Defying Gravity: A guest post on body image across five decades

I am very honored to be a guest blogger for Jennie  from Tip of My Tongue this week.  A confident body image is a constant struggle for too many women (and men, also) regardless of age. I hope this re-post from my site will shed some light and a newer, more positive perspective for all women. I also want to link to this fascinating piece about middle-aged women trapped in the cycle of maintaining their thinness. Here’s a quote from the article:

If I don’t exercise (Every. Single. Day.) I get depressed. If I stray from my short list of accepted foods, I can spiral out of control. My life is bound by a strict system of controls and rigid rules (maintained with a pack-a-day gum-chewing habit) that keep my weight in line. These include daily digital scale checks that set my mood each morning: 102.9 is bad news; 100.4 gets me high. Trivial? Yes. A shamefully first-world problem? Absolutely. But, sadly, true. (Rachel Zimmerman)

I am hopeful that my essay will help others understand that image is just that. Changes happen over time in our bodies and they should be celebrated!!!

Enjoy the read and thank you in advance.

— Kim, who blogs about Strong Woman Syndrome and living out loud at Building A Life Of Hope.


Defying Gravity

This is where we have come with our age
our knowledge such as it is
and our hopes such as they are
invisible before us
untouched and still possible
~ W.S. Merwin

I recently added another year to my fifth decade on this side of the world. I must say I love this decade most of all. When  I think about it, I spent the first decade in the warm embrace of childhood, the next in the weird and off-center world of adolescence and young adulthood and part of my twenties being a true blue party girl before I settled down in marriage. My thirties were an intense period spent  raising my sons. I would like to write off my forties in some respects; I think that I spent most of that decade just surviving!  But then again, I believe that period set the stage for the freedom and peace of mind that I am now experiencing.

I was talking the other day with my fiancé ( I totally love saying that by the way) about the fact that when you reach our age, you feel like you’ve lived several lives. I mean, really, I am old enough to remember the 1969 moon landing ( I was eight and the memory is quite vivid), the revival of the women’s movement (I used to get Ms. magazine in the mail when I was a teenager), the Vietnam War, disco, punk, and eighties music. (But seventies rock still rules!)  It sometimes blows my mind that I have lived this long, not because I feel old but because so much has happened in what seems likes such a short period of time.

For women in particular (but certainly not totally excluding men), our bodies are markers of our age and of the life we have led. Ignoring the media blitz of false body images is a constant practice of vigilance for many of us regardless of our age or size. Ignoring the images of youthful good looks for those of us who are past forty only adds to the mix.

When I think about it, my body has been reincarnating itself for as long has I have been experiencing each decade. I never was the girl who was slim of waist and rounder in the hips. My mother used to buy me “boy’s cut pants”  when I was young because none of the girls pants fit quite right. As I became a teenager, my body looked much the same due to the fact that I ran 50-70 miles per week. Zero body fat leads to low weight and no breasts (plus no menstrual cycle)! In fact, I don’t think I wore a running bra until I was nineteen. Of course, my college years were marked by less running  and more pizza and beer. For the first time in my life, I felt and looked fatter. Plus, I had finally reached puberty!

When a more regular work out and less of a  party regimen began in my mid-twenties, my body became more solid but never as slim as it once was. Then, of course, I became pregnant and that changed everything. It was a challenge to feel attractive and not fat. My pregnant body was huge on my 5’4″ frame and I gave birth to babies that were one-third of my height! (Never mind their large weight.) The pressure to return to pre-pregnancy weight and shape was present for sure, and I had no trouble doing either as I love to exercise and eat well. But let me tell you, stretch marks never go away!  My middle bears witness to the size of my sons and I have learned to embrace and accept this fact.

It was during my mid to late forties that my body took on a whole new shape. The stress and trauma of separation and divorce caused a very dramatic loss in weight which lingered at a low point for nearly two years. Funny thing is, many of my friends, family, and colleagues were worried and thought I looked seriously ill, while my estranged and soon to be ex-husband thought I looked great. It wasn’t until the worse of the situation was over that I could begin to eat again.

The confluence of healthy weight gain and peri-menopause was at first quite jarring. Not only had I gained weight but my shape became more square. I was extremely self-conscious of this new look.  A colleague recently shared that it was like “my boobs falling and my stomach exploding!”  I have come to accept that this is the natural order of  growing older. I take good care of myself and work very hard to stay in shape. I look fine and most of the time I feel young – maybe thirty or thirty-one.  The writer Anna Quindlen would call this my “resting age rate.”

And I take care of my face without breaking the bank. Wash, tone, moisturizer, and a little makeup work well. I color my hair and recently added foils to the hair care list. They enhance my look – according to my hairdresser – and do not hide my age. The way I look at it, I am being born again. I have gotten another chance to start my life over. It is not only fun but filled with laughter, love, and true happiness. My hope is that I can spread this kind of energy to others and live my own life as if I were going to be born again tomorrow.

Parts of me that I never even knew I had sometimes ache – but parts of me I never knew I had in my brain sing. ~ Robin Morgan


22 responses to “Defying Gravity: A guest post on body image across five decades

      • Exactly. In fact, I took a huge step two years ago and ceased all coloring to my hair. No at-home coloring, salon, highlights. Nothing. I know it’s weird but after coloring my hair for 20+ years and freaking out that my white/gray hair was growing at lightening speed, I decided to take the plunge and go natural.

