A Body of Evidence

canstockphoto8980615I finally forced myself to go for a physical, stirrups included. Yee-haw. It was embarrassing when the receptionist announced I’d have to fill out new patient paperwork, since it’d been nearly 6 years since I’d last shown up. After a flu last month kicked off a party of hot flashes and inexplicable pains, I forced myself through the door of the clinic.

As they reviewed my information, I stood there stiffly, until I blurted “I’m having an anxiety attack.” My heart was pounding so hard I could barely focus on what the woman behind the desk was asking. Age? 48. When the nurse took my blood pressure, it was through the roof. She chuckled knowingly about “white coat syndrome”. All that damned meditative breathing did nothing.

The doctor was a woman about my age. I do what I usually do under stress, which is to start cracking jokes. I did all the usual perimenopausal material about facial hair, stomach fat, hot flashes. Yes, it’s a real laugh riot, this slow deterioration of the body. She said “Yeah, I really don’t like my body at this age. I was much happier with it at 25.”

And it hit me, I don’t feel that way.

This may not seem much of an epiphany, but a lifetime of self-loathing and sharp self-criticism would beg to differ otherwise. Things have started to change for me over the last few years – I am starting to feel and look my age more than ever before. But what I feel about my body is kinder, more accepting, more appreciative and more respectful.

The exchange stuck in my mind on the drive home. I have rarely felt good about the aesthetics of my body, because unless I had major plastic surgery, developed fashion sense and put in some serious time, I would never come close to the cultural ideal of beauty. Whenever I’ve put on makeup or a dress, it felt like a costume. And I knew that somehow, I would never quite measure up and that there was no point in keeping skin in the game.

It’s an interesting time in our culture, with the widening of gender definitions. Once you pull yourself out of the mainstream and sail down your own little creek, an amazing thing happens. You become human. All the strictures tacked on to whatever parts you were born with, suddenly mean nothing. It’s a challenge for those of us who were raised with binary ideas, because we have to rewire our thinking to encompass bigger, less defined ideas about our own genders. What makes us us?

canstockphoto0618859.jpgThrough much of my life, I’ve treated my body like the container that carries my brain. Gender felt like an inconvenience. That disconnect can be problematic, since our bodies are intricate and complex and connected in every way to our brains. But once I hit my 40s,  my body was suddenly a piece of IKEA furniture. I had no idea how it was put together, but I loved its functionality.

My body has survived a reckless childhood, basic training, childbirth, martial arts, running, weight losses and gains, years of garden crouching, illnesses and syndromes and odd twinges and aches. It’s not beautiful. They don’t tell you that, unless you’re young or plasticized, when you age you start to morph into a cellulite pumpkin.

Mcanstockphoto18744450y daughter will sometimes ask me about visible scars. I have tiny cross-hatch scars on my face from trying to do an Olympic flip off of playground equipment in 3rd grade. In the days when playgrounds were covered with large gravel, it all ended badly when I landed on my face and the nose pieces from my glasses embedded in my forehead. It was the first time being a daredevil had real, painful consequences.

Even the scars unseen remain as psychic reminders. I can tell you exactly where I slipped with a woodcarving tool in art class and stabbed myself in the hand. I can still remember my 6th grade art teacher shrieking as blood ran down my arm. I learned how someone’s reaction made everything so much worse than it was.

There’s a long scar on my belly that saved the lives of both myself and my child. I learned, despite my homeopathic leanings, to appreciate modern medicine.

My knees make noises when I go up and down stairs. My shoulder aches if I sleep wrong. When I run, I have to pay attention to the stress reactions in my feet since getting fractures two years ago. When it’s about to rain, my joints ache.

My hands have begun to look my grandmother’s, which reminds me to cherish them before the arthritis starts to do its work.

Wrinkles have come to stay on my face. I look to see if they are from smiling or frowning too much. I seem to have them equally from both expressions. Maybe that’s balance, I don’t know.

canstockphoto0171983With all the talk about body positivity and the “everyone is beautiful” memes, I roll my eyes. Beauty is subjective, but the only standards most of us have been measured by are not. I was never going for beautiful. I was and am still going for sticking the landing. As each year passes, I’ll be doing a jump of joy for resiliency – even if it hurts.

