Fairest shmairest! Let’s get real about beauty and body image. Mirror, Mirror is a column running every other Thursday on The Frisky. It is written by Brooklyn-based columnist, freelance writer, and bagel enthusiast, Kate Fridkis who also writes the blog Eat the Damn Cake. You can follow her on Twitter at @eatthedamncake.
The other day, I was having lunch with a 65-year-old woman who was on a strict diet. She told me she needed to lose 10 pounds before she would feel like a real person again. She wasn’t letting herself buy any new clothes until she dropped a couple sizes. She loved fashion, but she wanted to punish herself, so that she would learn her lesson.
“No, no,” I protested. “You look great! You don’t need to change anything.”
She gave me an empty smile. “That’s sweet of you.”
She didn’t like her hair either. She didn’t like her arms. They were too flabby, she thought. Her legs were too short. And then, of course, there were her wrinkles. She was racing against time to combat all of the signs that she was no longer 30. And suddenly, I was scared.
Because I think these things about myself. I think that my legs are too short and my hair is too fine and my clothes would look better if I just lost a little weight and my arms — don’t even get me started on my arms. They have betrayed me. They are my sworn enemy. We must not speak their name.
But when I imagine getting older, I imagine that I won’t care about all this anymore. I’ll have gotten over it. I’ll have kids and stuff. I’ll think about that instead. Maybe my career will have gone fantastically and I’ll be really busy writing screenplays for movies based on my bestselling YA fantasy series about a chubby girl with dangerous and inexplicable secret powers. That would be cool. But listening to my 65-year-old friend, I realized that the end of body insecurity isn’t necessarily in sight. It can go on forever. It just might.
So I made some basic goals for myself that I want to reach by the time I’m 65, because I don’t want to end up having lunch with a young woman one day and telling her that I still can’t accept myself. I don’t want my experience of being a woman to always be dragged down by impossible or at least painful expectations for my appearance. I don’t want to be forever stuck in a cycle of trying to tweak the way I look until I look closer to perfection, because there is no such thing as perfection, and because there is always something else to tweak. So here is what I want to be able to do at 65:
Be able to laugh at myself. I want to do this before I criticize myself. I want to find the situation funny instead of humiliating, funny instead of a failure, funny instead of disappointing.
Be able to appreciate my body for what it does, not how it looks. We waste so much time obsessing about the surface, while underneath, all of this stuff is going exactly right. That’s the stuff that gets you to, and past, 65. That’s the stuff we should be celebrating.
Feel sexy without looking in the mirror. I think sex has gotten mixed up with shiny smooth young skin and push-up bras. Feeling sexy has gotten tangled up in looking a certain, very specific way. But sex is a lot bigger than all that. It’s deep and primal and complex and subtle. You can have great sex on a terrible hair day, and feeling sexy without having to reference a Victoria’s Secret catalogue is pretty empowering. Look at how hot Helen Mirren is—how about I’m like her when I’m older? Or how about I just feel the way she looks?
Eat without guilt. Food is one of the best things about being alive. Too often, we learn to be afraid of it, to face off against it like it’s mortal combat. Eating something delicious can feel like giving in and giving up, even when it’s just, you know, eating something delicious. At 86 and 92, my grandmothers still feel guilty about dessert. I don’t want to.
Care more about other stuff instead. Beauty matters, but so do a lot of other things, and a lot of those other things will make you much happier. I want to look back and shake my head at my younger self, how distracted by this crap I used to be. Of course, I’ll still be living in a world that stands around leering at the girls going by, but I want to have found a safer, more comfortable place in it. I want to have perfected rolling my eyes.
That’s not so much to ask, is it? I want to get better at being alive the longer I live. I want to trust and like myself more.
But here’s the thing about reaching those goals: I might not just automatically change when I turn 40 or 52 or 64. I might get worse. I might curse my younger self for not realizing that at least her skin was relatively smooth! At least her boobs weren’t sagging! At least, at least, at least!
I hear older women talk like that a lot. They didn’t know how good they had it until they lost it. And yet women in their mid-20s like me seem unable to appreciate the beauty that we will one day desperately miss losing. So it’s a Catch 22. You’re set up to wring your hands at every stage. You’re set up to buy a lot of facial creams and magical bras and magazines with 345 totally simple steps to getting the perfect butt. Unless you just stop.
And after writing my little list of goals for when I’m older, I think that’s the trick.
Not later. Not when you’re older and hopefully wiser. Not when you get your promotion or have your baby or turn 40 or whatever. Because you will still be yourself then, just like you’re yourself now. I will still be me. And if I am the kind of person who has made a nemesis of my arms, then I might keep fighting them until we both go over the side of a cliff.