“Hey, remember when we used to be able to get away with wearing these?” I said to my sister from across the clothes rack while holding up a pair of cut off short-shorts high enough in the air she could see them.
My older sister April and I were spending an afternoon celebrating our birthday’s, lunching and doing some summer clothes shopping. She laughed, shook her head and said, “I just wish I would have appreciated what a great body I had when I was younger.” I had to agree. My body image as a teen wasn’t the most positive. I was born the youngest of three sisters, and both my middle and older sisters had smaller bones than I did. They were built more delicately and my older sister April was a full two inches taller than me with longer, slimmer legs. When I would complain to my mother about being fat, she would reassure me that I certainly was not fat, just very “round.” She meant well, but that never sat well with me. I didn’t like my very straight, fine hair, my wide feet, or my full hips one bit. I found a lot about myself to criticize and I really wish I hadn’t done that to my younger self now that I’m in my forties and I realize how much it affected my esteem. Looking back, I was no skinny girl, but I wasn’t over weight either. I was active, a swimmer, dancer, gymnast and tomboy. I loved to be on the move and I had quite an athletic build. I also had lovely skin that many people remarked resembled porcelain. Yet, instead of focusing on those positives about myself, I spent my time lamenting about what I felt was wrong with me.
In my forties now, I found myself one day looking in the mirror, but not recognizing the woman looking back at me.
I had a deep line between my brows, and one around my mouth. The skin on my neck looked less tight and a few faint age spots were apparent on my chest. There was definitely a bit more padding in my middle section, and those once toned arms seemed a bit more like bat wings underneath. Studying myself further I noticed some places on my thighs that were indented and dimpled, and certainly my once very round rear-end had started to head south toward the backs of my legs. A few sparse, but very-there spider veins made their way around the left side of my calf, and suddenly I found myself in tears sitting on the edge of my bed wondering what the hell had happened to my once
beautiful body? Wait, what did I just say? Yes, my once beautiful body. Just as my sister April had said while we were shopping, “I wish I would have appreciated my body more when I was younger.” Indeed. Yet, there I was in this older version of my body and there was no going back in time.
I started buying clothes that were a size bigger than I normally wore because they offered extra material to hide my imperfections.
I began to skip over the really cute sundresses and shorter skirts I had always loved to wear, and tossed out all my sleeveless tops replacing them with capri style pants, longer skirts, and sleeved shirts. I even began wearing more make-up in an effort to cover up those lines on my once blemish, wrinkle free face. Out in public I began to feel older than my true age and extremely frumpy. It seemed everyone, even people my age or older were referring to me as “ma’am” which felt like an arrow through my young-at-heart (heart).
And then one night I came down the stairs dressed and ready to go meet friends for dinner, and my husband remarked, “Oh, you’re not wearing one of your sun dresses?” Taking offense, I snapped, “Gee sorry, but I want to wear this!” Looking a bit surprised he responded, “Okay honey, but you usually love to wear your pretty sun dresses when we go out.” Again, I became defensive, “I’m fat and old okay?” and with tears filling my eyes I turned and ran upstairs to the bedroom and bawled. Within minutes there was a tap on the door and my hubby came into the room.
Sitting next to me on our bed he put his big, strong arm around my shoulders and hugged me into him. “Baby, you have a gorgeous figure, you’re not even close to being old or fat, and I love you.” Wiping my tears away and desperately trying to save my fresh mascara, I purged all of my feelings about my aging body out to my husband and it felt so good. Luckily, he is not just someone I love and am married to, but also my best friend and extremely supportive of me in all ways. I told him about the changes I’d noticed in myself and how upsetting it was to see. “When men age they get more distinguished, I said, but when women age they just get old. I feel like I took my younger body for granted and now it’s too late. I don’t want others to see my imperfections.” I wailed. “What imperfections?” my sweet husband asked. “Well, cellulite on my thighs for one!” I blubbered. He took my hand, looked me in the eye and said, “You were gorgeous when I met you, and you are even more gorgeous now. I love who you are and I think you’re just as beautiful today as you were so many years ago when we were younger. I don’t see what you see.” Kissing my forehead, he told me to come down whenever I was ready and we’d go…or not. God, I love my husband!
After sitting for a few more minutes alone with myself in silence, I decided to go back into my closet and put on what I would have wanted to wear before I took note of all the things I felt I saw in the mirror a few weeks prior. I pulled out a white, sleeveless sundress that hit me just at the knee. I slipped on a pair of medium heel, strappy sandals and stepped up to the full length mirror. No, I didn’t look like a sixteen year old me, or even a twenty five year old me, but I did look like a grown woman in her forties who had raised five children, and who had many years of experiences both good and bad in her lifetime thus far. I looked at the shape of my hips, my now rounder belly and maybe not as blemish free chest and neck, and I found myself smiling.
I had been the tree climbing tomboy as a child, and the back flipping gymnast and twirling dancer as a teen. I had spent days in my short-shorts, flip flops, and tube tops hanging out with my friends at the park or in my bikini at the pool. I had done the dance clubs in my tight fitting mini-dresses and four inch heels, and I had cruised the downtown city loop with my girlfriends, hair teased, sunglasses on, looking for cute guys. I had also been the excited bride to be, and the glowing expectant mother with child.
Ah, those were the days for sure. But, here I was standing in a new moment of “now” in my life. It was like a “Rite of Passage.” I was older, wiser, and happier. I had successfully raised my children to be decent, loving and responsible adults. My relationship with my husband had gone to a newer level of deeper respect and love, and I had a new appreciation for my own aging parents as they neared their eighties. I had cultivated true and solid life time friendships. I created a home for us and a life…a beautiful life. Noticing the make up around my eyes was smeared from my previous tears I took a cloth and wiped it away thinking I would re-apply what was gone. But, I decided less was more in this case and chose a little fresh lip stick instead. I had earned those lines on my face and I was suddenly proud to have them.
Taking a twirl in my beautiful sundress, I gave myself a wink, and then walked with confidence back down the stairs to greet my husband for our date night out with friends.
It’s a gift to see our inner and outer beauty. That night I saw the beauty that growing older represents. The more we hold positive thoughts and feelings about the aging process, the more we glow with inner peace and sage wisdom. It is an honor when others who are young look to us for advice and answers. We must embrace our hard-won years of learning. While we may feel much younger than our chronological years, graceful aging means we are comfortable with ourselves in every way.
(Photo Credit: Unsplash)