The other night,same as every other night, I lay with my daughter in bed to settle her for the evening. We had already read The Children of the Forrest (a classic by Elsa Beskow) and were laying together with our heads on the same pillow. I was stroking her hair and telling her what an amazing creature she is when she sat up and ran a finger tenderly over one of the laugh lines around my eyes and then gave it a kiss. She then told me that my lines are beautiful. I made a conscious choice to be proud of them, to show her that aging is beautiful. I replied to her that my lines are beautiful because they are my the lines of my life, and my life has been beautiful. That she had gifted me some of those lines and for that I can carry her with me always.
This conversation jolted me back to a topic that I have been pursuing since I started having children. The question of how do we (women) age gracefully in a culture that is predominately telling us not to age at all. Where our icons of beauty are timeless due to medical procedures. Where lines and saggy skin are shaded out of images and women are reshaped in photos to be more aesthetically appealing while selling a product.
Prior to having children I was attractive. Or rather I should say that I thought that I was attractive. I don’t mean that in a braggy sort of way, just that I was happy with myself when I looked in the mirror. However after my first child, my body didn’t feel like my body anymore. The clothes that I had been wearing prior to becoming a mother felt juvenile and no longer appropriate. My weight had redistributed and all of a sudden I had hips. My clothes were clearly not my clothes anymore.
Yet venturing into the women’s section of T.J. Maxx I felt frumpy and undesirable. It was like I was being told that now that my body was more curvaceous than a 2 x 4 board I was nothing more than a sack of potatoes in a beige cloth. (Has anyone else noticed that women’s clothing is either muted Forrest shades or crazy bright patterns?)
So I started talking to women of all ages asking how do we age gracefully in a society that tells us not to. Asking what did they do to still feel beautiful, vivacious, and attractive to themselves and others.￼ A lot of what I came to was that women didn’t feel attractive after having kids. That clothing marketed for women was outdated, or ill fitting. Unless of course you have $100 to spend on a high-end pair of jeans in which case you could find something that hugged your curves in just the right way.
One wise woman told me that our concepts of beauty are often linked to concepts of healthy. And that any new mother being subjected to nightly wake ups for feeding and diaper changes is not actually getting the sleep required to feel healthy.
I have to say that I think there is some real truth to that school of thought. The one or two nights a week I may actually sleep through the night I feel more like the spunky healthy woman that I used to be. I smile more, laugh more, that I have better color and smaller bags under my eyes. All sign of a generally healthy person.
As for attractive clothing, I have had to throw out almost every single article of clothing that I had prior to having children. And my absolute favorite things have been tucked away in a tote to be saved and handed down to my children. I have had to slowly over time scour the good wills of this fine nation, search through cast off hand me down piles, and request high-end goods like jeans that actually fit for birthday and Christmas gifts. Replacing bras and bathing suit’s were the two areas that I could not skimp. I spent a lot of money on those items and it was 100% worth it. To have my elongated tatas tucked safely away, and to feel sexy in a two-piece while sunning on the beach are worth paying full price.
As I start to acquire things like wrinkles, stretch marks, or varicose vein’s I have had to commit to loving these parts of myself. Because each one of them has come with the territory of having live the life I’ve lived, and while it has been hard life it has been amazing. I have been able to pursue my passion, travel extensively, find a partner that I am excited to live and work with each day. These are not small feats in my mind and these markings are a celebration of these facts.
What I do know is that I want my daughters to feel confident about their bodies at every age. Given the fact that we live a fairly active lifestyle, and produce a large portion of our own food, I can count on the fact that my children will have access to quality nutritious foods . I don’t want to ever make comments about their weight or the size of their feet. I don’t want them to feel self-conscious about moles, birthmarks, or there adorable dimples on their shoulder blades that I referred to as angel kisses. In a culture that is continuously judging worth on looks I want my girls to know that they are so much more than what they are on the outside. And I want them to know there’s nothing shameful about aging, that we need to celebrate the wisdom and growth that comes from each wrinkle, each stretch mark, and each gray hair.