This morning I saw two articles that spoke to opposite ends of the same spectrum. Each, in its way, broke my heart:
I remember avoiding looking at the dressing room mirrors in my twenties until I had starved myself into near-oblivion. When my ribs and hips protruded, I could drape myself with anything in the extra smalls with room to spare. I was 5'9" at the time, barely 112 lbs. I was dying.
Starving for food, love, attention, approval. Damn near killed me. I looked horrible.
These days when I face off with my mirror in the morning I have no teeth, so the first order of business is to snap those bad boys in. That’s quite a vision. That’s what forty years of eating disorders- the result of severe body dysmorphia- can do. Along with heart attacks, organ failure. You get it.
That severe body dysmorphia was because of repeated sexual assaults in the military. I wasn’t just looking at my body. I was seeing everything else wrong with me. I hated my body for having drawn unwanted, violent attention. Even though I could cover it with high fashion, it was still a vehicle for pain.
Lisa’s story about her mastectomy brought up a whole other set of feelings. At the other end of a life, with a few decades to go, we have a whole other understanding of, and connection to, the body corporal. If we work at it, that is.
How you and I interact with that mirror image depends on what we value. A recent Medium peep wrote that since she’d been fat all her life, she noticed, as she aged, that her pretty counterparts were having a terrible time. The commerce with which they paid their way through life was deserting them. As they entered their sixties and beyond, they were suddenly adrift, lacking definition. Who am I when I am no longer The Pretty Girl?
I’m shy a few organs. Have suffered a few horrific injuries myself. Had more than my share of surgeries. I’m battle-scarred, parts of me sag, many parts of me hurt. I’m going gray.
What I see in the mirror today isn’t me.
It’s my vehicle.
It simply gives us a way to get through Life, and as such, is uniquely designed for our journey. For you it might be a Maserati. Some, a Honda van. Me, more like a Jeep. Clunky, dusty, dirty, the ignition held in place with duct tape, but damn, can that thing go uphill.
I used to believe that being thin was everything. Not only did that nearly cost me my life on several occasions (starvation has a way of telling the body we’re done with living) but being thin, when I got there, merely morphed into incessant worry that I might gain it all back. There was never any release. My body, the ebb and flow of a pound or eighty pounds, defined my value in a society obsessed with the external.
Society, which has a terrible time with women’s power, has an excellent way of sucking it out of us just as we get really, really juicy: as we age past our physical prime.
Lisa writes: Before my eyes, I was becoming alien to myself.
The body begins its slow disintegration immediately after the peak of our reproductive years. If you and I don’t keep hard at it, sarcopenia and a host of other insults result in the body’s telegraphing its lack of hard work. Lack of exercise, lousy food, whatever habits we’ve developed.
Entire multi-billion dollar industries are built on how deeply we identify with our bodies. The more we obsess about how we look, the more money we are likely to spend, the less time we spend developing our gifts. I am my body, my face, my youth becomes a source of terrible anguish for us and massive profits for a society that punishes us for not being perfect.
You and I are perfect. We hardly even begin to fill out the contours of our souls until later, when other contours soften. When in the wisdom of our years we can let go of what no longer matters, and concentrate on what does.
To this I offer an article by one of my favorite Medium writers’, Ann Litts:
Litts points out, with her typical acuity, that the definition of crone is a “thin, old” woman. Physical. Of course it is. Truthfully, being a wise woman has nothing to do with how we look.
I’m not saying don’t dress up, put on makeup, don’t mind your hair and face, don’t exercise. By all means, please. I sure do.
I am suggesting that we might want to save our save our tears for what really matters. I’ll cry for a gorgeous sunrise. Birdsong. Shade and a pretty stream on a hot day. Time to get an article done. Time with a beloved friend, for like me, we have no idea how many more days we have left.
The greatest beauty of aging, and having a body that has lasted long enough for us to even get that far, is that when the incessant demands for impossible perfection can finally be discarded, we make room for the birds in our chests to sing. When I give my body permission to age, I give myself permission to fly free.