I 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?
Through 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.
My 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.
With 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.