“Defy your age — get your body back.”
”Take the 10-year social media photo challenge.”
”Fifty is the new 30.”
What do all these messages tell us about ageing in today’s body-centric culture? Don’t.
I turned 50 on April 6, and I’ll be honest: I’ve been thinking about ageing a lot leading up to this birthday. There’s no doubt that my body is visibly ageing. Yet I knew I wanted to share a body-positive message about growing older and how we can radically accept our bodies despite living in today’s anti-ageing culture.
How can we choose to see our ageing bodies differently? By detaching our self-worth from our appearance, practicing gratitude for our present body, honoring ageing as a privilege and seeing our body’s true purpose.
I’ve learned to accept that my outside appearance is going to change no matter how many creams, potions or procedures I try.
One of the greatest gifts of ageing is that it can encourage someone to look deeper than the outward appearance, beyond the reflection in a mirror. That type of introspection helped me separate my identity from my appearance.
One of my favorite authors, 65-year old Anne Lamott, said it best: “Age has given me what I was looking for my entire life — it gave me me.”
Where do you start to pull apart your self-worth from your appearance? Reflect and ask yourself the following questions:
Who are you? What makes you uniquely you?
What feeds your spirit?
What brings you joy and happiness?
What are your special gifts that you are contributing to the world?
Cultivate your inner beauty and focus on feeling good from the inside out instead of trying to change the outside to feel good on the inside.
“You can’t rely on how you look to sustain you,” 36-year-old actress Lupita Nyong’o said. “What actually sustains you, what is fundamentally beautiful, is compassion for yourself and for those around you. That kind of beauty inflames the heart and enchants the soul.”
The next step: Consider ageing a privilege
While navigating life and feeling good in our skin as we age isn’t easy, when we practice gratitude and self-compassion and ditch self-criticism and comparison, we can acknowledge aging as a gift. Or, as poet Rupi Kaur said, a miracle.
“I reduced my body to aesthetics, forgot the work it did to keep me alive,” Kaur wrote in The Sun and Her Flowers. “With every beat and breath, declared it a grand failure for not looking like theirs, searched everywhere for a miracle, foolish enough to not realise I was already living in one.”
The anti-ageing industry keeps us invested in trying to stay young by creating contests, like the Instagram 10-year challenge, which asks users to post a photo from today and one from 10 years ago. The underlying message: Show how little you’ve aged. But our bodies are meant to change as we live.
The new challenge that I propose to you is to shift from seeing ageing as something to defy and see your body with gratitude in the present. The signs of aging — our wrinkles and lines — tell our story. They make us real. They speak our truth.
“As a society we don’t talk about aging as a celebration of a life well-lived,” Mary Robinson said in a blog post titled Coming to Peace With Ageing. “We scrutinize and shame it, if we are talking about it all.”
Have you ever looked back at a photo of your younger self and thought, “I wish I had that body now?” Yes? Take a pause and remember back then. More often than not you’ll find you were critical of yourself then, too. We’re often stuck in such a pattern, never happy with the present self.
But your body is miraculous at all ages. And it’s truly a privilege to get to see it change through the years.
Your body is a vessel for your life, a vehicle to share your unique gifts and “an instrument for your use, not an ornament to be admired,” said Beauty Redefined founder Lindsay Kite.
Our culture and our egos have convinced us our body is who we are. But when we change the way we see our bodies, how we feel about them also changes. What you focus on expands.
What’s your body’s purpose? Choose to view your body not as an ornament but as a vessel for living your best life.
Turning 50 was a gift that allowed me to see ageing through a body-positive perspective.
I don’t need my younger body back. I don’t need to feel or look like I’m 30.
Ageing has allowed me to see my identity as separate from my appearance. It taught me to have gratitude for my body today and see ageing as a privilege. It taught me to see my body as a vessel to give my unique gifts, as a messenger for helping others make peace with their bodies — not as an ornament.
Love yourself now, no matter your age. Be a rebel.
- This story was first published by the Jackson Hole News & Guide.