My body carries all my stories. It tells me that time is passing and that there’s no going back. It’s my evidence of a life well-lived. But more importantly, of a life still lived.

59 Comments on “A Body of Evidence

  1. don’t know if your blog, especially this one is more about women than men; but it really hits home with me. thanks for the wisdom! Roberto

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    • Since I’m a woman, naturally my perspective will be skewed more that way, but aging is a universal experience. With the fetishizing of youth and marketing that uses bodies to sell products, men and women have to come to terms with the bodies they actually possess. Thanks for commenting!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. In just a few paragraphs while you dis dived your life it also drew an old familiar picture of a life I once knew. And yes, life goes on.

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    • Thanks for reading and commenting. Life does go on and the longer it does, the more silly some things I’ve worried about seem. Except going to the doctor. I’ll always be chickenshit about that!

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  3. Thank you for sharing, Michelle! I’m having a similar experience… The body at this age requires more maintenance. It also proves resilient, and worthy of praise and respect, much like a well-built ship that has weathered thrashing storms and carried precious cargo, mission after mission. Beauty is indeed subjective, and also complex. Best wishes to you! 😊😘😁

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    • I agree with you, Catherine – higher maintenance, as well as patience with our bodies is the new norm.
      The beauty conversation in social media has been getting on my nerves. We act like it’s the sole attribute humans, especially female humans, should aspire to and commercial entities are picking up on the game (I’m talking to you, Dove). I want appearance to be the least interesting thing about me.
      Best wishes to you as well!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I agree with your thought about not wanting to be 25 again! Maybe 30 or 35, but I was pretty dumb back then. I’ve always been a bit of a tom-boy, but never particularly a dare devil. I had myself convinced for years that I just wasn’t vain, when in fact I was neglecting myself. I turned 41 this month and have for a couple of years now gotten in touch with my feminine side. I must say that I’ve always enjoyed being incognito. My natural style is jeans and tank-tops with a low pony and face al natural. I am, however, greatly amused when I get dressed to the nines at people’s reactions. They say I look like a different person!
    I’ve always noticed that the outside doesn’t mean much to me. No matter how pretty, I’m sometimes disappointed when they (male or female) reveal their ugly insides. By the same token, those whom others may find less attractive, or even outright ugly, I see the inward beauty and try to draw it out more when interacting. I always wish they could see what I see instead of looking in the mirror and being disappointed!

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    • Age has never been a sticking point with me. Where I’m at is usually the best place I’ve ever been, so I don’t understand nostalgia, especially when it comes to state of being. That may very well change in the years ahead, as my health changes, but at this point, none of the years behind me outweigh the current one.

      I can’t really address the issue of femininity, because I find it hard to view myself in terms of culturally-defined gender traits. Any time I tried to toe that line, it felt like an out-of-body experience.

      I’ve never viewed external attributes as either skill or part and parcel of someone’s character, but in today’s culture, I think people are easily confused. The constant focus on surface instead of substance has made us a tad tone deaf to what really matters.

      Thanks for commenting and sharing your experience!

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  5. Yep. I get it. At the moment the entire right side of my body hurts, from a spot just above my eyebrow to my neck, my shoulder, the wing of my back, my wrist, my lower back, my hip and my knee. I kid you not. By some miracle my ankle, foot and toes are fine — although two weeks ago I had an ingrown toe nail that caused me no end of misery. You’d laugh if you could see me moving around today, especially bending to feed my cats and clean litterboxes. Ain’t life grand???

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    • I found out that I’m healthy as a horse, but I still woke up this morning with a torqued back, shoulder soreness, a mild headache and knee pain. This is the new normal, I guess. Fortunately, most of it disappears once I start moving (slowly!).
      Sometimes I accept it, sometimes I see my 11 year old bound out of bed and bounce through her morning and I think, oh yeah, I’m getting older. Still, I’m grateful that I’m alive to feel all the aches and pains. At least that is what I’ll keep repeating to myself, until it sticks!

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  6. I get the same feeling, like I’m costuming, when I try to get “dressed up”, to the point I got my hair all done up for my wedding, then went home and washed it all out before the big event. So, that was 38 years ago, I guess I’ve always been this way. Now I’m glad, as I watch women my age still struggling with trying to look sexy through various means with varying degrees of success. It’s not for me. But hey, I still garner pick up lines…at the nursing home–so I guess all is not lost, lol. Great post!

