full sense of the word. And that, my friends, is why we are on this earth. The alternative is unacceptable.