How comfortable do you feel in your body? Not in your skin, but your actual body? Does its physicality match the ‘you’ that you believe yourself to be? Is your outside congruent with your inside?
There have been times in my midlife journey when I have had a clear sense of the outside and the inside meeting, greeting each other with affection and setting off energetically into that day, delighted to be joined at the hip; literally!
There have been other times however, when the outside and the inside were more likely to pass each other with a polite nod, perhaps a quick smile in that “Don’t I know you from somewhere? Perhaps not. Best I just keep moving on” kind of way. Later, the inside might pause, reflect and say “Oh yes. I remember where I’ve met that body before. Goodness, it’s changed quite a bit. No wonder I wasn’t sure enough to greet it”.
So how does that happen? How do the inside and outside separate to the degree that they are no longer connecting or instantly recognisable to reach other? I think it starts ever so subtly, when the body doesn’t respond in ways it used to – in ways we probably took for granted that it always would. And while we may be surprised in the moment, it’s easier to not dwell upon it, lest it becomes normal.
It’s a brave thing indeed to take stock of the physical changes that our age, hormones and life itself are (cough) gifting us, but as many of you have shared with me privately, and in the spirit of the truth setting us free, here’s a start:
We no doubt expected to have more wrinkles appear (I wish us all the best kind; those borne of laughter and curiosity, with few from tough times and frowns).
We likely figured there’d be some truth in the middle-aged spread rumour, along with a reduction in skin elasticity meaning it no longer snaps firmly back into place once stretched. The odds of our breasts, or anything else for that matter, still being naturally pert are not high. There’d surely be no surprises of our once long and lustrous tresses, left to their own devices, having sparkles liberally sprinkled through the more manageable style we’ve probably now chosen.
And of course, with the reduction in oestrogen brought about by menopause or, its waiting-in-line-sister, peri menopause, we’re informed enough to know that many of us (about 85% actually) will become acquainted with hot flushes or flashes at some point. Along with sleeplessness, vaginal dryness, a little bit of incontinence, loss of libido, memory lapses and this winning list of symptoms (compiled by the Association of Women for the Advancement of Research and Education).
But who knew that peri and menopause could also give us the pimply skin of a teenager? (Even more insulting if you didn’t actually experience the torment of pimply skin as a teenager!). That our eyebrows would thin to the degree that the once weekly job of plucking out an abundance of errant hairs would change to the monthly job of dyeing what’s left of them? And while we probably knew that our gums would recede, who expected our lips would thin and our teeth might narrow?
And who (until it happens) could fully appreciate the emergence of hair – coarse, fast growing and unyielding in its determination to stay put – sneakily appearing in odd places that you can only see in certain lights, which leave you wondering just how many people had been staring at that hair, for how long, thinking you are a mad old woman for leaving it sticking out of your chin or cheek for all the world to see?
Did you expect to sail through midlife with little physical change? I suspect I thought most of the changes would happen when I got old. And of course, because MIDLIFE IS NOT OLD (yes, I am shouting that), I simply didn’t give it a lot of thought as I went about generally enjoying myself in the years before. It was less a matter of thinking I was ’10 foot tall and bulletproof’ and more ‘I’ll deal with that when it comes’. But guess what? The outside changes are multitudinous and ‘ignorance is bliss’ is sitting about as uncomfortably on my inside as the spare tyres around my middle are on the outside!
So what to do, what to do?
If it were really as easy as Eat Less, Move More, my outside and inside might stand a fighting chance of becoming reacquainted before irreversible damage is done. But my intuition says it’s not that easy at midlife. Many approaches don’t lend themselves well to sore joints, early flights and long days, a preference for books over exercise, variable sleep, knees that no longer bend very well and work that includes spending hours and hours sitting on my ever-widening rear!
However, my desire to ensure congruence between the ways my inside sees me and the outward manifestation it doesn’t quite recognise, is about to become my project for the second half of this year.
Any bright ideas, Ripenists?