My Aging Body Image

I sit at the public pool, it’s Ladies Night, and I’m surrounded by women I know. One of them is a school teacher who tells us about a body image lesson she is teaching her class. She tells us the average sized woman is five foot, four inches tall. The average weight is one hundred and forty pounds and wears a size fourteen in US women’s clothing. My first reaction is to compare myself to those measurements.

I’m five foot, five inches, but I’m heavier than one hundred and forty pounds.

Her class talks about Barbie and how horrible of a role model she is for body dimensions. She shows her class a picture of an artist who made Barbie life size. The sculpture’s waist small, her breasts so big she’d topple over. When I looked up the pictures I was surprised to see such an attractive artist standing next to the sculpture. This beautiful woman feels the need to point out how unattainable the image of a plastic doll truly is. I’m not sure how I feel about that.

Summer is just starting where I live, and the dreaded bathing suit season has arrived. Thank you, Amazon for allowing me to order twenty suits to try in the comfort of my own home. As a matter of fact, while I’m already on the computer, scrutinizing every dimple in my ass, I’ll go ahead and search before and after pictures of breasts lifts and tummy tucks. Wow, those are some amazing results. Just think what I could look like for nine thousand dollars.

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“Love your body!” Is what I hear, over and over again. The message makes me ashamed that I can’t appreciate all my body has done for me over the years. I’ve given birth to three children. I live an active lifestyle full of hiking, gardening, trips to the beach, and other good times. I pay one hundred and twenty dollars to go to the gym, and I actually go a few times a week.

My stomach is deflated, it’s wrinkled and saggy. Once perky breasts from my younger years are sad and I have a hard time keeping them in a swimsuit. There’s no filling to them, I’m embarrassed to say the truth. Skin bags is what they remind me of. Hence the hatred of swimsuit shopping.

I want my body to look good, so I take steps to do that. However, it will never be like it once was. I’m not after Barbie, I’m after my youth. It’s gone, fading faster every year. My anxiety has a way of reminding me of this, over and over again. I can’t force my body back in time no matter how much I work out or curb my eating habits.

“Love your body!”

Please be quiet, I hear you. I really do. It’s the salty mix of losing my youth and seeing how my body responds that leaves me defeated, sad, and hating the naked image of myself in the mirror. It’s okay to be sad sometimes, we can’t be happy all the time. That would be a lot of pressure.

Every bathing suit season from now until I die will probably lead me down the same path.

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Melisa Peterson Lewis is a writer, blogger, book reviewer, gardener, and stay home parent. You can follow here on at Fingers to Sky Instagram. Facebook.

Images from Pixabay.

Let’s Talk About Our Bellies

Let’s talk about bellies.

Specifically, our lady’s bellies. Now, I’m not trying to put guys out, nor their bellies; but I am a lady, and I can only speak and write about my own belly and therefore, my generalized assumptions of other ladies’ bellies. But should you – a dude – find yourself inspired by these words, please share them far and wide with your dude-bellied friends.

As I stuff my face with an office danish I nonchalantly just stole, I am reminded that summer is almost here, and so is our ridiculous obsession with the long-sought-after “summer body.” The problem here is that once summer arrives and we’re confronted with bikini weather, we’ll haul ass back to the gym to start furiously working on looking presentable.

Repeat after me: “Summer is coming. I have a body. Therefore, I WILL have a summer body.”

All of this obsessing has got to stop, but before I tell you why (like you don’t know), I am going to empathize. One summer a million years ago, I went back to the motherland for a couple of months to see family, sneak some booze, party it up with my girlfriends like only a few 16-year-old’s can do…you know, regular summer stuff. This happened to be the one and pretty much only summer where I really expanded. Growing up, I was a skinny girl. I didn’t know to be proud of it, because I had never battled weight problems, so the idea of being skinny and gloating about it never really crossed my mind. When I started to develop, I started noticing that getting boobs wasn’t going to come without a disclaimer, and before I knew it, that damn muffin top started to rise like yeast. Along with it came other weight gain in uncomfortable areas, and I think that was the first time I discovered how God-forsaken chaffing was. So, when it was time to vacation like a boss and squeeze myself into a bikini, I hit that proverbial, teenage wall – nothing fit and I look like that can of biscuits when you pop the lids on either side. What I didn’t know was that I was still growing and developing, and although I ate like a raccoon, I was simply at that stage of girl-hood where I had to sit with my awkwardness for a little while longer.

