I have a love/hate relationship with my body. I find that I am quite content with my appearance when I am alone in room looking at a mirror. I have pretty good hair, my figure is proportional to my height, I can take a deep breath and not feel restriction, and most recently I am able to wake up without joint pain. It’s when I go outside and stand next to other people that I feel bad about myself. I am either too tall or too heavy. My thighs are too big or my breasts are too small. My crows feet make me look old and most recently, my god, I look middle aged. I’d like to kid myself that it’s the “aging thing” is a surprise, but I’m very clear about the effects of turning 50, and what 10 years of chronic illness and pain have done to me.
I am very conscious of my stature. I’m tall. I’m not tall and thin. I’m tall and curvy. Think Xena warrior princess tall. I was often placed in the back row of school photographs because I bested many of the young boys. My curves came early. In fact, I have vivid memories of a school friend asking me why I didn’t have a space between my thighs like she did. Yep. Thigh gap issues at age 9. I got hit by the hormone fairy at 13, and it was all round and squishy from there on.
Compounding the hormone whammy, I also had to contend with chronic asthma and an overprotective family. I was taught to be a sitter. So, I am an excellent seamstress and an avid reader, but can’t ride a bike or throw a ball. I have never developed tremendous muscle strength, and my overall fitness level leaves a lot to be desired. Despite my best intentions, I continue to be “exercise averse.” I have negotiated all sorts of ways to sneak exercise into my life – I park at the farthest space in the lot; I take the stairs rather than the elevator; I walk the dog. The very idea of compulsory exercise makes me twitchy. I marvel at my friends who run marathons. I firmly believe that the only time it is necessary to run is when being chased.
To get out of physical education in high school and college, I joined the marching band as a flag twirler. Unfortunately, this caused my lower half to become quite strong and big, rather than toned and thin. I remember bemoaning my large legs, when my grandmother, in an attempt to cheer me up, said, “oh, sweetheart, don’t worry. Tall trees need sturdy roots!” My roots are still sturdy, but now I get the added benefit of varicose veins and cellulite. Somehow, I became a birch tree!
The thing that has surprised me the most about growing older is the way that injuries and illnesses came back to haunt me. In my early 20s I was in a pretty serious car accident that caused lots of soft tissue damage. Being 20-years-old, I hungered more for the insurance settlement than for my long-term health goals. As soon as I could, I ceased physical therapy and took the money. 25 years later, I suffer from compressed disks, a poorly heal rotator cuff injury neck and wrist issues. My side job as a costume designer has exacerbated these injuries, and caused new ones. Compounding this, is a diagnosis of Epstein bar syndrome, which makes me irritatingly fatigued at times. It is an inflammatory condition, and it seems to have caused me to be allergic to a large variety of food. Without proper control, I live in joint pain, Muscle pain, or digestive pain. This has been pretty constant over the last 10 years, and taken a toll on my mental health, my marriage, and certainly my appearance.
About 18 months ago, British stoicism was trumped by utter disgust. After going through a pretty rough patch in my marriage, I decided that I had better pay as much attention to my mind and body as I was to my relationship. I joke that it took three years of therapy for me to spend the last year getting healthy. Who knew that there was this much toxic gunk living in my cells! Once I acknowledged that they were there, I could start cleaning house.
Taking care of me is hard work, and often feels very self-indulgent. Taking the time to nurture my soul, attend to the medical requirements of my body, choose foods that do no harm, balance sleep and rest needs with my desire to be productive, and maintain my home and career, is a constant challenge. Regular physical therapy, acupuncture, rest and restructuring my diet have made a great difference. Next, I want to challenge my exercise aversion and open my self up to yoga.
So, I am in a body that I am thankful for, and irritated by. Every day, I look in the mirror and try to love what I see. It’s hard. I know what I want to be, and struggle to get okay with where I am. I consider botox; and I research liposuction. I color my hair. I choose clothes that hide my flaws, while resisting the urge to buy muumuus. I have started wearing “sensible shoes,” and want to cry when I see my 3” stilettos accumulating dust – with the knowledge that wearing them will disable me for three days after use. I am making choices, and they often don’t feel good. Letting go of my ‘should’s’ is hard. Learning a new set of rules is challenging, and I am trying to be comfortable in my own skin – albeit a bit saggy, a bit heavy, and a bit lumpy. AND, every Halloween, I put on my Xena Warrior Princess costume, and I don’t care what anyone thinks – even if I do have “sturdy roods.”