One of my 92-year-old mother’s favorite sayings is something along the lines of “aging is no walk in the park;” in fact, it’s probably the watchword of all the residents in her independent living complex, where if you’re under eighty years old, you’re considered a real youngster. Compared to these folks, I’m still practically a teenager; unfortunately, my own aging body hasn’t quite gotten that message.
Like most of my fellow boomers, I’m quite aware that things don’t work quite the same way they used to and that accommodations have to be made. I’m not complaining, mind you – all in all, I’m very grateful. Nonetheless, I’m on a daily learning curve when it comes to negotiating loving this dear old(er) body and being constantly in touch with my own radical self-love is even more important to sustaining my spirit and my overall health.
In this youth-obsessed culture, it’s no secret that the older a woman gets, the more pressure the outside world exerts to look for every possible means of feeling, looking, and acting as young as possible. There are no end of so-called “beauty” products available promising to make our skin look “dewy again” (was my skin ever dewy in the first place? I was always more worried about stretch marks than dewiness) and wrinkle-free, hair colors to banish the dreaded gray threads, and exercise and diet programs to fend off the effects that gravity has on our bodies, as if every natural phenomenon of aging were some dreaded curse it was our duty to fight.
And the pressure is pretty successful, based on the millions of dollars spent on the vast array of cosmetics and other products women (and men) buy every year. For those of us for whom not only being comfortable in our bodies, but loving and cherishing our bodies as we explore strategies for making radical self-love an anchor in our lives, learning to accept our aging bodies, and the changes aging brings can be a real challenge. Even without the 24/7 promises that some new medication (all those miraculously healthy looking people on TV just due to some new drug!) or some new skin care lotion will solve all our problems.
I think it can sometimes be even harder for those of us who have also struggled with body image all our lives.
These campaigns go hand-in-hand with images of a new “senior lifestyle;” a carefree post-retirement existence in which everyone is slim, attractive and in perfect health. Aging has been conquered in this world. Class, race and income disparities have been erased, as if this new ideal of ‘senior living” were accessible to all. In reality, few can afford it, but everyone can dream about and look for ways to emulate it.
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For many women, including many of my friends, coloring their hair, wearing make-up and other ways of caring for their appearance remain an important part of their self-image regardless of their age. And I don’t mean to sound critical of anyone’s choices in doing what makes her feel good about herself!
But how do we navigate the frustrations that come with acknowledging to ourselves that outward appearance can take us only so far, and that our aging bodies often present us with new challenges that can be unpleasant, inconvenient, uncomfortable, or painful.
For example, without offering “too much information” of a personal nature, I, along with almost every other woman I know around my age and older, have a problem that can be uncomfortable and embarrassing, requiring the use of what these days are euphemistically called “adult undergarments.” Accepting this – something that at one time I would have blamed myself for (“should have done those Kegel exercises when I was young”, “it’s my own fault because I’m fat,” the fact is that there are many different causes) – brought me back to thinking about radical self-love.
I use this example because radical self-love is about learning to understand the relationship of how we see ourselves in the context of how our culture teaches us to see ourselves, and understanding how warped those images often are. The cultural image factory is the foundation for generating the billions of dollars we spend in our never-ending efforts to find a spot for ourselves somewhere within the acceptable boundaries of “normal.”
The most successful strategy the image factory has? Shaming. What can be more shaming than the fear of having an “accident” in public, of smelling bad, of being seen as, you know – old? The stigma of looking older, recognizing the changes in our bodies as we age that bring limitations, and having to adapt how we do things pervades our culture as if aging were a curse rather than a normal stage of life.
Radical self-love, on the other hand, opens us up to remembering that we are not alone in this evolving experience, and that we have the opportunity both to draw strength from each other and share our strength with each other.
My “baby-boomer” generation gets a lot of noise from those who are following us, but I say, thank heaven I’m a boomer at a time when all these great products are getting invented for us (because we’re such a big market). I don’t even want to think about what a pain it must have been before “adult undergarments” were invented.
Women (and men) my age are living longer and better lives even as our bodies age. Radical self-love reminds us that the real issues today regarding aging are about housing, nutrition, health care and elder care, both here in the US and globally. For me, the path to radical self-love is about keeping things in perspective; seeking support for my own struggles as I adapt to new circumstances while always remembering the world is a lot bigger than my own backyard.
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Things my aging body teaches about renewing radical self-love:
1.When it comes to negotiating the changes aging brings, renewing our radical self-love is important to sustaining our spirit and overall health.
Learning to adapt and accept new limitations beyond our control requires a learning curve. Renewing our commitment to radical self-love gives us the tools and helps us tap into the power that comes with the affirmations of radical self-love.
2. Aging reminds us again how radical self-love is about learning to understand the relationship of how we see ourselves in the context of how our culture teaches us to see ourselves.
When we were younger radical self-love helped us understand how warped those images are. As we age, we see how the cultural pressure continues to age in a certain way; class, race and income disparities are even more clearly delineated in the cultural ideal of “senior living.”
3. The older you get, the more amazing your body is.
Recognizing that not everyone’s body is without pain or trauma, to the extent we are fortunate enough to be dealing with our aging body, consider thinking about what an incredible home your body is for this person who is you, especially if you are one of the many of us who has spent many years not loving your body. If you live to be 80 years old, you may have taken many more than 500 million breaths courtesy of your respiratory system, and according to the website Wonderopolis, by the time you are 80 years old, you would have logged over three billion heartbeats. Our bodies hurt, our bodies let us down as we age, our bodies frustrate us – but what an astonishing piece of machinery we are.
4.Your horizon is only as broad as your perspective.
Renewing radical self-love reminds us that we are not alone in this evolving experience, and that we have the opportunity both to draw strength from others and share our strength with others. Radical self-love also reminds us that the real issues today regarding aging are about housing, nutrition, health care and elder care, both here in the U.S. and globally. We can seek support for our own struggles with adapting to new circumstances while always remembering the world is a bigger than our own backyards.