Body Image: What Would Your 80 Year-Old Self Say?

Long ago I stopped paying any heed to what catwalk models and haute couture did.  The fashion industry as a whole had a lot to answer for when it came to young women and the (largely negative) perception of their bodies.  So I quit buying glossy magazines devoted to endorsing a shape so emaciated it appeared ghoulish.  Was the fashion industry warped, or was I?  And with its ideals of beauty so entrenched, would it ever change its stripes?  Well, it would seem so, as plus-size models took to the runway in New York recently.  One giant leap for womankind – or a case of too little, too late?

Even if the media isn’t the root cause of unhealthy body images, it certainly salts the wound, especially when it comes to impressionable teens and tweens.  Growing up, some of my closest friends had eating disorders.  At one point I briefly ‘dabbled’ in starvation myself.  Fortunately the result of an apple and Diet Coke a day diet frightened me enough to call off all bets.  My face grew gaunt, and I won’t even mention what happened with my bowels…  Every day I walked for miles.  But health wasn’t my motivator.

Thankfully the days of obsessing about my weight are behind me.  Having a baby kind of gets in the way of counting calories; you are too busy changing dirty diapers and gazing at your little darling.  Too busy just muddling through that first shell-shocked year to expend the energy that diets and disorders seem to require.  The other day I found myself pushing the stroller behind a young woman who checked herself out in every passing shopfront window.  I had to laugh.  Though I still take pride in the way I look, I thank my lucky stars I’m no longer in her Jimmy Choos.  Nothing has been such a load off my shoulders than relaxing into my skin over the past few years.  Of course I could do more exercise, and I could eat healthier.  But overall I’m happier, stretch marks and all.

If men allegedly think about sex every few minutes, then most women must think about their fatty deposits as often.  I look alright now, but I looked better in my twenties.  I wish I had known then just how good I looked then!

The irony is, you rarely feel good in your skin when you look your best.  That irony is never more apparent than on a nudist beach.  Typically, the most youthful bodies remain covered up, while their elders throw caution to the wind, and literally let it all hang loose…

A friend of mine puts it best:  ‘What would your 80-year-old self say if she saw you right now?’  She’s absolutely right.  When it comes to their appearances, women tend to be the harshest critics.  So the next time you stare into the mirror and don’t like what you see, take a step back, squint a little, and be kind.  Chances are, your inner octogenarian thinks you look mighty fine.

Image: Pedrosimes7
13 Responses to “Body Image: What Would Your 80 Year-Old Self Say?”
  1. My 80 year old self would just be amazed I made it to 80! Its high time we start embracing our bodies “as it” – even the models in magazines are photoshopped to the hilt. NO ONE looks like that in real life.

  2. Annie

    My 80 year old self would tell me I should have skinny dipped more often. I am more comfortable now with my 155 pound post-baby body, than I ever was with my 120 pound 17 year old body. I know I don’t look nearly as good as I did then and I still compare myself to others, but I have 3 babies to show for it. My tummy and stretch marks are my trophy, right? :) Thanks for the thoughts. So true.

  3. I love your comment about the nudist beaches – this is SO true. Women are their own worst enemies, and the harshest critics of one another. And yet ask any older woman, and she’ll tell you you’re wasting your time.

    Better yet, ask the nearest nudist what she thinks of the Atkins diet.

    Excellent post, Julie! I’m filing this away for a rainy day when I need the lift.

  4. I’ve got a 65 yr old body (Well, maybe not a typical 65-yr old body — my Wii fit age one day last week was 24!!!), and I’m a man, so I thankfully (and compassionately/commiseratingly) don’t have the same body weight and looks issues as you women have (I really feel for all you women who deal with this all your life until maybe you get to be 80 and it seems like it is ALL women who deal with this issue all the time. Wow! Could it really be as frequently as men are supposed to be thinking of sex??? (Actually, though I read some recent research that indicated that “statistic” is not accurate and more along the lines of an urban legend or old wives tale).

