I wanted to share this less than flattering story with you in case you are having struggles with body image and feeling capable of adventure, especially if you are in your menopause years. I feel like we don’t talk about these moments of doubt enough, and I would venture a guess that they are much more common than we might think. We live in a culture that is so tough on us and how we look, no matter what size or body fat percentage we might have.
One of the things no one tells you about perimenopause is how quickly your body composition can change. While I know that was subtly happening over the years, it felt like my menopause belly and cellulite appeared overnight. The stress of the pandemic and being at home all of the time have also contributed to my current body. The image I have been used to seeing reflected in the mirror looks new and unfamiliar – wrinkled and sporting gray hair and, dare I say it, soft in all of the places I used to notice muscles.
It’s not an easy pill to swallow when you’ve spent your life gauging your worth on how your body looks. “Your body (or your weight) is the least interesting thing about you” may be the newest mantra for a healthy mindset, but I grew up in the 80s, and my mantra was quite the opposite. “At least you have a good body” was my consolation for feeling ‘not pretty enough’. Whatever the heck ‘good body’ means.
How refreshing it is to learn now that those attitudes we were taught as kids were bullsh*t. I remember going to the pediatrician when I was 11 and being lectured for the fact that I had gained 12 pounds that year. Never mind that I was about to go into a huge growth spurt and would grow 5 inches in the next year, gaining only 7 pounds – because I was making sure to restrict my food after school. I could write pages and pages about all of the messed up ways diet culture and body ideals have affected me through the years. I make progress, and then I fall back. The reality is that those old attitudes and values still rattle around in me and can come in blazing when the time is right.
The night before we left to ski Crater Lake was one of those times. As I stared into the mirror with my new pack on, testing the fit and adjusting the straps to make sure they were fitting correctly, I had a moment. I looked at the woman reflected there, and I saw all of her flaws. It took my breath away, how loud and mean that voice was. “Look at those folds at your armpits! Ewww. And that belly – Jesus. Back off the ice cream. How are you going to be able to ski around Crater Lake with rolls like that? Your feet hurt because you have gained a lot of weight, you fatty.” The I who is that voice hates her/me, this ugly thing in the mirror, lazy and weak and disgusting.
In that moment, I wanted nothing more than to cancel the attempt, certain that my body could not be capable of such an audacious goal when it looked like this.
When I caught myself wondering if I should reconsider adding Skratch to my water because of the extra calories (just think of what you will burn!) I had to stop myself. I know this line of thinking. It is dark and it is unhelpful.
So I picked up my pen instead and wrote this:
What does it mean to let go of the self hate? What do we lose, and why does it feel so scary? If I learn to accept what I see, I fear I will get…I don’t know what. Not lazy. I love to take on challenges because of how they make me feel. I’m not going to stop doing that if I stop hating what I see in the mirror. What is it lurking at the heart of this dialogue? Is it just that these thoughts are so familiar that to lose them feels like losing part of myself?
What would I have to feel if I accept myself as I am? Anger. Anger at all of the time lost, anger at the way the world treats people, anger that we are put into these boxes and that the world asks these things of us. If our culture asks us to be sexy and beautiful and strong and young to matter, then we either spend all of our energy chasing those ideals or we don’t matter – either way, we stay small and ineffective, don’t we? Because we’re either too tired or too irrelevant to shake things up and claim our power. Which makes me angry because it is such a waste – of talent, of energy, of time. If I accept myself as I am, then I have to accept that I have spent much of my life chasing the wrong things.
There is an inferno inside of me. I am furious at the way my life has been – the ways I have been made small and have been asked to stand back. Everything in my experience has asked me to accept what is given, to strive for smallness, to chase an unattainable ideal. And I see now that I have a choice. I can keep on hating myself, hating what I see, judging my rolls and my wrinkles and my cellulite and my gray hair, focusing on all the things I can only affect by starving and cutting myself – keeping me small and quiet and busy – or I can erupt like a god damned volcano.
Later I wondered, what if that voice in your head is also the voice of your fear poking at those parts of you that it knows will keep you from trying big things in an attempt to keep you safe?
I was scared about skiing around the lake. My greatest fear was that I was too broken to do something that hard. I think part of what I felt looking in the mirror was also that fear coming to life in a familiar refrain.
The truth is, though – that body, that one with the rolls and the cellulite and the imperfections – it kicked ass out there in the snow. It worked hard for hours longer than it ever has – at any weight or in any shape – and it was strong. It was capable. I think we can learn so much when we have these dark moments and take the time to really look at why they happen so that we can be better prepared to answer them in the future.
I am not going to pretend that I won’t hear that voice again. I know I will. She’s been with me for a very long time. But I am not going to let her keep the Skratch out of my water or have her discourage me from the ice cream. I’m not going to let her convince me that I can’t do hard things because I don’t look like I used to. We can be strong, and we can eat all the snacks. And I think we will be better for it.