“My dad eats a lot of bacon,” said the sweetest little girl in my class last year. “He’s fat. I mean, really fat. But I love him anyway.”
There is a lot in the press lately about what we teach young girls about body image. As a first grade teacher, I am aware of the messages that are sent to children about judging themselves and others upon physical appearance. I strive to make it clear to my students that while we are all different on the outside, but we all have the same hearts and souls on the inside. I urge them to accept others and themselves as beautiful and worthy. And in a dichotomous move, I also teach lessons on being healthy – on eating right and exercising – and how it helps us grow stronger.
As I stood in front of the mirror this morning, looking – really looking – at my 45 year old body, I found myself struggling to love myself as my student loves her dad. I also eat a lot of bacon, apparently, as noted by the pudge in my midsection. I want desperately to love my body, to accept myself as I am, just as I ask my students to do. But this morning, this is what I see: double chin, huge breasts (think Ma Kettle, not Pam Anderson) with the accompanying underarm and back fat, a bootie that sags, zero thigh gap, and a belly pouch that looks like a busted can of biscuits. In my middle age, I have become my own “before” picture.
The truth is, I don’t eat a lot of bacon. I don’t drink soda. I don’t binge on desserts. I limit red meats and sugar. The truth is, I work out 5-6 days a week doing things like running, cycling, dancing, strength training, and yoga. The truth is, I ran a half-marathon in May. I am, theoretically, pretty badass. I’m not a couch potato, and I understand the working of starchy potatoes in my diet. So why the hell does my mirror not reflect the body of a 25 year old?
Because, damn it, I AM NOT 25.
I hear that in my head a lot lately. “You are not twenty-five.” I stood in front of the mirror and sighed, and held back the tears that I am willing to blame on some hormonal imbalance and not impending menopause. In my 30s, I was able to lose 60 pounds and morph from obese to thin; to go from being unable to walk two miles to being able to run a half-marathon in 2 hours. But a decade later, my body seems to be sending me a clear message – that the image I see in the mirror is getting tired of the fight. It is resigning itself to puffing, sagging, rolling and dimpling.
Why, then, will my mind not follow in resignation? Why, when I urge my students to love themselves and others just as they are, can I not embrace my puffing, sagging, rolling and dimpling body just as it is? My body says, “take a nap, already,” but my heart says “Fight. Run.” Intellectually, I understand the theories behind damaged body image mindsets. I have read great books like The Beauty Myth that expose the media and social abuse on women and how we are brainwashed from childhood to believe we are lesser beings unless we conform to unrealistic physical expectations. I am intelligent enough to actually buy feminism. Intellectually, I get it. Emotionally, however, I am still torn between buying a bottle of the latest weight loss drug or buying a pecan pie and eating it with one fork.
I would love to be able to throw away the sports bras and say, “Screw You, Jennifer Aniston, I don’t need to look like you to be happy.” I would love to embrace my curves and be confident in knowing I will be loved no matter what the scales say. I would love to stop cursing my body for its seemingly impenetrable layer of fat. I would love to accept the act of aging gracefully.
But I can’t. Gloria Steinem help me, I can’t.
I wake up each day with the desire to turn back the clock. I close my eyes to the 45 year old staring droopily back at me in the bathroom mirror, put my hair in a ponytail, and whisper “Fuck you,” to my boobs as I squeeze them into an Under Armor bra. I set my iPod to Eminem’s Lose Yourself, tie my Sauconys like they’ve pissed me off, and I run. I try to forget that the passing cars see a short, pudgy, red-faced middle-aged grandmother, and imagine myself younger. Thinner. Hotter. Badasser.
Maybe the solution to my problem is to get rid of my mirrors, and view my body solely on my delusions. Reality is overrated anway.
David Bowie, whom I never before thought I would quote on anything, says,
So I turned myself to face me
But I’ve never caught a glimpse
Of how the others must see the faker
I’m much too fast to take that test.
Time may indeed have changed me, but I can’t trace time. Where did it go? I cannot yet accept that it’s all downhill from here. I may be a faker. I may be denying what 45 is trying to tell me, that I am never again going to have an outside that will match my inside. But if I keep running, perhaps middle age will have to work just a little harder to catch up.
Photo source: Wisegeek.com. Photo is unaltered.