AT 46-years-old, I suppose you could say I’m middle-aged.
What the fuck?
How the hell did this happen?
Falling into the middle aged category always seemed so far away.
When I was a young adult, middle aged meant mom jeans and the oldies station on the radio and wrinkles and arthritis and not only reading, but wanting to read magazines like Ladies Home Journal (is that even a magazine anymore?) and Reader’s Digest.
But now that I am middle aged, it means a whole different thing.
It means marathons and triathlons and taking risks and new ventures. It means willingly moving out of my comfort zone.
Middle aged to me now means confidence. And self awareness. It means knowledge and wisdom. (Although it certainly doesn’t mean I know all there is to know.)
And I have learned something in the last few months, especially since the weather has turned warmer and I am spending more time in a bathing suit.
Not just a bathing suit.
Yes, middle aged and wearing a bikini.
That definitely didn’t fall into the shit a middle aged person does category back when I was in early adulthood.
At forty-six, the window of what society would determine to be physical perfection has come and gone.
I’ve got some wrinkles.
On my knees.
I have a couple areas where my skin is a little bit, um… crepey.
My eyelids are heavier than they used to be, and I have to break out the tweezers more often (and for many more areas) than I used to.
I’ve got the beginnings of age spots on the backs of my hands and I have a couple spider veins on one of my thighs.
My boobs, when set free, are a plastic surgeon’s dream before picture.
Nothing is as tight or as high as it once was. Some things are not even really all that close to their original locations.
But none of that bothers me anymore.
I mean not really.
Sure, aging takes a little getting used to. But now I’m pretty accepting of the physical part of it.
And my focus these days isn’t achieving the most flawless body I can.
My focus now is on being as fit as I can be while still taking care of all the crap that goes along with being a decent parent, wife, and overall human being.
And I really thought that I had been doing a pretty good job of sending my kids the message that what your body looks like, that how tall you are or how heavy you are (within reason) has nothing to do with how happy you are or how successful you are.
There are plenty of physically flawless or near flawless people who are fucked up or unhappy or unsuccessful. Who are bankrupt or addicted to something or divorced or whatever. And completely unhealthy.
There is nothing wrong with wanting to be strong and fit.
In fact, I think that’s pretty important.
But unless you are a professional athlete or you have your sights set on going to Rio, a six-pack isn’t really a requirement or a necessity.
Of course, if you set a goal for yourself that you want to have abs you could bounce a quarter off of just because you want to see if you can do it, there’s nothing wrong with that, either.
But if you are doing that because you think it will make you more likeable or more hireable or more successful or more happy, well, there is a good chance you will be highly disappointed when you finally take that rippled selfie and post it all over Facebook and Instagram.
I thought I was doing a good job of teaching my kids that six-packs and big muscles and how tall you are means absolutely nothing in the big picture.
Until a couple weeks ago, anyway, when I invited some moms and their kids over to hang out and swim in the pool.
One of the moms who came over is a triathlete and has not one ounce of fat on her and she’s shredded and the picture of strength and health.
And she is a friend of mine and she’s not body obsessed at all — she’s just healthy and active and naturally muscular.
And she and I were in the pool together along with some of the kids and Number 4 looked at my shredded friend and then at me and then at her again and she said to me,
“MOM! N’S MOM LOOKS WAAAAAAY BETTER IN A BIKINI THAN YOU DO!!!”
I was a little bummed.
Bummed because Number 4’s comment implied that I don’t have a flawless enough body to wear a bikini. Bummed that at nine years old those words would even come out of her mouth.
I started thinking about where she could have gotten this message from.
Surely not me. I mean, I’ve been very consistent in sending the message that physical perfection means absolutely nothing.
I don’t want any of my girls (or boys) feeling self-conscious about their bodies. I don’t want them feeling ashamed or embarrassed or compelled to cover up problem areas.
So this couldn’t have come from me.
It must have been from someone else. From friends. From the media. From wherever.
But not from me.
I couldn’t stop thinking about it, though.
And then it dawned on me.
For the past three years, I have been taking before and after pictures of myself.
It started three years ago when I decided it was time to lose at least some of the baby weight I had gained over the course of seven years.
I definitely needed to lose some weight in order to be healthy and to feel better. To sleep better and to function better physically.
But once I had lost some weight it became more about looking perfect in a bikini. Being able to wear a white tank top and seeing ripples of muscle rather than ripples of cellulite underneath it.
When I put a few pounds back on, I started with the before and after pictures again.
The only difference was that now, the kids were often taking the pictures for me because I didn’t have a mirror that was conducive to taking them myself.
And that’s when it clicked.
The before and after pictures.
I was sending the message to my kids that I was not good enough the way I looked.
I was sending the message to my kids that the after picture was very important.
If it wasn’t, I wouldn’t be taking it in the first place.
I was telling my kids one thing, but showing them something totally different.
And I didn’t even realize it.
I was saying that my goal was health.
But I was showing that my goal was an outward appearance. And I was showing that it mattered and it was important.
I may not have been the whole problem.
But I was definitely part of it.
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about it.
And I’m done with the before and after pictures.
I know if you are working toward being healthier there is something to be said for a before and after picture so you can see healthy changes in your body.
But right now, with twenty-five more pounds on me than I had when I got married, I am still much healthier than I was twelve years ago.
I don’t have a six -pack and I’m not cellulite-free.
But I also don’t maintain my weight by smoking 2 packs of cigarettes and drinking two liters of Diet Coke a day, and viewing Altoids as a major food group.
I’m super active, I don’t need medication to treat my depression, and my resting heart rate is in the 40’s.
So I guess I lied.
I do have another before and after picture:
That before picture was before I experienced my body growing another fucking human being inside of it.
It was before I quit smoking and before I had ever run a marathon.
It was before I nursed a baby or saw a first step or heard that first I love you from a two-year-old.
It was before I had filed for bankruptcy, before I had been on food stamps, and before I almost lost my house to foreclosure.
It was before I saw my son hit a home run or star in the school play.
It was before I saw my daughter set a team record or dance in her first recital.
It was before I had any idea of what I was near capable of accomplishing.
It was before I had any fucking clue about what’s truly important.
But the after picture?
That picture is after I realized that I can handle anything.
It’s after I realized that my husband thinks I’m hotter now than the day we got married.
It’s after I finally realized that physical perfection would never bring me happiness or contentment, and spending time obsessing over it was wasting days, months, and years of my life.
It’s after I realized that I still have some work to do making sure I give my kids this message.
It’s after I accepted myself, appreciated myself, and celebrated myself.
It’s after I finally feel confident in a bikini. Even with 25 extra pounds, wrinkles, spider veins and crepey areas.
Especially with 25 extra pounds, wrinkles, spider veins and crepey areas.
And it’s after I reached middle age, which, now that I’m in it, isn’t such a bad place to be.