It was always the plan to write about body image, size and so on in this blog at some point and I’m sure this won’t be the last time it is a topic. But I didn't plan on writing about it so soon. However, this week something happened that made me feel it was worthy of post number 3.
I co-founded and co-admin a group on Facebook for freelance writers, and I posted about the blog, hoping the others on there would share their thoughts and any writing they’re doing about this stage of life.
As I expected, they did, but one thing stood out. The talk soon turned to bodies, body image and the ageing process. There was talk of ‘things dropping’, of bodies not doing or being what we expect (or expected) of them at 39, 40 and beyond. Of eyes as well as midriffs failing us, of hormones changing our bodies without our consent. So I decided it was pertinent enough to make it the next topic.
Hence the pic - me eating. There were plenty to choose from, believe me. But is that so bad?!
At the same time as this discussion unfolded, I saw a stat that 57% of women are unhappy with their appearance. 40% of us* avoid looking in the mirror because we hate what we see. 40%!!!! Good lord. This makes me so sad. How, also, are these women doing their eyeliner in a straight line??! Then I saw a report that a recent government study found that 64% of women are unhappy with their body’s shape and size. And I know I am among them.
But I also know it's time I realised it isn't anyone’s fault or problem but my own. I have filled diaries - not just teenage but grown up, too - with swathes of loathing for my body. Hated my stomach so much I punched and grabbed it in a rage when it felt over-flabby. I've hidden it under too-big dresses, hidden it behind jokes, and spent half my life dieting to try and get 'thinner'. Because thin = happy, right? Hmmmm.
Many women talk about boobs sagging when they get older. Well, my boobs have sagged for as long as I can remember, so that's not a problem. They’ve always been pendulous and I believe the modern way to describe them is teardrop. The nipples don’t point out, they go downwards and no bra has ever truly felt wonderful to wear. (Except Scantilly - push up bras of WONDER).
Strangely, I often prefer how I naked to how I look clothed. If I'm a secret naturist I expect I'll write about that in the summer sometime. from a secluded beach in Greece while I try it out. I'll take a secluded beach in the name of research if I must.
This week there was a certain woman in the papers showing off her (pregnant) body. And it reminded me how we all come in so many shapes and sizes, and how powerful our bodies are, what they can achieve. I'm not a mum yet but my body has carried me through a marathon and the tough mudder so I should be proud of it. But all through the training for tough mudder I hoped I'd lose weight and I compared my body to the other people taking part - even in the photos afterwards. Looking at them now I realise I was happy, fit, a regular size (12-14, usually 14 because of the boobs) and should have been celebrating, not berating.
But then that was nothing new, really. I’ve spent years comparing my body to that of friends (from teen years to college and even once in a naked beer bath in Prague... ahem!) and I really hope that this year I can stop doing that. The comparing and perhaps the naked spas. Although - naturism article part two?!
We talk about bodies, food, exercise, ALL THE TIME. Hell, I'm doing it now. ARGH! My boyfriend (more of him on v-day, romance fans) has alluded the fact that while he loves my body, the thing he doesn’t love is me berating my body all the time. Interjecting through dinner and even bedroom time with ‘I look/feel/am fat’ is not the way to a man’s heart, it turns out.
But that's the the thing. I do feel a bit fat. I am a bit fat. Not loads, but a bit. So, yes lots of us are (me included) not happy with their body. BUT it’s time we also said ‘and we know the reasons why’.
I’ve recently been to see a psychotherapist who helps people deal with body image – it’s for a piece in Metro, so more on that when the piece is published - and talking to him has been revelatory. My body is a good stone overweight. It’s not as fit as it should be. And I am ready to say that it’s nobody’s fault but my own. It's not the dinners I review for Metro, it's not my schedule that 'stops me exercising'. It's me. I've let it all slip a bit.
So for now, my message is, if you are 39 and find your body fine, then bravo, hoorah and yay! BUT if you’re like me and don’t then it's time to take responsibility. Either find a way to love it more, or find a way to make it more loveable.
That could be turning yourself into one of Joe Wicks/The body Coach success stories (Although I often look at the ‘before’ pic in those and think it often looks ok?!) or it could be running a marathon for the first (or tenth) time.
It could be not looking in the mirror and sighing. Or it could be actually looking in the mirror for once.
For me, it will be to shed some lbs and get fitter again. To have the chicken not the beef, skip dessert - skip in the gym. To go to spinning and swimming because I love those, and avoid exercise I don't love so much, like running. It makes my hips hurt. Well, they are 39 and a half years old.
On a recent skiing holiday I veered between talking about how tight my ski trousers were (are) and eating copious amounts of cheese. I feel it's time for that kind of truth-avoidance to stop. Not to ditch cheese (horrors!) but to moan less and be more conscious of the amount of cheese, perhaps. To avoid the copious amounts of food sent into the office, but indulge every so often.
And in the meantime, to stop berating a body that does me proud. A body that houses my soul, a soul that makes people laugh and enjoys life and exploring the planet. A body that is whole, and I should be thankful for that. I may have saggy boobs, but I have boobs, I’m aware that I should be grateful for their giant lolloping healthiness. I should be grateful that my Prosecco belly is due to many, MANY good nights with friends and family.
I went for a lunchtime swim, because I love swimming (and did a selfie afterwards, make up smudges and all), and now I feel that kind of euphoric calm that you get from a bit of your fave exercise. Perfect. I didn't weigh myself afterwards, as I usually would. And I felt liberated! Why do I need to weigh a body that can swim for half an hour? I bought it a feta salad instead. Because as discussed, I can't ever give up all the cheese.
I hope however you feel about your body, you’ll give it a break today and this weekend. 39 is fine to be any shape or size, but if you want to be a different shape or size to the one you are - stronger, slimmer, bigger, fitter, curvier, leaner, then it's also a fine time to do something about it. And be a bit kinder to yourself in the process.
*Survey by weightwatchers