I’ve noticed recently that when I run into female friends, especially in groups, that one of the ways women often bond is to enter into a discussion about how we don’t like how we look.
Somehow, a conversation that starts with “How are you?” often turns into a shared lament about weight, age, hair, the fit of jeans, etc. I’ll admit freely that I don’t want to have this conversation. In fact, I often fall silent and end up wandering away when it happens. I keep asking myself if there’s a way for me to bring up what’s happening and my feelings about it. I wonder if doing so would be helpful or just make others more uncomfortable than they obviously already feel.
Here’s why I don’t want to have that conversation: I know that age is not just a number. I know that weight is not just a number.
I’ve been a dancer for more than 25 years and I know that I can’t do the things I used to do with my body. Warmups that used to take 15 minutes now take 30 or 40 and there are a lot of things I just don’t do any more because of the cost to my joints and ligaments. I also know that my knees are going to tell me about it if I gain more than a certain amount of weight.
The art form I’ve practiced for all of my adult life gives me very direct feedback about everyday physics and the effects of aging. I’m fine with it. I feel enormously grateful to have had the chance to dance and perform so much in my lifetime, and to still be doing so to any extent at the age of 42. Due to the wear and tear of my chosen art, I have to take good care of my body to continue living in it. And I’ve learned that refraining from negative and shaming attitudes toward myself is a big part of that.
Being a dancer has brought me into and kept me in a close relationship with my body, which has been bad at times and is now pretty good. I do understand the sentiment behind statements like “You can do whatever you want, age doesn’t matter!” and “You go girl!” which seem to be the flip side of the body-hating conversation. I guess my question is, isn’t there a middle ground for all this? A place where it’s okay to both have insecurities, and be comfortable and happy with yourself? I don’t see the two as being mutually exclusive: the need for us, as women, to tear ourselves to pieces or to pretend a false confidence based on false ideas.
I could say that I want us to love ourselves— but it’s deeper than that.
I want us to be grounded in reality, to understand that aging and change happen, and that it’s really okay. I question the kind of attitude that requires a woman to vanish under any circumstances. And sure, I don’t dance like I did at 22 or 32 — and I don’t regret it, because I also don’t wear awful costumes any more or agree to appear in work with which I’m not comfortable. I intend to dance in whatever way feels right to me as long as I can because I love it, and that love doesn’t come from whether or not I think I look great in a certain pair of pants.
Elaine Dove is an artist and healer living in Austin, Texas. For more information, visit her blog.
[Photo By nowhere Zen New Jersey]