The Musings of a 40-year-old Woman in a Stage of Contemplation...
I’m standing in front of the full-length mirror in my apartment wearing a bikini. Why am I doing this? I’m going away next week, for the first time this year and I want to check that it still fits me and still looks ok etc.
“Yes,” I’m happy with what I see, happy with the bikini, happy with my body. Phew, what a relief. I’ve spent the last forty years hating my body, thinking that it isn’t normal, that it isn’t good enough and that I’ve failed in some way as a woman. Dreading holidays, dreading the summer and generally missing out on life because of it. I can tell you, it’s great to be free of it.
I want to tell you that you don’t need to spend any more wasted time looking at girls on Instagram and thinking that you’re a failure because you don’t look the same. You’re not. Please don’t buy into it. It’s bullshit.
WHY AM I SO HAPPY NOW WITH HOW I LOOK?
Is my body perfect? No.
Is it near to perfect? No.
Have I lost weight? No.
Have I toned up? No.
Do I still have cellulite on my bum? Yes.
Do I still have stretch marks on my tummy? Yes.
Do I still have a range of strange scars up and down my body of a varying nature? Yes.
Is my body getting less firm with each passing year that goes by? Yes.
In fact, is my body the worst aesthetically that it has ever looked now that I’m nearly 40? Yes.
SO WHY AM I SO OK WITH ANY OF THIS? PLEASE, READ ON…
When I was thirteen a TV programme called Baywatch hit our screens. The boys at school were making a big fuss about some girl named Pamela Anderson, who evidently was the woman of all of their dreams. Like most teenage girls who had been sold the idea that being desired by men is the most important thing in life, I needed to see who she was and what she looked like and I tuned in to watch.
My heart skipped a beat, she was a real beauty. Minutes later my heart sank – how could I ever hope to look like her? I had no idea that she wasn’t even real. I tried, and I tried very hard to fit into this very defined version of beauty.
In fact, I’d spend years trying to look like Pamela Anderson or Kate Moss or whoever the magazines were pushing at the time. I suppose the modern-day equivalent would be Lily-Rose Depp or Cara Delevingne.
I’d spend many miserable hours at the gym, at the hairdressers or in the bathroom. I'd spend unbelievable amounts of money on clothes, diet fads, beauty and hair products. I spent hours, days, weeks, months and years hating myself because I could never quite achieve this very narrowly defined vision of what is attractive to men.
ACCEPT MYSELF - WHAT DO YOU MEAN?
It never once even crossed my mind to take a look at myself, accept who I was, and realise that I was already more than good enough. Luckily the effects of all of this didn’t lead me to have an eating disorder – so powerful these messages were. Around 50% of the women I know did, and many still do -a lot goes on behind closed doors.
My parents are feminists so none of this oppressive socialisation came from them – so where did it come from? It came from society, from the media and from our cultural norms.
MY BODY IS NORMAL AND IT IS UNIQUELY BEAUTIFUL - SO IS YOURS
We don’t teach our girls and young women this, and we don’t teach them how to love themselves. We teach our girls to look pretty and then we feed them an image that’s not normal, not healthy and completely unrealistic. We are conditioned from a very early age to hate ourselves. To compare ourselves to other women who aren’t real and to constantly feel like we’re not enough.
If we didn’t feel so insecure then say goodbye to the multi-billion dollar beauty industry and to women’s glossy magazines. They need us to feel terrible about ourselves so that we spend all of our disposable income on products and ideas in the hope they will make us more attractive, more desirable and more ‘normal’.
Firstly, the women we think we want to look like are not real, they are images manipulated by photoshop and plastic surgery so we could NEVER look like them anyway.
Secondly, and more importantly, we are women, so we are already attractive, desirable and ‘normal’ and we don’t need anything to ‘solve’ this.
I HAVE CELLULITE
I’ve always had it – since I was about 20. It’s been my guilty secret and something that until recently I’ve felt very ashamed of. I felt I’d failed in some way as a woman, 'there must be something wrong with me?' Who would ever want a girlfriend with cellulite, surely all men want a woman who can wear hot pants with a smooth derriere...
Firstly, men do not want this, men want all of the same things that women want in a partner – respect, admiration, trust, loyalty, intelligence, compassion, attraction etc. Someone they can be themselves with and who they can depend on.
SECONDLY AND MORE IMPORTANTLY – IT DOESN’T MATTER WHAT MEN WANT
We are taught from a very early age that the be-all-and-end-all of life is to be in a romantic relationship, and for that, we need to be desirable. The most important thing in our life is how desirable we are. This is such massive bullshit on such a gigantic scale and yet we've all bought into it.
Nobody is going to die because we have cellulite. Rest assured if Kim Kardashian has cellulite (and we all now know she does) then there is NOTHING to be done about it. If anyone could do anything about it – she would. So what shall we do about it? Here’s an idea – let’s accept it. Cellulite is a socially constructed phenomena to make women feel even worse about themselves so we’ll buy more products.
MY STRETCH MARKS
They were once red and angry from the savagery of childbirth, and a constant reminder of what a failure I was. Now with time, they’ve relaxed gently into my skin and float on the top of my stomach in faded silver. They’re not prettier, just different and I like them, yes you heard me, I like them. They are a constant reminder of the beautiful journey that I’ve had as a mother of which they were the starting point. Stretch marks from pregnancy are a privilege some women would do anything for.
A big one down the inside of my right thigh from the time I fell off a motorbike when I was fourteen – my parents still don’t know about it to this day. Another big one on my left shin, from broken glass when playing out one summer’s evening as a kid. I have scars on my arms from burns when working in the chippy as a teenager. Do I regret any of these things or these scars? No.
THE HUMAN BODY IS THE GREATEST MIRACLE ON EARTH
We should honour it. It does not matter what it looks like. It is here to serve us. It allows us to move, to see, to hear, to taste, to travel, to read, to discover, to embrace, to think, to act, to love and to touch. I have no idea why we are fortunate enough to be here but I’m confident that it isn’t to punish ourselves comparing one human body to another.
So when I say I’m happy with how I look, it’s because it doesn’t matter how I look, none of it matters. So yes I’m happy that I have a healthy human body.
I know on my deathbed I’m not going to think “I wish I’d had more toned arms” or “I wish my breasts had been larger”. I’m not going to think about these things.
It’s only been these last few years and I’ve had space and time to reflect, that I’ve managed to realise and articulate any of this. I wish I’d have thought about it so much sooner, like so many other things, and I wouldn’t have wasted so much of my precious time.
I invite you to recognise the bullshit. Reject it. Set yourself free. Know that you are enough. Encourage your daughters, sisters, friends and mothers to do the same. Save yourself some precious time.