I want to want to take my clothes off
There was a beach, I have a body, so I was beach body ready, right?
I’m ashamed to admit that, on holiday, that’s not how I felt at all.
I’m ashamed because I have two daughters who I should be setting a better example for. The feminist in me is appalled at my desire to conform to the media-devised idea of stereotypical beauty. The almost fifty-year-old woman in me is depressed at my inability to embrace the time-changed, life-lived status of my body.
This year our family holidayed with three others. The women (all similar ages and fabulous, clever, characterful and wise) vary in body shape. One is a triathlete and has the face and physique of a thirty-year-old. If she wasn’t so damned lovely, I’d hate her. Another plays regular sport and is in great shape. The other woman is like me, exercises regularly, in generally good nick, but fighting the effects of the menopausal-fat-fest.
Could it really be just me who shrivelled inside each time I put my cossie on?
Despite being familiar enough to discuss every facet of our families’ bowel movements (there is such a thing as Mexican-tummy), I never once asked my friends how they felt about having to expose their bare bodies in mixed company, because none of them seemed remotely bothered. Perhaps they hid their insecurities well. Could it really be just me who shrivelled inside each time I put my cossie on?
These women are my friends and during the holiday planning I had made jokes about not wanting to sit next to them on the sunbeds. Quite rightly, they told me not to be silly.
This self-consciousness is not new; my mum recounts how I would hide behind furniture whilst changing as a very small child. My husband shakes his head as he reminds me of how I used to try to cover up faults only I could see in my early twenties. Looking back at the photos of my slim self, my behaviour didn’t make sense.
I wish I had appreciated my glorious body back then, and am not unaware of the fact that, if I’m lucky enough to live another thirty years, I’ll be looking at pictures of me now, wondering what I was complaining about.
You can probably tell from my style of writing that I’m not prudish. My reticence to be naked in front of the general populace is not born from a distaste for the human form or an eighteenth-century attitude towards sartorial etiquette. I’m an outgoing person who’s donned her fair share of eye-wateringly short skirts, so why can’t I get over myself?
I’m fine with scars, I see them as war wounds, battles I’ve fought and won, but the signs of ageing feel different to me.
Whilst I’ve always been a reluctant nudist, I think ageing has a lot to do with how I feel now. If I’m honest, I struggle with the bumps and lumps, wrinkles and creases that the years have inflicted on my body. I’m fine with scars, I see those as war wounds, battles I’ve fought and won, but the signs of ageing feel different to me.
It’s almost like my drooping jowls are a sign of decay, like the wrinkled skin of a rotting apple which should have been eaten whilst still firm and juicy. I know this is wrong and I hope acknowledging it is a step towards improving my self-perception.
I have an underlying resentment towards my ageing body too. The increasingly frequent age-related aches and pains add to my irritation about getting older, and my face and body remind me of my advancing years every time I look in the mirror.
Those baggy eyes are a signal that I have probably lived longer than I will live. That isn’t a thought I’m comfortable with, I have so much left to do!
But so does everyone my age, why do I think I’m so special?
Perhaps I’ll feel differently when I’ve lost that weight I’m perpetually banging on about (I know I won’t).
Perhaps I’ll feel better when I’ve published that book I’m working on so I can tick that off the list (No, there will always be another book).
Perhaps I should secretly over-feed all my friends, so they overtake me in the plump and not happy about it stakes (stop shaking your head, that’s my best idea yet).
In truth I know this is an inside my head issue, not a body issue. I know that I have to work on the way I see myself as intensively as I exercise my softening abs (Ok, harder than that).
Whilst researching whether I’m alone in feeling like this, I came across Oprah’s website and an article by Dr Vivian Diller called 8 Ways to Feel Beautiful from the Inside Out. She says it’s not unusual to feel as if ‘something fundamental has changed in our identities’ when we acknowledge we look older, and that it is ‘often accompanied by embarrassment and shame, as if we’ve been caught off guard and feel guilty that we care. We fear that we have lost control, as if abducted into an unwelcome phase of life.’
‘Make room for a broader, more flexible self-image’
I completely relate to this, but her advice is to, ‘Make room for a broader, more flexible self-image.’ And it’s time I started to try to do that.
I’m not pretending that I expect to completely get over behaviours embedded in me for almost fifty years, but for the sake of my sanity and my children, I will do what I can to temper my inner critic and stop caring about superficial things which are impossible to control. I’ll aim to prioritise health over svelte and next year, maybe, I will be beach body ready in the real sense of the words.