“This is a difficult country to look too different in -the United States of Advertising, as Paul Krasser puts it-and if you are too skinny or too tall or dark or weird or short or frizzy or homely or poor or nearsighted, you get crucified.” – Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird.
So! There I was at my local YWCA signing up for the Silver Sneakers Water Aerobics class and I admit I felt a slight intimidation.
I had been given the choice by my doctor to either begin exercising and lose a few pounds, or start medication to lower my blood pressure and blood sugar levels. It was not an easy choice.
The word exercise, in my mind, equels the four letter word, YUCK, (not too fond of sweat) and losing a few pounds means omitting delights like ice cream and cookies. But the thought of beginning medication doesn’t appeal either. I mostly don’t like to spend money on something that isn’t fun or beautiful, and don’t like to feel tied to a daily have-to (weird little personality quirks, I know, but I’m just being honest).
It was a nice-enough locker room but didn’t afford much privacy. I quickly found a corner where no one else was and where I felt I could undress unobtrusively. So I began. I had just figured out how to pull my swimsuit on without exposing my whole naked body at one time, when I turned my head just enough to catch a woman not far from me looking straight at me, her body stark naked, smiling broadly, saying, “Hi! Aren’t you new?”
I didn’t really want to look at her nakedness, but felt obligated to be cordial, so looked sideways while answering, “Yes, I am.”
She continued while she began pulling her suit up over her very white, plump and sagging body, “My name’s Carol (Not really Carol, but want to protect her innocence!) whats yours?”
“I’m Norah-with-an-H” I said smiling but looking away. I used a pseudonym to protect MY innocence!
“Glad you’re here. You’ll love it. It’s a great class!” she said and hurried off towards the pool.
Well, Carol was right. It was a great class. I did love it. And after the class, we all filed out towards the locker room. It was Carol who came alongside me and told me about the jacuzzi that some of the women take advantage of after the class. I decided to join them, just to warm up before dressing, and also to get to know a few of the women. There were five of us sitting in a semi circle in this jacuzzi that was in a nook that faced the changing area.
We hadn’t been seated long, when one woman began stripping her suit off while in the jacuzzi…no shyness, no hesitation. “Its easier to get off in the water than when my body’s dry,” she explained as I tried not to stare!
Then a couple of women appeared out of the shower area with towels, rubbing their wet hair while talking and walking towards the lockers…completely naked, completely at ease.
In fact, there was somewhat of a “Merry Month of May” exhibition going on right before my eyes: 70+ year old feminine bodies on parade.
I saw about a dozen different shapes and sizes. Floppy boobs, saggy butts, Buddha-bellies, scars and blemishes. There were no apologies. No shy attempts at cover-up. I saw only confidence and acceptance. The locker room was filled with an air of comradery, fun and exuberance. It was beautiful. It was comfortable. It made my heart smile!
I saw a new kind of beauty that day.
- It was the beauty that comes from acceptance and the confidence that differences are valuable and comparisons and conformity unnecessary.
- It was the beauty that comes from accepting life as it is with a sense of humor and enjoyment rather than judgement and condemnation.
- It was the beauty that comes from the understanding that physical beauty is subjective and needs to be measured within the context of a life well-lived.
I’m still learning to see this new kind of beauty in myself. I often revert back to feeling insecure about my aging body, as if I should somehow be able to defy Nature and rise above wrinkles and age marks. But the group of Senior Sneakers, those Vibrant Old Women, opened the door for me to realize if we have lived 70+ years, we have a beauty all our own!
What I see when I see my aging body is a life-time of living a fully human existence:
- I see a little girl who had polio, who fell from the cherry tree and broke her arm, who got her nose broken playing volleyball, who lived through measles, mumps and chicken pox.
- I see a young lady who wore a perfect size 6 prom dress and wedding gown, could walk somewhat gracefully in 6″ spike heels, and who could eat ice cream everyday without gaining an ounce.
- I see a young woman who gave birth to 4 babies, breastfed 3 of them and nurtured all of them into adulthood.
- I see a woman who moved more than 20 times and lived on two different continents and 4 different States.
- I see a woman who has lived 70 full years,(that’s 25,550 days), been a baby, a child, a teenager, a wife, a mother, a grandmother, an employee, a retiree.
My body has changed. My body is changing. It’s beautiful when I look at it with humor, make no comparisons to how I once looked or to anyone else, and remember that the lines, wrinkles, sags and blemishes are all signs of a life well-lived.
What do you see when you see your aging body?