A Challenge to Throw Out Old Definitions of Beauty

Facing the Truth

Bolstering a big dose of courage, I walked across my bedroom and stood naked in front of a full-length mirror. I took a long and hard look at what I saw — first from the frontal view and then the side angle.

Beneath my belly was a horizontal scar from three Cesarean sections, across my upper and lower torso were tan lines, and on my face, neck, arms, and legs were a smattering of freckles. Some areas had what I considered pretty curves, but others stuck out as a source of embarrassment. In the mirror’s reflection, I saw the image of an overweight middle-aged woman.

A Lifetime of Defensiveness

Most of my life I’ve covered the parts of my body I didn’t like. That meant I needed to avoid shorts and sleeveless shirts. Swimming was a no-go because I’d have to put on a bathing suit.

I’ve had this love-hate relationship with my physical self as long as I can remember. During my middle school and teen years I was convinced I was fat. Sure, I was chubby for two to three years as my body prepared for a massive growth spurt of four inches my freshman year. Looking back though, I was never obese.

It’s sad how I missed enjoying my youthful vitality, which included my flat stomach, long legs, and sturdy build. I was so self-conscious that I worked hard to avoid an accidental glimpse of my reflection in mirrors and any large picture windows I passed. With the late 1960’s model, Twiggy’s stick-thin figure all the rage, I was sure my hourglass curves were ugly.

It was during the grueling hours of graduate school when my weight jumped. Despite walking nearly two to four miles each day, the stress of a doctoral program, along with too many hours sitting and studying, resulted in a forty-pound weight gain. It didn’t help that I earned my doctorate and became a new mom at about the same time. Working full-time and raising a family made it hard to lose the extra pounds.

A few short years later, my family grew to three children. By that time, I’d given up and ignored the new number on the scale. I dreaded my annual physicals because it meant another weigh-in. Each year I hoped the doctor would give me a pass instead of a dressing down for my weight.

It wasn’t until I was in my thirties, I started exercising in earnest. Although it didn’t result in any weight loss, I felt better. Stronger. More capable. I liked how I felt in my body, although it didn’t improve my damaged self-image. Since my husband didn’t seem to notice the changes in my shape as the years passed, I tried to let my concern go as well.

Loss Changed Everything

Then he died, and everything changed.

I discovered the brutal world of online dating as a 50 plus-year-old. Men seemed to be on the hunt for an upgrade, which I definitely was not. And then I remarried, only to discover my new guy f**ked anyone and everyone, but me. His favorite choices, of course, were women twenty to thirty years my junior. I knew he was sick, but my self-esteem took another massive hit. Without consciously realizing it, I had started to dress provocatively by showing more cleavage and bare arms — anything to get his attention, which, of course, didn’t work.

Now I’m single again and in my late fifties. It’s impossible to hide that I’m aging, which brings me back to my early morning session with the mirror.

What is beautiful?

So, what is beauty? Is it a fit body with soft, small curves without an ounce of unnecessary fat? Or, is it a lean or muscular figure? If it is any of these, then I’m doomed. It would take hours of a daily exercise regiment and a brutal diet to get my post-menopausal physique into that kind of shape.

Is it possible to define beauty differently? Not by having the smallest number of lines on my face or by the lowest possible number on the scale. Can it be measured on having good health, a curious mind, and a kind heart?

Can it be defined by having the courage to be my most authentic self? A celebration of what makes me me?

If I’m not careful, I’m in danger of losing out on these best moments with myself in pursuit of the impossible illusion of perfection. It would be sad to wake up thirty years from now, only to realize I’d once again failed to enjoy myself as I am.

So, I make this public commitment to stop this cycle of self-hatred. From this day forward, I will strive to compliment myself, to view food as my friend, and exercise as my boon. I will make it a practice to be thankful for my strength, stamina, and energy, and I will accept myself as I am by declaring it’s good enough.

This post was previously published on P.S. I Love You and is republished here with permission from the author.


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