I stand in the shower and watch the water run down my legs and feet, thinking how many times have I looked at this skin?
I am 44, and in some ways feel exactly the same inside as I did when I was eight—the body changes but the spirit stays remarkably constant.
What if I was suddenly dropped back into that eight-year-old body?
I used to grab the fat of my belly with my hands when I sat down and count the rolls I could make, hating myself intensely. I stared and stared into the mirror at my face, plain and doughy, with no outstanding features at all.
Would I treat myself that way now?
What if I found myself in the body of my twenties, laying on the beach in my infamous gold bikini?
No one knew it, but I hated that body too. My butt was huge (I thought) and I’d never managed to grow any breasts at all. My meagre chest looked particularly stupid on my six foot frame, and I stared with veiled resentment at the effortlessly petite girls all around me.
My clothes were bigger than theirs, my bras smaller. I tried to act like it didn’t bother me—I strutted and preened as if I had something with which to back it up—but it was all show. I wore make-up every minute of the day and night—even to bed—and refused to shop with my friends, terrified that they would find out what size jeans I really wore.
How would that body feel to me now? Could I wash off my make-up and smile honestly at my own reflection?
What about the pregnant me? Perhaps the most frightening iteration of all.
Each day I woke to find myself expanding, grotesque and out of control. Men stopped looking at me, or looked at me differently, and I mourned the loss of their attention. I felt as if I were being consumed and was forced to consume in return; bread, pizza, french fries.
The day I could no longer tie a towel around my mid section after a bath I went into my closet and wept. Everything was swollen; my face, my hands, my feet, my a**. There was no joy at the process that was unfolding, just blind fear that my life as I knew it was ending.
If I went back and lived inside that me again, could I feel the gratitude and awe I should have felt rather than the fear?
It is ironic that now, finally, at this age when I have more flaws than I’ve ever had before, when my body has become less lean, weaker and more delicate, mapped with scars and wrinkles, fraught with malfunctions; waning eye sight, aching back, bad knees and on and on, I can sometimes, very occasionally, now and then, stand up to my full five feet and 11 inches (somewhere along the line I’ve already lost a precious inch), look myself in the eye and say, “You are beautiful.”
Better late than never, right?
I don’t have many regrets in life, but one of them is how unkind I have been to me.
I think the key to aging gracefully is to find the love of self that has been missing all this time and apply it liberally now.
I plan to do it shamelessly and frequently. I will have love-ins and me-parties and wear flowers in my hair. Sometimes I won’t wear make-up because I know I don’t need to cover myself, and sometimes I will wear it because I want to be sparkly. I will look people in the eye without thinking about what they are seeing, because whatever it is is totally okay, and I will instead see them and be fascinated by who they are.
Well, I’ll try to do these things. I’ll practice a little every day.
And when I think about my past and present and future bodies I will think of all of them compassionately, remembering that they are but the temporary resting place for my eternal soul.
Author: Erica Leibrandt
Editor: Renée Picard
Photo: courtesy of the author