As we go through the various stages of life, we change not only intellectually and emotionally, but also physically. During the pre-teen years, this is considered a good thing. We can’t wait to grow up, so that we can do things that the “big kids” do. Then we become teens, and while we still covet becoming 18 or 21 so that we can legally drive or vote or drink, for the first time in our lives we are concerned about our physical changes. Clear complexions give way to acne, girls fret over whether their breasts are too large or too small, and boys who don’t yet have to shave worry about their manliness. Somehow, though, we survive all that, and before we know it we are 21+ adults.
As adults, men might worry about their weight or physique, but due to the importance our society places on slim, beautiful female bodies, it is women who seem to experience the greatest body angst. Added to that are the changes that the female body undergoes through the process of pregnancy. The result? A lot of women who are unhappy with their bodies. Just the other day I saw a photo of a group of women who appeared on the Today show to celebrate their post-baby bodies. The caption read, “Moms dare to bare post-pregnancy bellies.” Dare? Really? Doesn’t this give new Moms the message that their bodies are something to hide, and be ashamed of? Make no mistake about it, this message of shame gets internalized by many.
Fast forward to perimenopause, menopause, and their male counterparts (which I do believe exist). More body changes. Women experience hot flashes, moodiness and irritability, and have trouble concentrating. Men notice their receding hairlines, and their once flat bellies that might now be paunches. Again, at this stage we revisit the feeling of dissatisfaction with our bodies. Often depression sets in, because these changes have crept up on us, and we don’t feel ready for them. We say, “I’m too young for my body to be doing this. I’m not ready!” It feels as though we’re on a runaway train over which we have no control.
In later years, we may begin to realize certain limitations in what we can do or how we can move. More dissatisfaction with the way we are, again fed by what our society seems to value the most — beautiful people who are healthy, active, and productive. It doesn’t do a good job of acknowledging elders and offering respect for the rich, fruitful lives they may have led in the past.
I suggest that, no matter what stage of live you are in, you begin to positively affirm your body. If there are things that you can do to improve your health, such as exercise or diet changes, by all means do that — because, if you don’t do what’s within your control to do, you have absolutely no right to feel sorry for the state of your body. But, if you live each day taking care of your body in the best way you can, allow yourself to embrace it lovingly. It’s yours, and it’s the only one you have. Stop treating it like an unwanted stepchild!