What Does Body Acceptance Mean As We Age?
Oh, body acceptance: a complicated and very personal subject.
Last night, I was sitting at my computer, hands on the keys, staring at a blank Word doc that was meant to be filled with all the words I could muster on my process of body acceptance, and what that’s been like in my personal evolution.
At first, I waited for the lightbulb writer moment. “Come on,” I thought, my fingers tapping the keys.
When it didn’t, I turned to Doughp and ate cookie dough. Then, I did laundry. Next, I marveled at how much I love my cat.
Basically, I procrastinated.
As I metaphorically chewed on my pen, my male roommate hopped down the stairs of our very “rustic,” very ‘70s-style home that we live in in Boulder, Colorado, the hilariously red carpet silencing his final jump. “I’ve got a secret,” he blurted, sitting across from me on the couch. “But, I want to share it because I feel weird and shameful hiding it and I dunno, I just want to say it.”
Gladly putting aside the mounting frustration of writing this blog, I was all ears. “Go for it,” I said. “I’ve never seen you have a secret.”
He nodded, his brown brow furrowed as he searched for words. I smiled. I love my roommate, and it’s sweet when he gets this familiar intensity.
“Ugh,” he made a sound. “I don’t know why it’s so hard to talk about this stuff. It feels vain.”
“Hey,” I said. “You don’t have to share if you’re not ready.”
“But I want to,” he insisted. “I’ve been watching Brené Brown and I want to be vulnerable.”
I grinned again. “Okay then.”
“Alright,” he paused. “The truth is, well, okay...no judgment now, but I have an appointment tomorrow to see about my hair.” He pointed to the top of his head. “I’m thinking about getting a hair transplant or whatever. Something to kinda like, ya know, help this hair loss.”
He looked up for my response. At first, I wanted to smile and say, “That’s it?” But, I noted the vulnerability it took him to share that, and so I nodded. “Okay, that’s great if that’s what you want,” I said instead. “I’m happy for you if that will make you feel a certain way.”
He paused. “Yeah, I mean it feels vain, I guess, and I feel vain doing it. I wish I was just fine with my hair loss, but it’s hard and I want to at least see what my options are.”
We chatted for a few more minutes about the hair process, and then we circled back to the bigger picture. “It’s hard, isn’t it?” I mused. “The aging process: I find it difficult. Things are changing on my body as well. It’s subtle, but I notice it.”
“Totally,” he said. “We live in this stupid vacuum society where looking or being young-looking is the holy grail.”
“How utterly unrealistic, right?”
“Ridiculous,” he said. “And yet it ensnares us all to some degree.”
As we talked more in depth about this perspective, I reflected on how in my teens and early 20s, this body insecurity was all about weight and fitness level. And how, as I’ve moved through recovery, I didn’t foresee it morphing from weight into the aging process.
Truth is, I spent years in recovery coming to terms with the frame or physique of my body as it naturally wants to be. What I didn’t think to explore was about how this body will eventually age, and currently is aging, as that’s the beautiful price of living.
As of late, I’ve spent quite a bit of time pondering this aging insecurity, and what I want to do about it.
People seem to often portray body acceptance as this narrow perspective in that it has to be whole in its acceptance. And that to have body acceptance is to accept yourself, no matter what happens, and prance around in defiance of the insecurity. But I don’t know if I think that’s realistic as I move into my eighth year in recovery.
Perhaps I’m just a realist to my core. But, I lean toward the idea that body acceptance is learning how to live with and manage the body insecurity that inevitably arises as we move through westernized, modern life.
Spending all my time trying to figure out how to accept my frame or physique seems fruitless, and frankly a recipe for shame-inducing thoughts when inevitably I have another negative body image day. Instead, I think I’d rather just face the days I don’t feel great about again. And figure out what the deeper meaning is there, and how to speak that truth and then hold it in alignment with my other values and perspectives.
I know it’s a privilege to age, even if I don’t really like the sun spots and wrinkles that come with it. It’s a privilege because it means I am here, rolling around in what the earth has to offer. It means I’m living in this short time I exist here, right now.
It’s hard to age because we’re told by marketing ads that being youthful is some figurative “prime.” But, what a silly thing to ascribe to; that life has any sort of “prime” to it when what I’m finding is that all stages thus far in life are a “prime” — it’s just different. And different is not bad. In fact, different is what I often strive to have. Different people, settings, jobs and moments of joy. So in order to have those, I have to be willing to age.
If only we could always keep that perspective, right?
I’ve blown through a lot of years distracted by body image plagues. It’s cost me presence and mood, and enjoyment and interests, when all we ever have is today. All of us here for a moment, and then floating away.
What my roommate hopefully accepts someday, in his process, is that getting a hair extension doesn’t have to be some vain act. It’s just a choice, and if it makes him feel better then go for it. I don’t think it’s negative to want to do things for your body, it’s just learning how to accept the insecurity that triggers that response to want to change ourselves.
So, maybe that’s body acceptance: holding two truths together, in tandem. And being okay — and willing — to move along in life anyhow. At least, I find, that’s what I’m learning today.