Just recently People magazine (being People magazine) published an article showcasing a series of famous women, ages 50 through 71, wearing swimsuits and being fabulous. They looked gorgeous, yes, but wouldn’t take a plastic surgeon to notice that nearly every woman featured had undergone some sort of cosmetic procedure to make her look less tired and more youthful.
Don’t get me wrong — I believe in people’s right to choose what they want do with the body they are inhabiting. If someone opts to shoot botulism into her face or hike up the skin around her eyelids, more power to her. As for me, I’m a bit more of a hippie at heart, although I can’t seem to quit my hairdresser who transforms my gray hair back to brown each month. Other than my inability to accept a gray halo, I pretty much agree with the words of that 1970’s margarine commercial, “It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature.”
So when my sister-in-law — who is five years my junior and has the body of an aerobics instructor attached to the brain of an attorney — calls and confides in me about the opening volleys and ravages of aging, I sometimes have to laugh. “Just wait,” I warn her.
Then, to underscore my point, I send her a photo of my right leg. “Hope you’re not eating,” I text. My blood vessels and varicose veins look like those old-fashioned Triptiks that AAA used to provide before a long car journey, with the highways and state roads outlined in thick, red marker. But, hey, at least my blood is still flowing around my body. Perspective is crucial once you pass 50.
A second later, my sister-in-law returns the favor. She shoots me back a reciprocal photo of her leg, complete with visible capillaries (albeit less visible than mine). “I cannot freakin believe we are ‘sexting’ vein pics,” she writes. A deep, spontaneous laugh wells up inside of me.
My sister-in-law then sends a photo of her so-called back fat. I text back the inexplicable lines on my neck. She confesses to white eyebrows; I trump her with my lash-deprived snake eyes. For a brief, self-pitying moment, I contemplate the dynamic nature of my external features — but then I resolutely shrug my shoulders and smile. Bodies may change, but love and humor endure.
These days, we are so good about teaching our daughters not to compare themselves to photoshopped images of impossibly svelte, gorgeous models. But how often do we take time to look at and accept our own somewhat battered bodies — those bodies that may have carried children, waged war with illness, or simply endured decades of going to work, grocery shopping, navigating ice patches on snowy sidewalks, cleaning up after our families, and caring for others?
Sometimes, it’s easy to forget how much energy we sap by picking apart every physical imperfection we possess. Time moves forward, and bodies experience entropy — hair thins, gums recede, skin discolors, arthritis bends bones. No one expects a car to look brand new after it has been driven for years. We can take good care of it, change the timing belt, make sure it has premium gasoline and frequent oil changes. But it cannot look like a new vehicle if it is truly has been taking on the road. Why can we not forgive ourselves for having skin or hair that alter over the years as well?
For the first time in a while, I felt liberated by sharing photos of the things that make me feel insecure. For once, I didn’t place my hands on my waist and turn a bit to the side to aim for the most flattering and slimming angle. Instead, I searched for the most visually fascinating web on my legs and sent that record of my reality to someone I trusted.
For just a few minutes, I felt I actually inhabited a world in which a woman could show signs of wear and tear on her body and not feel shame or embarrassment. During this brief exchange with my sister-in-law, I could accept and laugh about the effects of time, gravity, genetics, and a few pregnancies on a person’s vascular health.
And so, women of a certain age, I’m urging you to do the same. My prescription for any person who is lamenting the passage of time on her body is to find someone you love and trust, who can see underneath the wrinkles and cellulite and appreciate what lies below. Take a photo of a part of your body that is particularly distressing to you, and share it with this caring soul.
But don’t stop there. Remind one another of the beauty of your smiles, your spirits, your memories. Even when bodies start to droop, wrinkle, and falter, the twinkle of an eye and the joy of deep friendship endure. After all, those blood vessels ultimately lead to the human heart, and that’s what really counts.