“You don’t look 50,” my daughter said.
I couldn’t hide the smile. I looked up and into the rearview mirror as if to say, “Well done.” I approved more of a myself for a minute. My years, hidden, and gravity somehow defied.
“You don’t look (fill in any age over 30).”
It starts early. We do it each other and ourselves.
You look younger and skinnier is always meant as a compliment.
No one says, “You look older, heavier and have visible cellulite. Tell me your secret! Tell me how it’s done.”
I love the words my daughter said, “You don’t look 50,” at first. But I had to spit them out rather than repeat, ingest and swallow them.
They stayed on my tongue for a while though. They rolled like marbles and bumped against my teeth. They turned into questions.
“What does 50 look like?” I said to her really asking myself.
“I don’t know,” she shrugged.
“I don’t know either,” I said. “Why is that?”
I’m at the age and stage where people lie or avoid talk of age.
Weight and age, for women, are numbers that when they rise, are the stock market going down. Down in social capital. In that market, lower and smaller is always better.
It’s not imaginary.
I am not the feminist warrior I hope to be all of the time. I do not stay clear and strong. I still berate, doubt and put myself down.
“I didn’t even put on any make up” I said.
“Are you going anywhere?” she asked.
“No,” I said.
“Then who cares?” she said.
And why care even if I was going out? But I do. At least some of the time.
Awareness and pressure fight that fast and often, at least in me. I’m not proud but it’s where I am.
Put together. Younger. Tone. Tight. Skinny. Blonde. These words have more power than disheveled. Older. Flabby. Loose. Fat. Dark.
It’s the world we live in. I can’t change the world, right? I’m just one person.
Can I be one person who doesn’t play along? One mother who doesn’t take it all on and pass it down?
I have cellulite and wrinkles. My skin doesn’t sculpt my bones the way it used to. Sometimes it’s is like items in the grocery bag that slip out and roll away and I have to go back and reach and tuck it in. There are changes. Real changes.
I can’t consider getting pregnant. I no longer have a period or the same hormone levels. That’s not imaginary or ego.
But damn, with all I am and all I have, can I spend less energy caring about how I look? to others? to myself?
Can I look in the mirror less and out the window more? Can I care more about the condition of the world?
Can I care less about the number of wrinkles and more about the stories they hold?
No one runs to my arms because they are skinny. No one grabs my hand hoping it’s bony. No one calls to talk hoping I sound young.
Can I at least prize and inhabit the being I actually am?
I didn’t even love being young. I spent much of my youth petrified to be in my body, skin and mind. I barely survived. I would not go back or trade who or where I am.
Let me celebrate my role models instead.
Margaret, who rides her bike to the park to paint all summer long and protests the pipeline and rakes. She teaches at a university and does yoga and canoes.
Nana Connie cares for her children by caring for their children weekly, often daily, for over a decade. She bowls, loves and folds laundry. She makes meals and time.
Nancy teaches strangers how to use writing to uncurl. She uses words as medicine to warm hearts into flowering. She gets people stuck in shame and grief and isolation to claim their voice and tears and truth because she claims her own pain. She films her husband who plays games with his grandson. They hold space to grieve their lost son and also find room for new love.
These are my real life models. They aren’t on runways but highways and roads. These are the ones I look up to and find.
Can I honor their actual lives and ages. 72, 74 and 75?
Can I matter as much to myself, at least, no matter what my age or weight or history?
These are worthy goals. Looking less than I am, in any way, is not.
Can I try to love a bad photo as much as a good one? Can I try to see what I was doing not how I looked doing it? Can I celebrate the risks taken, the emotions captured and worry less about the chin and belly or thighs?
Can I wonder more about how inhabited I am? Can I focus on how tight my relationships are? How flexible I am with those I love?
Can I look at the world’s poetry and care more about other people and my soul?
I don’t want to play small anymore.
Weight and looks and age are not achievements. They are facts and details and descriptions.
I’ve learned late. Until my 40’s I didn’t know why skinny people bother to work out. I’d see them jog and be puzzled. The only reason I exercised was so I could eat more with less guilt. It surprised me that people enjoyed it or did it for health. I exercised only to be less of me or to at least feel less guilty for being my size.
“You don’t look 50,” she said. I spit out my smile, my pride and the lie that I matter more if younger, prettier and skinnier.
“I look 50,” I said, claiming every bit of myself. I know because I am 50 and this is what I look like.
You Matter Mantras
- Trauma sucks. You don't.
- Write to express not to impress.
- It's not trauma informed if it's not informed by trauma survivors.
- Breathing isn't optional.