        The in-between phases sucked the big one but now that it’s fully in, I have never felt so at ease with my natural state of salt and pepper hair.

        Let me try to find a decent photo of myself and I’ll send it to you. Perhaps you can tell me. *smiling nervously*

        • Eva, I would love to see! I have always found natural white/grey hair on women to be gorgeous, especially when worn long. (Though I totally understand why most women’s hair gets shorter with time – we’re sick of dealing with it!)

          My mother swears she won’t ever stop dying her hair, which I understand from her point of view. She feels like she would go from looking 50 (which she totally pulls off) to 64 (which she is) in an afternoon. But, as I start to find more white hairs on my head than the tweezers can keep up with, I’m growing oddly excited about the day they take over. It’s not like brown hair was ever so exciting, anyway. 😉

          • The process is so scary. I felt like an utter freak and it took so much willpower to not purchase a coloring kit from the store. I’m glad I did it.

            Tell you mom to check this out:

            There are hundreds of pics on Pinterest of gray/white/salt and pepper hair. This is what inspired me. Some of the people are young women like you and they look absolutely stunning.

          • As George Takei would say: Ohhh, myyyyyyy! Those images just exude some mystical quality. Can I dye my hair white?!

            …I suppose that would defeat the point, though. All things in good time. I will absolutely share this with my mom, and see if it shakes anything up in her – just for fun.

            Side note: I don’t think dying your hair is bad at all – everything we do with our own bodies is a totally personal decision. But as I thank Kim for making me feel OK knowing that my body will change with time, no matter how much I stay in shape, I thank you for being a wonderful example of embracing what you look like, naturally.

          • You’re welcome. For me only, dying my hair was bad in that I was trying to conceal what I thought was ugly and unappealing. For myself, it was a great choice. It’s not for everyone. And if your mom says it’s not good for her then woot! It’s all about personal choice, you’re right.

  1. This was really inspirational – thank you for sharing, Kim! It helps to hear about the ups and downs we all experience (in life, and in weight!), but that there’s a place of peace to look forward to.

    • You just sound like you’re having so much fun. 🙂 When I retire someday and no longer have to keep my hair in a reasonably normal style, I plan to dye it wild colors and change them frequently!

  2. Reblogged this on Building A Life Of Hope and commented:
    Wonderful Jennie Saia has begun her second week of Body Image and today I am a guest host with a re-posting of “Defying Gravity”. Please check out last week’s postings as they sure to be thought provoking and stayed tuned for more POV’s this week on her site. Well worth the reading!

    • That’s why Kim’s piece rings true to me, as well: it isn’t the usual, super-chipper message to “just be happy with yourself!” It does pass on that message, but in a way that’s so much more real and therefore influential.

  3. I am loving the dialogue here! When I decided to color my hair it had really nothing to do with aging or graying (which in fact I have hardly). Mostly it had to do with rediscovering myself. I spent years when married keeping my hair very short with virtually no style (plus I wanted to show how I could keep in a budget like a good wife-PFFH!). A good friend gave me an appointment at her hairdresser after she had encouraged me to grow out my hair. Since then, I have been enjoying the benefits of the new me, which is really ME.

    • I understand! When I cut my hair very short, it was because I needed to mark a really big change in my life. And you better believe I paid a lot of money for that cut, because I wanted it to be GOOD!

      Despite my husband not loving it, it was really empowering. I’m now growing it out again, because I honestly feel that longer hair suits me better… but I am with you on how playing with your look and treating yourself to some pampering is just one more way of loving your body.

      Taking care of yourself and loving how you look are in no way the same thing as buying into and conforming with the “industry standards” for beauty – and even if someone does match those standards, that’s totally cool, as long as they do it because it’s what makes them happy.

  4. I loved this. I am 27 and want to believe that I’m “above” all the worry of aging but I’m totally not– I worry about wrinkles and all of that FAR more than I should. I loved this post. It also makes me want to start running 😉

  5. Running! Yes! I write a lot about that subject on my blog (plus yoga-perfect complement to the sport).
    I can only say the secret to “keeping the glow” is a healthy lifestyle-mentally and physically. I look back at photos from my 30’s and I think I look better now because I am grounded. My sons are grown. I am in a wonderful partnership of 5 years with a man who loves and respects me (who also loves to run!). I worry less and I never think about wrinkles!

  6. In part due to a previous post on this site, and in part due to my heart finally being able to *really* influence my mind, I have been diligently practicing what I like to call “radical self acceptance” – that is, to GENUINELY accept myself no matter my weight, pimples, wrinkles, etc. I do take care of myself – but I am also learning to relax, too. I love the authenticity of this entry, and am encouraged that authentic women are vibrant and beautiful – stretch marks and all. 🙂

    • This makes me so, SO happy. I’m delighted that Lizzy’s post resonated with you in a genuinely life-changing way, and that you’ve been following through with the practice! I think you’re really onto something when you say that relaxing is part of self-love. It’s so much easier to just feel good when you let those energy-draining thoughts float away, and realize that you’re not obligated to “perfect” everything about yourself, even if you could. If “perfection” even existed!

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