Watching my body age in real time is humbling. But maybe it doesn’t matter.
Like most people, I have body parts that I don’t particularly like. My head and hands are too small. My arms and legs are too big. You know, that kind of thing.
I’d be surprised if you can’t relate, as most humans struggle more or less with some kind of negative body image issue. Either it’s how we mentally “see” our body as flawed or it’s how we “feel” about our flawed body. Or, for the unfortunates who consequently suffer low self-esteem, it’s both.
I’ll hold off starting a long rant about the damage I think the fashion and entertainment industries, beauty pageants, and mass media all together have done in warping our collective and individual senses of body beautiful, especially for women, but men are not at all exempt. Surely you can guess where I’d go with this.
The deceptive, glossy media images of faces, bodies and social lifestyles, make us hate ourselves so we will buy a solution to love ourselves once again.Bryant H. McGill
It’s my good fortune that very little of all that limiting messaging took hold in my young brain… at least not to the point of affecting my confidence. Don’t misunderstand me, for sure I’m able to discern loveliness from homeliness. I just believe my appreciation of body beautiful is more colorful and diverse than the narrow image we are fed.
Personally, I also managed to keep myself clear from the shadow of my mother’s beauty. From seeing how people reacted to the sight of her in public, I understood as a young child already that she was a stunningly gorgeous woman. That I was “merely” a pretty or attractive girl. And that this was okay. Why that came to be so, I can’t really say; but I sure am glad it is so.
For me, most of the time (but admittedly not always), I accept that my observations of my physical imperfections can be ignored. Others either don’t see these flaws or, perhaps more importantly, don’t care. So why should I?
What has mattered to me much more is that my body was strong and able, and that my smile lights up faces.
I like telling the shocking (to me) story of what happened when our family passed through New York City in 1970 on our way to live in St Catharines, Ontario. In short, we went for a long walk through the streets of Manhattan. I was 15 years old and I made it my mission to make the sad and sour faces I was passing smile. So then, having come from relatively friendly Vancouver, BC, it was indeed appalling to me that in covering 99 blocks I was able to elicit only one return smile! (PS. I’ve been back to The Big Apple numerous times since, and I can vouch it’s a much more hospitable place now.)
Fortunately, that early experience did not dissuade me. I’ve since continued to travel the world, with my warm smile more often than not adorning my face. And I’ve discovered firsthand the truism that a smile is the universal language of safety and kindness.
A smile is a curve that sets everything straight.Phyllis Diller
So, you might ask, what is making me think of body image now? Now, when in fact my brain and heart are full of concern for mothers and children leaving behind all they love and know to flee from bullets, bombs, and bunkers. Isn’t the subject of body image a bit trivial in this more global context?
Well, the world has never been at complete peace. I’ve long been all too conscious of all the conflicts and suffering in the various hot spots. I’ve written that this war in Ukraine has a scary amount at stake, and, as the war endures, my opinion on that has only become more complex. We, as caring individuals and communities, must do what we can to help make this imperfect world a better place.
Yet we can’t stop living our own lives, or live with guilt when we do.
It’s a sign of maturity when we can juggle paradoxes, understand that opposites and contradictions happen concurrently, and unite yin and yang forces. We can admit to feeling both pain and joy.
If we can stay with the tension of opposites long enough —sustain it, be true to it—we can sometimes become vessels within which the divine opposites come together and give birth to a new reality.Marie-Louise von Franz
I continue. Today’s musing about changes in my body was prompted by two minor things that happened to me this week. First, I was struck by new unfamiliar aches in my hip joints as my honey and I walked around our subdivision. Then, I’m trying to plan a short road trip to nearby mountains and valleys that naturally demand to be hiked and I had to admit to myself that I’m simply not fit enough to do that. Ugh!
Since starting the anti-cancer treatments last October, I’ve lost 6 to 7 kilos. I’m back down to the weight I was when I first met my honey, over three decades ago. But when I look in the mirror nowadays, the body reflected back to me bears little resemblance to the one I had then.
I’m anticipating that the finally fading “sunburn” on my chest and breast (from radiation) and the tingling in my fingers and toes (from chemo) will sort out over time; that the stubble that has appeared on my skull will eventually grow into hair. Of course, I’ll never get back the tip of my right breast that was surgically cut off to excise the cancerous tumor, but, perhaps surprisingly, that doesn’t bother me much.
I’m not as assured about getting back the strength and agility I’ve always enjoyed. Sure, it’s normal to see a decline in muscle mass as we age (sarcopenia), leaving us weaker. But the sudden and substantial amount I’ve lost in just these handful of months is somewhat alarming. I mean, I’m still in my 60s and all I see is dry, scaly, wrinkled skin hanging over protruding bones! Yuck! Not yet, please!
And I’m not yet clear what further injurious effect I can expect on my body, especially my muscles, from taking the hormonal therapy tamoxifen that aims to modulate estrogen production, although muscle loss is nowhere (I’ve seen) listed as a common or even less-common side-effect.
So today I allowed myself a bit of a pity party. I mourned for the loss of the strong and able body of my youth.
You need to mourn, you need to be upset, to give yourself time to replenish. Then you use it all as fuel to get stronger.Anthony Yarde
When the party is over—as it soon will be, as I’m not inclined to throw them often or long—I’ll get back to taking control where can. I will be looking at what I can realistically do to rebuild stronger muscles. I won’t be giving my precious time to self-criticism.
At the end of the day, I know my priorities, my values. I remain true to myself.
What counts most to me is the light I bring to the world with my joie de vivre, my smiles—smiles of understanding, smiles of comfort, smiles of kindness, smiles of love. With my smiles, I connect with others.
When I smile, it soothes my own insides, too. At soul level, I recognize that I love and that I am lovable, not only by others, but by me. Imperfections be damned.
I would not exchange my smile for anything. Not even for more body beauty.
What sunshine is to flowers, smiles are to humanity. These are but trifles, to be sure; but scattered along life’s pathway, the good they do is inconceivable.Joseph Addison
How are you coping with your aging body?
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