As a college student in the 1970’s I quickly learned there were safe ways and non-safe ways to navigate the campus. The non-safe way was to walk down fraternity row on a sunny afternoon. There I would encounter young men sitting on lawn chairs waiting to rank me as I walked past. Instead of turning big pieces of poster board into class projects, they used them to let me know I was a 5, 6, or 7 instead. I only had to run that gauntlet once to understand a different route was needed. However, that one time was enough to seriously damage my body image.
Often when talking about body image or body positivity, weight becomes the focus. Do a Google search for “body positivity” and it will quickly lead to articles about “fat-acceptance” and “health at every size.” But you know what? I’m thin and have always been thin. The reason I was not a perfect 10 to those college boys had nothing to do with my bathroom scale’s report. I think it was my measurements they didn’t like. Or maybe it was my hair? Could have been my general appearance. Or my choice of clothes. Does it matter? They chose to be critical and I was their target.
But here’s the deal: as insulting and obnoxious as these guys were, I followed in their footsteps and spent years finding things to dislike about myself. At the age of sixty-seven, I see that one of the blessings of growing older is learning to love myself – and my body – as it is! I have come to this acceptance through an unusual route. Here are some of the stops I made along the way.
Stuck in a world that is obsessed with breasts, it was difficult to be a woman who was lacking in this regard. It was wonderful, therefore, to give birth to my first child. My body did what a woman’s body was supposed to do! And of course, sixteen months of nursing that baby did as much for my self-esteem as it did for his immune system. As I appreciated this – and the many other ways my body functioned properly – I had no choice but to appreciate my body itself.
As a teenager I was a perennial good girl. Then I got married young, at the age of twenty-one. When Jimi Hendrix asked his famous question, “Are you experienced?” my answer was clearly, “No!” It was very interesting, therefore, to get divorced at age forty-two and to start dating. That’s when I learned that not “all men are created equal,” in spite of what the Declaration of Independence may say. I could easily extrapolate from there to the female anatomy. We’re all built differently and we’re all fine just the way we are! Thus, I scored another point for self-acceptance.
My dad lived the last dozen years of his life dependent on blood transfusions. What this means is that he endured regular blood tests, the installation of picc lines, the frequent visits of home healthcare nurses to keep those lines open, and hours spent in the infusion center actually receiving blood. Through it all Dad had a great attitude. He said, “Everyone has some issue in life. This is mine.” It would be an insult to his example not to learn from it. Body-image-problems be damned! Everyone has something. This is mine.
During one of Dad’s hospital sojourns, I overheard two doctors talking to each other. One asked the simple question, “How are you?” and the other replied that he couldn’t complain because he was, “Still able to take his meals upright.” This response was mind boggling and created a new brand of gratitude for me as I ask myself, what things can I do today that I might not be able to do in the future? And let me tell you this, gratitude for what my body can still do at age sixty-seven easily trumps concerns of what my body looks like.
Gratitude for what my body can still do at age sixty-seven easily trumps concerns of what my body looks like.
I write motivational messages six days a week on social media. As I encourage others to be their best selves, I feel like a hypocrite when I have issues of my own. As I try to practice what I post, here are a handful of quotes that impact my positive body image.
These days, when I look in the mirror I like what I see! Then I make the most of what I’ve got by putting on makeup, fixing my hair, slipping on a nice outfit that’s flattering to my body, and out the door I go. Perhaps I’m not a perfect 10 yet, but I get closer with every passing year…and with the understanding each year brings.
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