Healthy Body Image After 50: How To Love The Body You Have Now

Love Your Body
love your body, love your age
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Many years ago, I spent a week at a spa with two girlfriends. That week changed my life.

As I explained in a previous post, until I started working toward my first triathlon, I’d never thought of myself as an athlete.  Nor did I think of myself as a spa person. But, thanks to my friends, there I was at this spa, where people worked out for eight hours a day.

Looking for something to do that didn’t involve sweating, I wandered into a writers workshop, liked it, and ended up going back every day that week. On the last day, the workshop teacher pulled me aside, told me I was born to write.  Though I couldn’t have known it at the time, that conversation altered the entire course of my life.  Fourteen novels later, I am so glad my girlfriends talked me into going! (And so glad I played hooky from tennis!)

Nude Sunbathing? Me?

Participating in that writer’s workshop wasn’t the only remarkable thing that happened to me that week. I had another experience that changed my life in ways that were more subtle but just as enduring.

I was in the locker room, showering after workout (I did get some exercise that week) when one of my friends suggested we try sunbathing…nude sunbathing. (gulp.)

Now, look, I’m not a prude. But being naked in the open air was something I hadn’t experienced since I was about 3 years old, running through backyard sprinklers in with my sisters.  Frankly, the whole idea made me nervous.  But then my friend explained that the nude sunbathing areas were segregated by sex, and surrounded by high walls, and accused me of being a prude.

And of course I had to prove I wasn’t so….yeah.

Five minutes later I was picking my way through a beautiful walled garden, silent except for the song of birds and tinkling of a fountain, searching for an unoccupied lawn chair while working very, very hard to avert my gaze from the many occupied ones.

It worked! Apart from my own bare feet, I spied not an inch of naked flesh between the time I entered the garden and I found a spot, spread a towel on the chaise, slipped out of my robe, lay down.

The Moment Curiosity Got the Better of Me

It was very peaceful and the sun felt so good.  For about fifteen minutes, I laid there with my eyes closed, relaxing and soaking in the sun.  But then…you know…curiosity got the best of me and…I peeked.

(Don’t judge. I couldn’t help myself. Who could?)

I’m glad I did because what I saw amazed me.  There were probably forty women in the garden, maybe more, women of every shape, size, age, skin color, hair color, and level of fitness.

And they were all beautiful. Every single one of them.

Suddenly, a thought popped into my head. Except…it was more than a thought. On any given day, I have all kinds of thoughts. Most of them aren’t very important. This one was, and I knew it.  This thought flashed into my brain with amazing clarity, as it had been written in metallic gold paint and capital letters, underlined for emphasis…

If they’re all beautiful, then I must be beautiful too.  

I was right. I was beautiful. So were all those other women—those exquisite, unique fearfully and wonderfully made women were so, so beautiful. And do you want to hear something great? Twenty years later, I am still beautiful.

So are you.

Being Kind to Ourselves

When it comes to our own appearance, women can be so self-critical. Though we generally become wiser and more enlightened with age, when it comes to appreciating all that is lovely about themselves, too often, women become increasingly blind.

That’s such a shame and so wrong.  Because you are beautiful!

Oh, I know. Maybe you have a few more wrinkles than you did before. So do I.  Maybe your breasts are slack and your muffin top has suddenly turned into a cake. Yep, I get it. Mine too.

But that doesn’t mean we’re not beautiful.  It just means we’re in a different stage of beauty. Not a lesser stage, just a different one.

Let’s talk about trees for a moment. Trees are beautiful – nobody can argue with that. However, they look very different in spring than in summer, or fall, or winter. And yet, at each stage, they are lovely.

This same principle applies to so much of creation. Even to people. Even to you.  At this moment and stage of your life, you are lovely, just as you were created to be.

This week I was looking over a book written by a friend of mine, Lauren Lipton.  She’s a writer, journalist, and certified yoga instructor. She wrote a book I absolutely love, Yoga Bodies: Real People, Real Stories, & the Power of Transformation.  This book is filled with inspiring stories and photographs of people–fat people, thin people, young people, old people, black, brown, and white people–all practicing yoga, all beautiful.

Just like you.

Photo: Jaimie Baird for Chronicle Books

Now, some of you are mentally arguing with me about those extra pounds you’ve put on since menopause, or that knee that hurts you so much, or the fact that you can’t walk up a flight of stairs without stopping to catch your breath at the top. I get it. But those are issues of health and fitness, not beauty.

Embrace Change and Give Thanks

Our personal health and fitness is something we often have the ability to change, not always, but often.  That’s why it’s important, especially in the years beyond fifty, for us to do everything we can to get fit and healthy and stay that way.  But here, too, be kind to yourself! Healthy and fit at 50 is probably going to mean different things than it will at 60, 70, or 80.

I’ve been on the Weight Watchers program since November and I’m very close to my goal weight, which is great. Ten years ago, I would have aimed for a weight goal that is five or ten pounds less. But I know my body pretty well.  Trying to maintain the ten pounds lower weight with my post-menopausal metabolism would be an exercise in frustration and futility. At this stage of life, I’m aiming for healthy, not skinny.

If you need and want to change or develop some habits to get healthier, I’m all for that! You go, girl! But in the process, be kind to yourself. Be grateful for the body you have as you are working toward the health you desire.

Your beauty is inherent to your being. That means it is a fact, an integral piece of who you are. You can’t deny or change it so you might as well accept it.

Better yet, embrace it.  Be grateful for it.

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