by Barbara Berkeley, MD
Weight maintainers and the over 50 crowd (not mutually exclusive!) have something in common: a body that is not what it once was.
One of the earliest posts to this blog described the "Green House" philosophy, a term coined by Lynn Haraldson to describe her relationship with a body that had suffered battle scars in the war of weight. Like the quirky house she lived in, Lynn's body had flaws. Despite efforts to change both, the essences of both house and body remained and Lynn came to accept each with fondness and respect.
It goes without saying that such bodily equanimity is impossible to maintain 100% of the time. Who among us has not experienced that random reflection in an unexpected mirror? Ouch.
The struggle within oneself to accept bodiy imperfection, whether from weight, weight loss or aging can be very destructive to our goals of strength, health and longevity. Having said this, I do not pretend to have a foolproof method for tamping down the anxiety. Each of us must deal with it in our own way. But heck, it's nice to note that none of us is alone.
A recent article in the NY Times illustrates the point. "At Ease With a Body Fighting Gravity" is the title. But the text exposes an underlying bodily unease, rather than the wholehearted acceptance suggested by the title. The writer repeatedly references to her age and to the fact that she looks good 'for someone who is almost 60'. She also is able to reassure herself that she is still desirable because her husband remains admiring. There is a shakiness to the contention that she has come to peace with aging and we wonder how she will feel about the whole thing ten years from now. This is not meant to be criticism. It is a reality for all of us. And why not? Bodily change is a tough challenge and very hard to negotiate.
There are many mantras and cultural memes in our shorthanded "lifestyle" culture. As most of you know, one of my least favorites is "just eat everything in moderation". Many of these lifestyle tidbits seem true but are simply constructed in the service of making tough things seem easy. Another? "Just walk off the weight". It's only my opinion, but I believe that the idea that we can easily make peace with bodily imperfection by just "accepting ourselves" is another one of these unrealistic shortcuts.
Out of struggle and tension comes inspiration, art, depth, new perception. So let's not fear the struggle. Let's engage it with thought, humor and creativity.
My own approach at age 65 has been less acceptance than the Dylan Thomas view of the world.
"Do not go gentle into that good night," he wrote,"Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light."
If you are interested in joining this discussion, please send me a photo of yourself and tell me how you are working through the issues of bodily change. If you give me permission, I will post your picture and your (edited) story. I will use initials only, no names. I'd love to hear from you.