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Not Bad for 53

Last week I looked online for “bikinis for middle-aged bodies.” My body has changed. My middle corridor is like a barrel. I look at my daughter’s slender waist and wonder why I didn’t wear a bikini when I could, when my body looked like hers. Bikinis are so much easier to wear. They don’t ride up your butt. You don’t have to take your whole suit down to go to the bathroom. And generally, they’re cuter.

I found a bathing suit with really high bottoms and really low tops. Essentially only an inch or two of my midriff would be showing. It was perfect. My partner had recently bought a bikini with a similar style and I thought it looked adorable on her. I hoped that if I got a similar suit it would look adorable on me too.

Yesterday I wore it for the first time. I was excited to wear it. I imagined myself looking sporty and fit, like I’d intentionally chosen that high waist for style, not just to cover my tummy, but because it was fashionable and cute.

Yesterday my partner and I went on a hike with some friends and afterward visited a beautiful glacial river. The water was freezing and just a few of us braved the frigid temperatures and dove in. My partner filmed the whole thing.

Before getting in the bath last night I peeled away my sweaty clothes from a long day of hiking and driving and saw myself in the mirror. “Not so bad,” I thought to myself, “for 53, not so bad.”

But as I lay in the bath I watched the video of myself getting in the river. My eyes immediately went to a spot of cellulite on my upper left thigh. It was all I could see. Everything else became a blur. The rock wall bordering the river covered in tiny plants was invisible to my thigh-scrutinizing eyes. The sound of the rushing river behind my friends' laughter and encouragement as we prepared to dive in was muted.

I used my thumb and index finger to expand the image of myself and my new bathing suit. In addition to the spot of cellulite on my upper left thigh, I could still see the lump at my abdomen and I cringed at the pale 2 inches of space between the top and bottom of my bikini.

My body has changed. A lot. I can still hike eleven miles and feel good. I get up every morning and take a walk and feel good. My body serves me every day. What, at age 53 am I still longing for? What kind of body am I trying to get? It’s a ridiculous, constantly moving target.

A few weeks ago my partner and I went on a trip to the Canadian Rockies. We stayed in a huge hotel with throngs of couples and families. I noticed lots of young families — women and men in their mid to late thirties with little kids. The women were consistently fit and the men consistently less so. The husbands seemed to have let themselves go a little bit.

The almost-middle-aged men walked confidently around the hotel with nice round bellies or a little squirt of flesh around their middles. And they didn’t seem to care. They didn’t wear loose-fitting shirts that hung wide to cover or hide their bellies. They proudly wore fitted polo shirts tucked into their slightly too tight pants’ waists. It made me mad. I have never known that feeling of just accepting the changes in my body.

I am still worried about that little lump in my belly that came with menopause and now I’m obsessed with that cellulite on my thighs. What if the lump flattened and the cellulite disappeared? What would I scrutinize then? I know I’d find something.

I have been doing this dance, this “there’s always something to fix” dance, my entire life. I look at my seventeen-year-old daughter and pray that she escapes some of this madness. I dream that she and her peers will be more accepting of their bodies than I and my peers are. I shudder to think at what a poor t role model I am for her right now.

Some days I look at the skin on my thighs, how it’s a little bit crepey and hangs like a deflated bean bag when I do downward dog. I know my skin will never shrink back to what it looked like when I was in my thirties, so I try to accept it. I’ve gone back several times to look at that river video again, to try to see it differently. I want to accept this body. Like giving myself exposure therapy, I have watched the image over and over until it didn’t make me furrow my brow with judgment.

I wonder what it would be like to just accept this body. I wonder if it’s possible, after all these years, to just say, “This is it. This is my body and I accept it.” I love my new bikini. It’s comfortable and convenient and cute. I want to feel good in it. I don’t want to ruin the experience by focusing on my belly or my thighs.

And the truth is, nobody cares but me. Maybe that’s what those squishy-bellied men in the Canadian hotel believe. They grew up knowing that no one really cared about their bodies. They weren’t objectified and marketed to in the way girls and women are so they don’t get it. They don’t know the experience of perfection. Walking around with a little extra belly fat is no big deal for them.

When I looked in the mirror before my bath last night I had the right idea. “Not bad for 53,” I thought to myself. That’s the message I ought to be repeating to myself when I jump to the “bodily imperfections” in pictures or videos. It’s not too late for me to adopt this new way of thinking. I still have many years left in this vessel that’s served me well for over half a century. My commitment starts now. My new mantra begins. I’ll say it over and over until I believe it: “not bad for 53.”

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