Here’s the scene. A “mature” couple is sitting companionably together in the living room, reading. He looks over the top of his paper.
“Hey, Snookums, you look remarkably fetching tonight. Want to get to bed early?
She, thinking: Oh, lord, he hasn’t seen me naked since I gained the last five pounds. Fat on top of cellulite. Saggy bags over saddlebags. “Well. Hmmm. Just let me finish my… knitting. I have to finish my knitting. Then I’ll be right in, honey.”
He, thinking: Yeah, knitting. Bet she’d be ready to jump the bones of some musclebound hunk with hair instead of a bowling ball and a six-pack instead of a whale gut.
And what he does not dare to articulate even to himself is whether she might also be left unsatisfied with his, um, slightly spongy and not-so-reliable accoutrement.
So they sit, each in his or her own corner, licking the wounds of engrained insecurities and missing out on the sweetest years they have left together. All because they misinterpreted each other’s insecurities because they were so completely snowed under their own.
The song may be different for each of us, but too often, the dance is the same.
Body image is powerful no matter what side of the gender gap you fall on. And while men rarely discuss their insecurities, in one study, 38 percent of men would sacrifice a year of their lives for the perfect body—a higher percentage even than women, according to this article in the Guardian.
“These findings tell us that men are concerned about body image, just like women. We knew that 'body talk' affected women and young people and now we know that it affects men too," said Dr Phillippa Diedrichs, who conducted the study of almost 400 men in Great Britain.
While women focus on losing weight, men obsess about losing muscle. While women struggle with vaginal dryness, men struggle with losing their ramrod hardness. While women worry about their stomachs, thighs, and boobs, men worry about their stomachs, muscle tone, baldness, and man-boobs (moobs). Blame the media. Blame your mother. We’re old enough now to identify and grapple with our own insecurities. And to get over them, already.
No matter how good you look, you’ll eventually become invisible in a culture that is focused on youthful beauty. In her poem I Met a Woman Who Wasn’t There, Marge Piercy writes:
The CIA should hire as spies only women over fifty, because we are the truly invisible.
This makes some women feel free and unburdened, and it makes others desperate to turn back the clock, fueling the cosmetic surgery industry, which has grown 77 percent in the last ten years, according to a 2012 AARP article. For their part, men may turn to Rogaine and Viagra and red convertibles—and cosmetic surgery, but in the end, we all—men and women—have to make our peace with growing old.
Because that train is coming, like it or not. And it’s a whole lot nicer to ride out the last adventure of our lives in the same berth.
Here are a few ways to do just that:
Send your body some luv: “The mind is the most powerful beauty tool in your makeup bag,” writes one woman.
Stop the negative chatter, says MiddlesexMD advisor, MaryJo Rapini, who writes frequently about body image issues. She recommends telling yourself,“You are my body, and I claim you, and I will take care of you.” And: “I love the way you make me distinguishable that someone can recognize me by my voice, my eyes, or the gait of my walk.”
Do sensual things for yourself and with your partner: Have a massage. Luxuriate in a scented bath. Go all out, if you can, with a week (or a weekend) at a spa. When your body is touched respectfully and sensually, it helps you to remember how good it feels.
Have more sex. The more you have, the better—the more sensual and sexy—you feel.
“Give yourself over to the pleasurable experience and sensation of sex itself, drawing on the depth of your emotional connection with your partner. Issues with physical imperfections can melt away in the face of this focus on mutual sharing of pleasure,” suggests this article from the North American Menopause Society (NAMS).
Keep your body healthy and moving. Forget about looking young. Focus on being healthy. “Consider exercise and weight loss as aphrodisiacs,” says the NAMS article. “Exercise is like Miracle Gro for your brain and body,” says the AARP.
Get the picture? As you age you simply will not feel good about yourself unless you exercise moderately and eat healthfully. Exercise helps keep blood flowing to your brains and keeps your joints lubricated, not to mention keeping your muscles toned, strengthening your bones and boosting your immune system.
What are you waiting for? Get off the couch.
Be gentle with each other. It will just take longer for your man to get an erection, and it doesn’t have anything to do with his attraction to you. And he needs to understand that you’ve been conditioned since childhood to believe that youth equals beauty. You need to hear that he still finds you irresistible.
If you have a same-sex partner, you’re looking in the mirror at your mutually aging bodies. Make sure you each know that’s okay.
As Dr. Eleanor Hamilton, author and sex therapist, writes in this beautiful article, “They both need to reassure each other that their love and the intimacy they share and the long years of increasing trust that has built between them are far more important ‘turn-ons’ than the young, sleek, over-eagerness of youth.”
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.