If you read this blog regularly you will note that my posting has dropped way off in the last few months. There are a lot of little reasons this has happened, but in the main it boils down to two things:
It’s reason number two I need to talk about here.
In the couple of years approaching forty I told myself that I wasn’t going to be one of those women who became distressed by my age/appearance/self just because of a date on the calendar. Somehow (I thought) despite the fact I live in a society which has pretty much only taught me self-loathing, I am going to transcend that by the time I hit my official “middle age” and just enjoy myself the way I am. As evidence of this, at 37 I allowed my hair to go undyed and now sport a head of “prematurely” silver-grey hair which was intended to signal that “hey, I’m okay with getting older.” Except it turns out that I’m not. I am not okay with getting older.
But let’s backtrack here and be terrifically honest — I’ve never been okay with my age/body/self-expression in a total sense, and the turning forty thing has just added another dimension to run that set of bad feelings through.
And strangely, it started with getting back into shape.
I started walking to work every day in March, which is also when I cut wheat out of my diet in an effort to control a sinus problem. In the beginning I was doing the walking and Pilates in an effort to get myself in good hiking shape for a trip I’m doing in a couple of weeks. (Walking 6-10 km a day has definitely done that by the way.) But after about a month I started weighing myself, hoping that one of the side benefits of the walking/no-wheat would mean that (as in the past) I would lose weight pretty effortlessly. I put new batteries in my digital scale and then the daily weighing began. Despite losing a few pounds in the beginning, the losses stalled out pretty quickly and brought me to the realization that my body-metabolism truly has changed with age.
I am now “that age when your metabolism changes and you can no longer lose weight” that my mother always warned me about — and if I wasn’t already feeling forty, this has sunk into a whole new level.
I should have known I was going down a bad road when I stopped looking at myself in the mirror – something that periodically happens in the cycle of “I’m not good enough”. On a good day I don’t love what I see in the mirror, on a bad day I can’t look at myself at all.
And yes, I know that I can’t actually tell what I look like (and have never been able to) because my inner-view is so distorted. Occasionally I run across a picture of myself from high school and realize all over that I wasn’t actually fat in high school despite being encouraged to diet non-stop by my mother and feeling like I was, in fact, a whale. This is a very depressing thing to realize because it means that I have truly not enjoyed huge parts of my life because I believed that I was fat and therefore unlovable/unworthy. It also means that even after all these years I make fat=awful as opposed to just one of many possible physical states of being.
The worst part though? I know I am not alone. I know that a great number of women, if not the majority of women in our culture experience these thoughts and feelings. And how could it be otherwise? Women in this society are devalued for all but their looks, raised to a narrowly defined set of roles, and are bombarded daily by a media which prizes only certain ages and only certain expressions of womanhood. And we’re the supposedly “liberated” women of the world!
What really worries me is that if I don’t get these feelings under control now, at forty (fast becoming one more invisible woman) , then I could easily spend the next forty years of my life mired in these feelings. I’m not getting any younger after all, and I’m probably not getting any thinner/prettier either. What I don’t like now will only become magnified (as I have seen happen in other older women I know) unless I put an end to the negative self-talk, the comparing myself to other women, the constant apologizing, the refusal to enjoy my body and my life because I feel I don’t deserve what I have.
So – being the project person that I am – I’ve decided this summer is going to be my “summer of self-awareness” – a concentrated ten-week period where I find ways of “seeing” myself more accurately and becoming aware of my own truth by filtering out the negative voices.
Each week I will assign myself an exercise that involves doing something for myself or for other women (a full list of which will be posted by the end of this week) and I am going to write about it here. I would love it if there were other folks who wanted to engage in this work, or even just contribute here in the form of positive comments!
(Already I’m balking at hitting send. Do I really want to announce to the world that I have poor self-esteem related to my gender, body image and age?)
Oh well. Here we go!
Sure you want to.
I had a bit of a turn recently, seeing a picture of myself at 19. I was trying to figure out which of my hundred-odd cousins it might be, and when I finally figured it out (and got over the “No Way”) I realized that my body image was exceptionally distorted back then. Looking directly in the “mirror”, I couldn’t associate the evidence with the memory.
Yes, the body changes, and it’s easy to get spooked by that. Likely, even. I am no longer the Timber Wolf cyborg I was at 25 but that may be sometimes to be thankful for. Sure I’ve put on some mass, and don’t achieve the same peak speeds, but I’m stronger, a bit more flexible, a lot more relaxed, and not so frantic about food. I’ve become a brown bear. Looking in the mirror is a bit less painful when I keep that in mind.
I’m intrigued by your notion of making a project of this. My initial pessimist take (wait, hear me out*) is that you shall face some serious stonewalling from people who would rather lalalaicanthearyou than look at realistic solutions to easing some anguish. My optimist view is that you shall be persuasive despite that and get wise and smart folk to participate in transformative introspection, complete with a curriculum to help other groups start discussions about body image issues.
* Stupid QA brain mode always wants to jump in first.
My heart busted a little bit over this. Especially because I just am reading for the first time in a while, and so I first got to see the most recent post (about your canning endeavor) and I had a feeling of ‘damn, she’s got it going on…using her time wisely, not wasting, so productive, etc.’
The take-away may be that self-hate is like wasting good food. Or throwing away something good…just because…
Personally, through some miracle, I have felt pretty good lately. I am not at my physical or healthy best, so I do not feel like it will last, since I haven’t ‘earned’ it. But I just…I can’t go on feeling bad. It’s like something switched over in my brain. Disliking myself felt too much like willfully taking poison and calling it medicine. So when negative stuff creeps in, I have to look at myself objectively for what I am. What I can create, for instance. Hating myself has never made me work harder to be “better.” It’s only made me do crazy shit! Like crash diets.
Weirdly, my most aggressive bouts of self-hate have come at times when I am doing everything ‘right.’ Exercise, good diet. It seems to throw into relief how “far off” I am. I just want security, and to look out for myself, and to not conform to the bullshit (but to be healthy on my terms, able to do the things I want, have a good presence.)
Blah blah! This is all rhetoric on my part. Women have been exposed to all the hows and why of loving ourselves so you have probably heard all this before. Love, self-love, is not easy and it fluctuates, unfortunately.
I hope you find the answer. It is individual and it is tough. Or maybe it isn’t tough? Maybe we just have to choose ‘the love’ over ‘the shit’ until it is second nature.