    We men, however, have just as many challenges as you women do with being grounded in and accepting of the reality of ourselves. They’re just different challenges. I’m beginning to think that it can all be simplified down to: “Am I doing this for me?” [this action; this workout; this job; this marriage; this book;] Or am I doing this on some automatic pattern, without really also choosing to do it for me [eg. working out at the gym to “look good” for our culture, rather than because I love to work out and take care of my body because I love and care about myself and looking good is just a benefit of me doing this workout ‘for me’; or doing the job, the book, the marriage, for unconscious externally-motivated reasons, rather than ‘for me’.

    That’s the challenge, I think. When you’re living your life every day “for you” and making your daily choices “for you” because YOU want to be doing the life you are doing for you, then (and probably only then) will you be free from caring what the neighbors or your parents or “friends” think about your body (or your work or how you raise your children or how much money you make). And this is something you can work on changing without waiting til you’re 80.

    Thanks for your great article. You got me stirred up. I’m single now, and as I’m realizing right now that one of the reasons I’m single is related to the topic of your post. I don’t want a partner who doesn’t love and accept her body as it is. Of course, I also want a partner who takes good care of her body and looks good. I’m actually realizing right now, as I write this, that I want a partner who is loving and caring for her body FOR HER not to please me or our culture. I really feel for you women.

    Thanks for letting me share. I’m realizing how wordy I get. I need writing help!!!


  5. I loved this post. I love that the “plus-size models” really just look like the majority of (real) women we see every day. There are three billion women who don’t look like supermodels and only eight who do. We need to stop letting people manipulate us, and one way to do this is to focus on the really important things, making choices for yourself.
    Great article.

  6. I love this post! It is so true that with our bodies, like so many things, we never appreciate what we have until it’s gone. xo

  7. I agree, Tom, that many men are similarly affected/afflicted. And of course advertising companies, sensing a new market, are tapping in to that vulnerability. From hair re-growth to the ultimate ‘six-pack’, men are under pressure like never before… It’s sad, but it’s also big business. It’s up to us to keep the media and its conglomerates at bay and our self appraisals in check.

    Thanks for your comments so far, everyone…

  8. Tom, it was a great comment. :) And I think it’s quite likely that women do think @ body image as much as men think @ sex. Maybe more.

    I love the picture. This is a beautiful woman.

    I think about Suzanne Collins in The Hunger Games, stating something that used to be true of all societies: that age was to be revered, because the simple fact that you had endured for so long meant you had something to teach everyone else. It really is too bad that we have lost that sense in the popular culture. In reality I think it’s still there; we just don’t allow it to apply to ourselves. As I stare at the first long gray hair–it’s determined to always be on top and in front–I have to remind myself that gray hair is okay, that it’s not something to dread.

  9. Bravo for this post! Throughout my teens, twenties and into my thirties, I obsessed about my weight. I counted calories, worked out like a crazy woman (I was) and became a registered dietitian to become smarter about my weight obsession. Then I stopped. I met a man who didn’t give a fig about my weight and in fact appreciated more weight on my body. I also realized I didn’t want my two daughters to be chained to the scale the way I had been. Instead I want them to live, have fun, eat, and love their bodies no matter what size, as long as it’s healthy!

  10. And bravo to you, Michelle, for being a great role model for your daughters…

  11. love this post + comments! Tom, you’re right on. one of my most recent lessons is to allow myself to live in the moment — to be okay with who I am + where I am RIGHT NOW!

  12. Beautiful post! I’m a Health Coach and work with women to lose weight and learn to eat healthier but the main focus is to find happiness in life and the body they’re meant to have NOT the body they think they should have. It never ceases to amaze me the unrealistic expectations that we place on ourselves. I love chipping away at them and helping them find a place that works for them.
    Thanks so much for this post!

  13. That riveting picture pulled me into your piece and your words of wisdom kept me there. Today I will look at life from the perspective of my future awesome, wise 80-year-old self!

    Thanks for the inspiration.

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