Discontent with our changing bodies is a rich source of suffering. The feeling is intensified as we age due to marketing and the cultural obsession with youthfulness. This leads many people to fight aging by any means necessary, often going to extraordinary lengths to hide it. The second half of life is a good place to re-examine our attitudes toward body image, the thoughts and feelings that arise as we view ourselves in the mirror. We can begin by asking: who am I now that my body has changed? What am I holding onto? What is the thing in me that has not changed?
It’s normal to grieve loss, be it a full head of hair or a full range of motion. What we don’t want is to get stuck there, looking in the mirror, trying to recapture the past. We can’t remove the signs of aging any more than we can erase the imprint of life experiences. And we shouldn’t want to. Growing old is gift not all get. Embrace it. To hell with Wall Street and its insidious messages. This isn’t a green light to forego self-care. On the contrary, exercise, nutrition, sleep, and stress management are critical to aging with ease and grace.
What I am saying is that acceptance won’t happen overnight. You’ll have to overcome decades of conditioning. But if we remain conscious of our tendency to bemoan our bodies, we can learn to accept the inevitable changes with grace and good-humor. Thankfully, the body is forgiving. It will absorb an onslaught of poor choices while sending repeated suggestions for best practice until the day we die.
It’s never too late to listen.
For close to twenty years I skillfully kept exercise at bay with a litany of excuses. Early signs of arthritis didn’t sway me. Creaky knees and noisy hips were hushed into submission with medication. When my family planned our first ever “big trip” to Mexico, I decided it was time to get my 50-something body back in 30-something shape. A week before our vacation, I threw my back out and ended up in the hospital getting an MRI. Needless to say, it was “adios” to fun in the sun for this amiga.
That experience humbled me. For starters, I stopped taking my body for granted. Now I’m far from perfect. Some days it takes Herculean effort to get moving. Perhaps the most important shift has been in my attitude. I had to look at, accept, and develop a compassionate respect for every part of my body. I also had to seriously get reacquainted with it. What is my range of motion? What foods do nourish me? How is the quality of my sleep?
I’ve learned to appreciate and care for my body again and it has rewarded me for the effort. I remember that everything I do today is to help my senior me. Something about that touches my heart. Instead of fearing old age, I’m already loving that crazy old lady I’m slowly becoming.
This article first appeared in Medium December 28th, 2019.