The Gift of Middle Age

What do I see when I look in the mirror?  I’m glad you asked!

If I answered this question as a teenager or a young woman, my answer would have been all about how bad my skin was, how tiny my boobies were, maybe I would have complimented myself on being slender, but that was probably the only thing I saw right with myself.  And I’m not even speaking from the normal insecurities of adolescence: I really did have bad acne, not just on my face, but on my shoulders and upper back as well.  And my boobies were really small too.  I couldn’t just buy an A cup bra off the rack.  I had to try them on.  I remember one particularly rough session where I felt like I tried on 30 bras (it was probably about half that number) and every one of them was too big, and they were all the smallest size they make!  I think I cried.

I read a book (I can’t remember the title anymore) about dressing to hide your body’s flaws.  The advice for small boobs was laughable (as I now know).  They advised wearing high-necked shirts, especially things with bows and stuff around the neck to disguise your (lack of) assets.  I was a teenager and didn’t right away realize that hiding your bosom like that makes you look even more like a boy!  I would look at myself, and I swear the only thing I could see were the zits.  Here is the part where I should point out, for those of you who didn’t know me 20 years ago that while my acne was bad, it never literally covered my face.  I didn’t wear sundresses, except for that one year when it was acceptable to wear little white t-shirts under your sundress.  I believed that what I saw when I looked in the mirror was the same thing everyone else saw.

But the question concerned the present: What do I see now when I look?  And I see something completely different.

My face is scarred now (of course) and since I’m over 30, those scars are sinking.  On bad days, I do think I look like Bill Murray.  But most days I can see that it’s only a small part of my face affected, I can see that I hardly have any more pimples (I learned about vitamin D supplementation while I was breastfeeding and it has changed my life).  If I look hard, my skin color is not even and I have big pores, but most of the time I don’t look that closely.  I see a mature woman with an attractive face.  I see a gray streak front and center in my hair.  I’ve decided to stop dyeing my hair, so the view gets less red little by little.  My boobies are a more normal size now.  I’m overweight.  Like, I’m replacing all my pants because I outgrew them overweight.  Like, I look at my panties on the floor of the bathroom and I have flashbacks to Shallow Hal.  I finally admitted to myself that it would be inadvisable to wear a bikini.

And so what?  People don’t look that closely at other people most of the time.  I didn’t get that when I was young.  Perfection is impossible.  Most people have limited time in which to keep themselves in shape if their jobs don’t do it for them.  The people who look at you carefully are the same people who love you.  That is, they love you for who you are inside.  The person I am inside is very similar to the person inside me when I was a teenager, with one big exception: The person I am inside is far more at peace with herself than she formerly was.

And it brings me to the big question: What changed, really?  Did I make peace with the girl in the mirror because she finally did what I always wanted (that is, grow bigger boobs and get clear skin)?  Or did I just grow up?  When I was a college student, I took a bunch of classes that covered psychosocial development across the lifespan (that is, it included adult development) and I well remember how dreadful middle age sounded.  I hoped I could skip it.  All that work to do, all the fears of dying, the heavy responsibilities, diminished physical abilities and health.  I didn’t want to sign up for any of that.  I halfway hoped to skip directly to old age and the peace that comes with it.  And now that I am middle aged, I realize that what they taught me in college was not entirely accurate.  I mean, the stuff I wrote above is completely accurate, but they didn’t talk to us about the gifts of middle age.  And I think loving yourself better is one of those gifts.  I’m glad I didn’t skip!

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3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Sandra
    May 04, 2012 @ 12:47:59

    It’s funny how we change our opinion of ourselves. The wrinkles around my eyes are now I reminder of all the wonderful things I have seen. The stretch marks remind me of the wonderful days of carrying the children.
    But for some of the rest I must admit I still fight it. The gray hair is an ongoing battle that started in my thirties. The body will never be what it was but I hope I can a least stay physically fit.
    Healthy is what I strive for now, not young or sexy just healthy.

    Reply

  2. Sleeping Mom @ Sleeping Should Be Easy
    May 15, 2012 @ 11:29:24

    Great observation! I remember in one of my college classes, our teacher said that as she grew, she never once yearned for her younger days (I think she was middle aged). I found that so freeing, because normally people clamor for their youth and for the time that they can’t reclaim anymore. I’m in my 30s, but even then I already agree with my teacher in saying that there’s no way I would trade my current time for the past. Aging does bring on the inevitable issue of passing away, but it also brings forth more wisdom, so much so that I look back to where I was just a few years ago in my 20s and go, “What was I thinking?!’ Seems like Liam’s got himself one beautiful mama, inside and out!

    Reply

    • sleeplessinsummerville
      May 15, 2012 @ 11:44:31

      What a terrific gift your professor gave you! Middle-aged regret is a real phenomenon too (I don’t have a bad case of it myself, but I know enough people who do) and I wonder if the professors I had just didn’t want to give us all the idea that it didn’t matter if we made mistakes while we were young.

      Reply

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