Recently, I took a photo of my college-age daughter. I saw a beautiful young woman in a candid moment—smiling, long hair blowing in the breeze, everything youth should be.
“Look how dumpy I am. Look at my belly. My boobs are so big.”
And at the other end of the generational divide, a grandmother in her early 80s complains about how fat she is and compares her breasts to “rocks in socks.”
Ladies, will we ever get beyond all this negative chatter and learn to accept, if not love, the only body we will ever have? Will we ever stop wasting valuable energy judging ourselves according to totally unrealistic cultural standards?
Unfortunately, I’m not that self-evolved. Are you?
Do you make love under cover of darkness (or maybe just under the covers) because you’re embarrassed by the cellulite and love handles? Have you avoided looking in mirrors ever since you saw your mother (and maybe now, your grandmother) looking back? Do you head for basic black and avoid wearing the colors and patterns you really like? Do you hate being photographed? When was the last time you wore a bathing suit?
In 2009, Glamour magazine repeated a survey it had conducted 25 years earlier. Sixteen thousand women were asked about their body image—how they felt about their looks; what they like and didn’t like. The results: “Sadly, more than 40 percent of women are unhappy with their bodies, a number virtually unchanged since 1984.”
Even more telling—women under 30 are now more likely to feel good about their bodies than older women, which is different from the 1984 survey.
It’s understandable, of course. We’ve been drinking the cultural Kool-Aid about youth and beauty since infancy. Now we’re staring down the final taboo: We’re growing old. Not only that, but those bodies we may (or may not) have reached an uneasy peace with are changing, too. They’ve developed bags and wrinkles, aches, pains, and excess avoirdupois. And no matter what we do to turn back the clock, this process will continue relentlessly and irrevocably.
This may be a good thing. This may allow us to finally claim who we are, undistracted and unburdened by the judgmental nattering all around us. When we can finally face down our shaky self-image and put our insecurities to bed. Perhaps we can appreciate and develop the things that really matters—our relationships and our own unique and beautiful selves. And maybe, having shaken off that critical voice, we can finally engage more freely in life and love and the world around us.
Sounds like a worthy goal at least. Here are some ideas to get started:
- Monitor your thoughts. To paraphrase an old saying: You are what you think. Do you cultivate a stream of negative thinking about yourself and others? Observe where your mind wanders and how you react to things. Try to turn negative thoughts and judgments in a positive direction.
- Watch your mouth, too. Turn off the gossip and negative chatter—and that includes putting yourself down.
- Cultivate friendships with joyful people who inspire you and are healthy to be around. Identify some unofficial life coaches who have experience, wisdom, and joy to share. Ideally, you’ll take your place among these mentors soon.
- Identify things that make you feel good about yourself, whether it’s a massage, volunteer work, an afternoon with a special friend or an evening with your honey.
- Don’t diet. Most people who diet gain the weight back anyway and are obsessed with weight, guilt, and counting calories. Instead, make your goal a healthy lifestyle. Focus on eating well and healthfully.
- Do move. Getting active physically not only makes you feel better, but you’ll also feel better about how you look. “Being active in and of itself improves body image,” says Jim Annesi, PhD., in the Glamour article. And getting those joints moving increases flexibility and reduces the aches and pains, which incidentally helps with the next point…
- Have sex. Paradoxically, the activity that is most likely to trigger our insecurities can also embolden us and restore our self-confidence. “Women who are able to get past those insecurities can find those fears are unfounded and realize how empowering it can be to experience pleasure and connection with another human being,” says gynecologist Hilda Hutcherson. So, after changing your thought patterns, developing a healthy lifestyle, and cultivating positive friends, the final payoff can be uninhibited sex with someone who ideally loves you just the way you are. With the lights on.
Have you noticed how attractive joyful people are? How age has its own special beauty? Have you noticed that beautiful woman with joy in her eyes and the wrinkles and lines of experience on her face?
Dr. Barb DePree, M.D., has been a gynecologist and women’s health provider for almost 30 years and a menopause care specialist for the past ten.