I’m 37 years old. I have had two children. I am a fair-skinned redhead who used to spend a lot of time in the sun. My body is different now than it was ten years ago, even five years ago. I have new wrinkles, new eczema, new pockets that are softer than I’d like. There are many, many things I must accept as I grow into adulthood (which is, incidentally, taking longer than I ever imagined). My physical self is certainly one of them.
I read Kristin Nilsen’s article about the hit show Up All Night and its two lead actresses with humor and identification, with a pit in my stomach and tears in my eyes. She writes of Christina Applegate and Maya Rudolph – both mothers – noting both their beauty and the way that their bodies are “substantial and meaningful.” These women’s beauty is not in spite of their midlife roundness but rather because of it. Nilsen asserts that Applegate and Rudolph represent fully the “bodies that rule the world.” I love this language.
Up All Night is one of the few shows that I do occasionally watch. The realistic, powerful depiction of female friendship and the hilariously on-point capturing of a marriage turned upside down by a baby are the reason I like it. I had never specifically noticed what Nilsen describes, but now that I’ve read her thoughtful words I can’t stop thinking about Applegate and Rudolph as exemplars of womanhood in its full flower, of the ways motherhood augments and enriches us, even as it forces us to accept things we don’t like at all.
I’m fortunate never to have struggled with any substantive eating disorder; I know many who have and I know the terrifying and fierce grip those illnesses can have. As I watch my daughter turn onto the runway that leads to adolescence, however, I find myself newly aware of the fraught minefield that body image can be. I’m not sure precisely how to navigate these waters that I’ve only traveled through once before, and that time I was coming from a different perspective. I know I need to avoid derogatory comments about myself (check) and model healthy and genuine eating (check).
The place I trip up is in actively demonstrating self-love. That remains very hard for me. As I thought about my midlife body, however, I realized with surprise and joy that I worry a lot less about it now. Though I still have a long way to go before I am one of those women who is described as being “comfortable in her skin,” I definitely inhabit it more fully and assuredly than before. Of course I am not the beauty that either Christina Applegate or Maya Rudolph is, but I do appreciate instinctively and thoroughly the powerful gorgeousness they display. There is a lot more to do, both for me personally and for society at large, but I’m grateful for the smallest steps in the right direction.
What do you consider the most important things to model for and teach our children? How is your body image, at whatever life stage you find yourself?
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