Dear woman who is waiting until she’s older to love her body,
I am you, let’s be honest. Ever since I was a young body-hating teen with an eating disorder, I’ve had a fantasy: By the time I’m elderly I’ll have figured out how to love my body unconditionally and will joyously eat and exercise only in ways that make me feel good and happy. It sounds so simple and idyllic and yet, even though I’m more than a decade out of my teens, it still seems as far off as ever. I’ve held out hope that someday I’d reach a magic age (50? 65? 77?) where all the shackles of silliness and vanity would fall away and I’d be able to eat all the jelly beans I want and not wake up with a guilt hangover the next day.
That dream was shattered today when I read a piece about Sandra Howard, a 75-year-old woman, trying out ripped skinny jeans for the first time. I expected it to be an endearingly silly, trendy puff piece on fashion and how a granny felt exposing a little skin. What I got instead was 10+ paragraphs of coded body hatred.
She starts out well, writing, “I’m not usually prone to caring unduly about my appearance. At 75 I am old enough to feel comfortable in my own skin and know what suits me.” But it quickly becomes apparent that not only does she absolutely still care very much about her appearance, but she also does not feel comfortable in her own skin.
First, she talks about her discomfort about jeans in general thanks to her “pear-shaped” figure and “generous Russian peasant-style bottom.” (What is that, even?! All the Russians I know have amazing, gravity-defying supermodel butts.) Howard continues, decrying flare-leg jeans because “I haven’t the long legs and lean thighs you need”, objecting to boyfriend jeans because “the huge hole shows off my fat knee”, and putting back a cropped pair for fear they’d emphasize her “stubby ankles.”
The worst part? Not a word of it is true! Howard has a body that most 20-somethings would envy.
Now, it’s not that I don’t understand the sentiment — I’ve put back more cute jeans than I care to count due to my own fixation on my larger-than-average thighs — and I understand that even the most beautiful women are entitled to their own insecurities. It’s OK to admit that our relationships with our bodies doesn’t have to be perfect. I was more disappointed to realize that age doesn’t inoculate us against body hate. I shouldn’t be surprised, I suppose, that women can and do carry their insecurities with them to the end of their days. It’s the youth- and beauty-centric culture we marinate in.
But this doesn’t mean we have to accept it. If today is the day I realized that grandmothers can hate their bodies too, then it’s also the day I realized that I’m not going to be that grandma. A young woman who hates herself will simply grow into an old woman who hates herself — unless she does something to stop it. And that starts with learning to love myself now rather than waiting for some magic wisdom-bringing age to do it for me.
I need to learn to love and appreciate the body I have for what it can do more than for what it looks like. I have to be grateful for it so I can help my children, and perhaps someday my grandchildren, to grow up and never hate their bodies at any age. Self-esteem isn’t something you get; it’s something you earn by living a life full of learning, love and kindness to others. And those are all things I can do right now — and when I’m 75.