My mom was always skinny, as well. She grew up eating like a linebacker, never gaining a single pound. Contrary to me, she owned every piece of that spotlight, and she made sure you knew it. My mom is, by nature and her own choosing, a brutally honest and loud little beast. She has never cared whether her words will lift you up or bury you, and that’s something for which I’ve both admired and resented her. That summer of bikini-not, she made sure I knew where extra parts of me were growing, whether I wanted to hear it or not (I didn’t). Regardless, I began to look at my body as something apart from who I thought I was, like some alien life that took a different route somewhere and started to grow all wrong. I didn’t know anything about eating healthy or God forbid, moving my body and sweating out the crap I ate. All I knew was that I was somehow fat, and that fat needed to go. Immediately.

I dieted. I failed. Oh God, I failed so many times. I hated the way jeans made my belly puff out in the front. I hated how every shirt I used to wear back when I was skinny was now a dooming reminder of a body I used to have. I hated how I bought and picked my outfits based on how much coverage there was to hide my problem areas. And I absolutely hated how I subconsciously hid my belly in pictures when I was at the beach or anywhere where my belly was exposed. I remember pictures of me with my hand on my belly, trying to stand taller in hopes that this will make me look skinnier. And that summer was the breaking point – I came home to my mom’s honest demand – lose weight. It was like a punch in the throat.

Nowhere in my teenagehood did I understand what it meant to be healthy. I never looked at my body as my own, as a living, breathing part of me that only thrived when all parts of me were on track – mind, spirit, soul. The words with which I described my body were mean and cruel and rarely ever honest, but I never stopped myself from saying those things. And so my body took the hits. I remember my lowest point, sitting on the toilet in my bathroom, pinching my belly in my hands and physically yelling at the fat to go away.

If only I knew then what I know now, right? But life doesn’t work that way, and nowhere in our span of time and Universe does a life of a teenage girl work that way. Now, I’m not here to write you a happy ending, where I got some sense and started eating right and doing yoga and losing weight and loving my mom’s brutal and loud honesty. In fact, the reason why I wanted to write this (for so long, by the way) is because everything I later learned as an adult and a yogi has led me to the point of returning to my younger self to tell her (and you!) that:

Our bellies are sacred. They are the seat of our power, our love, our connection to ourselves, each other, our world, and our purpose. They are not meant to be cut down, chiseled into, or shrunken in order to fit jeans, stereotypes, or fear-based expectations. Allow them to grow with nourishment, rise and fall freely with breath, and give life to children, ideas, and even your damn self.

When I went through my yoga teacher training, I was constantly reminded that my belly was where God lived. And because I believed that God existed, I believed She was very much like me – at heart, still some teenage girl with her belly in her hands, trying to grow into her awkward body so that she could finally believe in her wild, overwhelming spirit. And little by little, I stopped pausing in mirrors on the way to try on a bikini, hoping that if I walked a little straighter, my belly would not show. I cut that shit out. I didn’t have time for it. What I had time for were ideas. What I had time for hid in lunchtime sessions of writing and booking trips to Nepal and Mexico and opening my heart so wide to my everything so that I could finally start that book I’ve been meaning to write. I believe in all of these things, because I can feel them, one by one, in my belly – that same belly that puffs out when I eat a danish I stole; that same belly that knows things my mind simply cannot. I trust that belly now more than ever before, because it’s where the seat of my power is, where I can surrender to a knowing that is far greater than any logical knowledge I could learn from a book. It’s the place where I connect my ground with my spirit, two fingers above my bellybutton that I pierced back in high school. I never want to lose or pinch or yell at that sacred space again.

Our bellies give life, whether that’s in the shape of our stories on paper or our children in cribs. Don’t hide it under a tunic or under a sheltering hand. It’s something to behold, something to honor and celebrate. It’s unique to us, and us alone. It shouldn’t be stereotyped or insulted or manipulated to look like someone else’s. Why wish to have anyone else’s power when you can have your very own?

Take care of it. Take care of yourself by acknowledging that you are strong, capable, healthy, flawed, and a standing representation that you will never back away from your own potential. Your duty to yourself is not to explain or justify your body – not even to yourself. And I could say something cliche like – you are perfect just the way you are – but that’s a lie. You’re not perfect. You’re a mess, nine times out of ten, who is trying to keep it all together without overdoing it on wine on a Tuesday morning; but you’re also a badass, divine creation in a meatsuit of a body, destined for much bigger things. Never let a day go by without reminding yourself of this one, true fact.

 

xoxo