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    • I spent a lot of time in my 20s trying to adapt to dresses and heels and makeup. Those things fell away quickly and I’ve settled into a reliable, comfortable style that would be soundly mocked on the fashion circuit.

      The whole thing with sex appeal is that it is such an individual thing. The pornification of our culture has turned sexuality into a circus, fetishizing body parts until they’re completely separate from human beings. But I’ve already ranted about that.

      I’m just glad to be around to get older at this point. Thanks for sharing your perspective!

      Liked by 2 people

  7. Great post Michelle! I can relate to every word, including the fact that I don’t like my body less now than I did at 25. Actually I kind of like it more, or maybe it’s that I feel grateful for it.

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    • Thanks, Helen. I agree. We take youth for granted and I don’t think I was ever satisfied with how I looked. But now? I’m so grateful that my body can still carry me through the day and allows me to do the things I love to do.

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  8. It was such a wonderful post full of positivity. There are many sentences that I wanna quote but let’s take the gist – it is how you perceive yourself that matters. That point about your body being the carrier of all the happening of the past left me pondering for a while. Embrace whatever you’re gifted with and try to make it better (more importantly be happy!) 🙂

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    • I would just leave off with embracing who you are in the moment. It’s endemic to our culture to be constantly striving to be better and I would guess it fuels a great deal of the dissatisfaction we see today. I like to believe that if we master acceptance of ourselves, any positive changes are just gravy.

      Thanks for taking the time to read and comment!

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  9. What nobody says is that beauty doesn’t matter. Really, it doesn’t. It’s something pasted onto our lives, not the life itself. And the definition of what’s beautiful changes from culture to culture, from age to age. How did we come to be so distracted by it?

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    • Ellen, your comment could fuel a whole rant post from me. Beauty has always been lauded in human society (and a movable goal post as you point out), but what we’ve seen over the last 50 years is the uber-commodification and marketing of dissatisfaction in order to sell products. I knew the first time that I read about the “thigh gap” that we’d all lost our collective minds.

      When I think about how much energy, time, money and discussion goes into the pursuit of a narrow definition of beauty, we’re just being convinced to keep focusing on shiny objects while the world goes to hell. Wow, I got on my old grumpy lady when I got up this morning. Coffee time.

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  10. I like my wrinkles and gray hair. I’m not just saying that, I really do. It’s who I am and how I got to this point. It reminds me of one of my favorite songs, The Story by Brandi Carlile: “all of these lines across my face, tell you the story of who I am…” And I don’t feel a certain age inside. I just feel like me, always have and always will. (sorry, it’s way too early for me to form complete sentences)

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    • I love that song as well! I’m cool with wrinkles, but I’ve not gotten past the hair thing. We’ve exchanged comments on this before, but my hair is mostly white underneath the dye job. I’m holding out until 50 and then maybe I’ll do a Sinead haircut and let it all come back naturally.

      And I agree with you about feeling like you and not a number. I feel the same. I am a little amazed to be this age. It used to sound so old!

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  11. Every wrinkle, every white hair and every visible and invisible scar tells a story. That’s about the body of it. And the mind? That’s another story. Together, they could fill a library. Just need to time to tell the stories now. Great writing, Michelle. Enjoyed your post.

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  12. I love this post, and especially this part: My body carries all my stories. It tells me that time is passing and that there’s no going back. It’s my evidence of a life well-lived. But more importantly, of a life still lived.
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts on self-kindness. I think we all can use a bit of that!

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  13. I never minded growing older until I was in my mid-40s. Birthdays didn’t affect me except for turning 42 and 50. I was bothered by my 42nd because I had list count and stupidly thought I was turning 41 until someone pointed out my mistake and joked that you couldn’t hold onto 41 anymore than age 29 could repeat itself year after year. When I realized I was actually turning 42, I felt like I had instantly list a year of my life and got upset. That’s when I began a sort of countdown: “if I want to do this or that before I die, how much time will it.require and do I have enough healthy years left to get it done?” Turning 50; well, it was just the size of the number, I guess. But I have found aging to be a sort of agent of freedom. I care less about what others think in more ways than just about my physical appearance. I express myself more confidently, have no fear of traveling alone or eating alone in restaurants, although I love the company of my family more. I just want to live well as I get older, and crave more time to enjoy living. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experience. I enjoyed this post.

