It was a scene all too familiar–me standing in a changeroom, fluorescent lights casting shadows in a most unappealing way, cringing at the sight of myself in the lilac-coloured t-shirt I was trying on. I could see rolls. I could see belly. I could see that I was no longer 16. I heaved a deep sigh and decided that I looked too grotesque in the t-shirt and needed to put it away.
The sales associate, an attractive, funky, fuller-figured woman asked me how it went. I could hear the whining in my voice as I explained how I couldn’t possibly purchase the t-shirt. “I understand, hon,” she said. “You’re having one of those days. You’re feeling depressed so nothing looks good.”
“No,” I replied, “I’m not depressed. I’m coming to terms with the fact that my body is not 16 any more and I’m having a hard time with it.”
“HONEY,” she said, loudly, “I’m 44!” And she spread her arms wide for all to see.
Damn, she looked good in her loose royal blue top, black leggings and high boots. There were curves there, and wrinkles, and, no doubt, her boobs would sneak down towards her waistline if she let them out of their sling, but she wore it all very well. She wore it with pride even though, as she confessed, she wasn’t feeling so hot about herself that day either.
Why do we, as women over 40, do this to ourselves?
Then I saw this trailer and it explained so much:
Middle-aged women really are invisible, aren’t we? TV is stocked with ads focusing on cute little baby girls, young women obsessed with buying the “right” tampon, and women over 50 who are smiling joyfully because their diapers held up when they pissed themselves in public, or they didn’t hoark their dentures into the birthday cake, thank you Poligrip! So where are we, the perimenopausal queens?
Oh, we’re there and we’re horrifying. Actresses whom I admired when I was a teenager, women not much older than I, are still showing themselves on the pages of magazines and on TV screens, but they’ve mangled themselves, all in the name of beauty and youthfulness. Blindingly white porcelain veneers, facial skin stretched tight like plastic wrap, lips Botoxed into life preserver status, and boobs packed full of things that just can’t be good for you. Yes, we, the middle-aged women, are the Frankenwomen, hacking ourselves to shreds so that we can go back in time, back to that 16 year old body.
Hate to tell ya, ladies, but it ain’t gonna happen. No amount of mangling yourself will ever make you 16 again. (I know. That’s a hard one to take.)
So then, again, why do we do it? I think it’s to be seen, to have a presence in this world, to be acknowledged again. I understand that. It’s horrible to feel like you don’t exist, like you could run down the street naked and on fire, and no one would see you. Feeling like a non-entity is a certain kind of torture, yes, but attempting to make your mark by playing into a demented, youth-oriented, culture that sexualizes women, and throws them away when their “worth” expires, is equally as demented. I say give it up.
Here’s the thing: We can’t change anyone’s mind about us, but we can change our own minds. Maybe the world refuses to recognize us but we can recognize ourselves. We’re never invisible when we can see ourselves.
This morning I had a fantasy about starting a project (I love my fantasy projects.) In this fantasy, I would issue an invite to middle-aged women everywhere to send me pictures of their soft, scarred bellies with rolls. Bellies that have held (and sometimes lost) babies. Bellies that have grown and shrunk, and grown and shrunk, from persistent dieting. Bellies that have undulated with laughter, and have folded in excruciating pain. Grown woman bellies, the houses of grown woman stories, for the world to see, and if not for the world, then, for ourselves. I think I would call it The Belly Project. :)
Here’s my middle-aged belly:
And how about yours? Have you looked at yours? Have you seen it with eyes of love? Can you dare to? I pray that, some day, you do. I pray that, one day, I do too.
With much love from the full-bellied, middle-aged sisterhood,
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