IT DOESN’T MATTER
“Wait until you’re 60,” my beautiful white-haired Carole King looking friend, Julie, said to me a few years back. “You become invisible.” I couldn’t imagine her being invisible with her clear bright green blue eyes vibrant in the purples and turquoises she throws together with scarves and shirts and sweaters she wears. I laughed thinking she was kidding as she went on to further explain that she had started noticing the decreasing looks that were once very common not coming at her with the frequency she was used to. Once she crossed over to the other side of menopause, there was definitely a shift.
She must be exaggerating I thought. I am mostly and have always been mostly blind to being looked at by the opposite and sometimes same sex. Though my seventy year young partner is convinced that I continue to “turn heads,” I often think it is just simply his head I turn as I plow through my days unaware, happily not noticing whether I do or not. I am a grown woman and as long as I am turning his head, this is all that matters to me. This sounds so non feminist here, I was almost not going to write this, but truth be told, I like the energy that is the sensual side and I like the idea of turning heads especially my partner’s. I just know that it is not the head turning that validates my worth, I just enjoy it if it happens and I happen to notice.
But today and this week as a matter of fact I have started to notice the invisibility Julie had spoken of a few years back. When I am at the beach in a bathing suit, no one (except maybe an occassional 70+ man) are looking because I have crossed over with menopause as my bridge to the other side. The side where it doesn’t matter what bathing suit I wear to the beach, there is no one looking anymore. Not a woman, not a man, it just doesn’t matter anymore not that it ever should have mattered, but more on that later. And this is fricking liberating. As I make my way down to the waters edge from my super private spot with my strong amazon Serena Williams like thighs, curvey hips and hour glass figure I was told was the desired shape, I climb between the bikini clad masses. It is like I am Wonder Woman in the Invisible Jet leaving any vestiges of concern that my bathing suit is not fitting properly on the Paradise Islands of Themyscira along with the other Amazonian priestesses. What a difference a week makes.
I get to be the post menopausal now 53 year old woman looking affectionately at the tribe of twenty year olds and smile thinking, this too shall pass. I want to say to their glorious bodies not a one of them seem to be self conscious about in their bikinis that are way beyond what Cheryl Tiegs ever dreamed about, I am so proud of you for owning it. If that in fact is what is really happening as I make my way past one after the other of the firmest tannest asses barely covered by the new semi wide thong bikini bottoms. I wish I had that type of body confidence when my body was like that and I never allowed myself permission to believe it was. (until I look at pictures where I actually thought I was fat and holy shit realize how wrong I was- what a waste). I can hear my grandmother Isabelle’s voice saying, “Don’t they realize they leave nothing to the imagination?” Followed by a tsk tsk tsk sound and a disapproving head shake. Grandma, come on, if you had that ass at twenty in this day and age, you would have wanted it to be a shining beacon of glorious ass light too.
My generation of girls grew up with such negative body shaming and talk so to see young girls owning their bodies, I greatly appreciate it. My generation grew up thinking we were fat when we weren’t, thinking we were supposed to be dieting when we should have been eating. These girls at least at the beach today walked with an air of body confidence and body joy as they jumped around easily in their skin playing Frisbee and volleyball, uncovered exposed in their bathing suits with no shorts or coverups that would minimize their glorious figures. All shapes and sizes, they appeared strong and confident. I hope their inside thinking matches their outside stories because this would be a generation of pure body owning power. Maybe the cycle of body shaming chain we have inadvertently been taught in our generation has finally been broken. I admire them and I smile at them and they smile back probably thinking she looks good for her age.
I used to really struggle with negative body image thinking my body was never good enough. What does this even mean? Not good enough compared to who? Besides the beginning of the week when I was trying to get used to my new upper half in a bathing suit top that was clearly too small now, I actually released this feeling mostly. If this is because of my age and my superpowers are now under the radar because of my aging self then I welcome this new directive, clearly another bonus in the aging process. There are all shapes and sizes of beautiful figures at the beach; the young women stand out much more than the young men. With the invention of the 24/7 camera in the phone, though, I watch the girls take photos of each other like they are modeling for a magazine and I pray it is not for an amateur porn site. I still worry that these girls are grappling with the same issues. Rewind. Repeat. Seeing how we actually look at the beach, I can see the appeal of this. I have been curious if the suit I have chosen is the way I thought it looked when I first tried it on, after all we are in our almost barest of selves, talk about vulnerable. For the most part I am satisfied these days. This is a long way from my old self of feeling “fat” or “not good enough.”
These young girls think nothing of posing out in front of the world at the beach taking photo after photo of each other, tousling their hair like they are auditioning for a Victoria Secret Catalogue. I, along with two other women I have become acquainted with this week at the beach in passing, sit there watching, mouths open thankful they are not our daughters we have to deal with. But they are. They are all our symbolic daughters as they have watched their mothers and us take our own selfies as we get dressed and look at our own selves in our mirrors. We are between smiling at their incredible adorableness and worried like moms that this is indicative of a new generation of women consumed with their outward appearance as proof of their worth in the world. I wonder what they will be doing with the pictures. Do they think they look as incredible as we think they look as we watch them sass in front of the camera posing for a frontal and a behind the scenes photo shot? Or do they look at the photos they immediately review and think “fat, not good enough, could be better here or there?” We doublespeak our body talk. I do it here in my writing as I reread. Happy to be invisible? That is kind of fucked up, that I need invisible to be liberated? Eeek. We tell our girls (and our boys who are watching by the way) one thing from our mouths, “you are beautiful, you are good enough, you are strong and smart!” We think that our words speak volumes, but it is more often our actions that are the teachers as we fidget our clothes in the mirrors, look at our backsides with disdain and outwardly mock our appearance by thinking we don’t look right in something as we once again judge. And they watch. And they learn. And no matter what we say, the cycle continues because what the media expects, no matter how many Dove commercials showing “real women” come out, Weight Watchers is coming out at the same time with Teen programs to get them “healthier and fitter” (aka thinner) whether they need it or not. Rebecca Scritchfield wrote a great piece in The Washington Post that I have copied here about the problems with Weight Watcher’s intention and messaging.
If you are reading this and have a child especially a daughter who is constantly looking at herself in the mirror or doing these poses for selfies and with friends at the beach, we need to make sure it is not turning into those early patterns that were or still are likely part of our own world. We need to pay attention to our own under the radar messaging in the way we look at ourselves in our own mirror. This is at least part of the way they are learning and literally mirroring. It has taken me three surgeries and the literal removal and replacement of my breasts along with fifty three years to get to the place of body acceptance and I still struggle. Images are powerful and Weight Watchers Teen program is not the only problem our children are facing. How I have struggled with my own constant battle of negative body self talk and then ultimately being “happy” to be in the under the radar invisible realm is itself a negative. The previous self induced pressure I no longer have is off of me to have my body be at some unattainable bar that I will never reach. The irony now is it doesn’t matter and I care so much less. Not in a give it up and eat till my heart’s content kind of way, but just letting it go and allowing the next generation of young women to figure it out.
One of the glorious elements of writing is that as I get to provoke thoughts about a variety of topics and in doing so I get to unveil my own personal challenges, hopefully solving some of them along the way. Maybe by sharing my own vulnerability and personal issues, I am in some ways helping others identify and work through theirs. Or maybe not. Maybe all of this superficial talk is causing eye rolls among my sister friends out there in the world. Who knows, all I can do is keep writing and sharing and this is my freedom every day.