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    • I like the idea of aging as an agent of freedom. It’s one thing to recognize that and another to change the behaviors of a lifetime. I think that’s where I’m at – recognizing that I want things that I value to take my time and energy and to shed much that holds little value.

      Having spent much of my life as a rule follower, I find myself torn between my creative self and my self that still finds comfort in coloring within the lines. We’re always works in progress and I’m grateful that I have a little more time to get things sorted!

      I’m glad that you enjoyed the post and appreciate that you shared your own experience of aging.

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  15. My feet are amazing. They have seen action every day for the last seventy years. And there is absolutely NOTHING wrong with them! I have gadgets in my kitchen that have broken down before the one year guarantee has run out. yet I only recently began to appreciate the craftsmanship that went into creating them. Thank you feet.! Sally

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    • It’s an odd thing, but I’ve come to appreciate my ass much more. After years of martial arts kicking and running, I’ve come to appreciate the power and importance of those muscles. I’m grateful to my feet, too – they’ve taken quite the beating, from combat boots to running shoes to sparring . I’ve learned to pamper them well.

      I love your enthusiasm and gratitude for your feet. Thanks for sharing!

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  16. I bought a bottle of wine at Walgreen’s yesterday. As I reached for my wallet to pay, the clerk at the register said “Oh, I don’t need to see your ID”.

    Yep. Middle age is here to stay.

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  17. Michelle, this is a beautiful statement:
    “But what I feel about my body is kinder, more accepting, more appreciative and more respectful.”
    And it really resonates with me (even though I hate mine right now b/c I’m still sick). I totally “get” what you mean here and feel it.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Pingback: A Body of Evidence – perpetual compassion

  19. That final paragraph hits home for me. As in my (he)art, the bottom line is to be the best with where I am in my life/craft/career/relationships and in this sense, geesh, ***my body***. 🙂

    It’s helpful to know others like yourself and your set of ‘commenters’ are mindfully engaged in life wherever it falls on the ‘timeline’….ya know?

    BTW – for your consideration: I nominated you for a fun 3days/3quotes challenge. Info here on my blog post http://laurabrunolilly.com/day-two-goofy-three-quotes-three-days/

    No pressure, but, sometimes it’s fun to take a break on the crafting of ‘perfect’ blog posts!

    take care
    peace

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    • Hi Laura – I missed this comment the first time around. You mention something that I really appreciate – the commenters and “mindful engagement”. I love that phrase. My body this week is feeling beat up after some tough work outs, but I try to remember to thank it!

      Thanks for the nomination – it was kind of you to think of me!

      Liked by 1 person

  20. Amen! I believe what you said; I really do. And I’m constantly reminding myself to enjoy what this astonishing pile of flesh is still able to do. But I still really, really want to be thin, young, fit and beautiful.

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  21. I love this piece. I found myself having, and expressing, the same thoughts about ten years back. I am finding more to like about my body every day. It is my friend, my barometer — it tells me when I’m getting in over my head quicker than my brain ever will. The image stuff – well, it began to take on far less importance and I’ve started to enjoy the sight of my older self, naked, in the mirror. One look and I can see all the years that went into what I’m viewing. Instead of the losses, I see what has been given to me. Perhaps I am more acutely aware of it because so many people I know and love have suffered physically at very young ages. I can no longer do some of the things I used to do. Our bodies remind us that we can take nothing for granted. Also? I got bored with the girl inside me who believed in magazine ideals of beauty.

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    • Thank you, Elizabeth. I am still challenged when it comes to seeing my own reflection. It’s hard to shake the cultural aesthetic expectations that have saturated my consciousness, which is why I turn my focus to functionality so often. I like your point about being bored with that girl who believed the magazine ideals. I found the same with me – just not interesting enough to retain my attention.

      I spend a lot of time at a nursing home and it seems a constant reminder not to take movement and strength for granted, knowing that someday those things will be gone. And you’re right, knowing how much some people have lost, including their lives, at young ages, does make one appreciate being here, rusty bolts and all.

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  22. Pingback: A Body of Evidence — The Green Study – thecreativeenvironmentalnetwork

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