by Karene Horst, contributing editor – Every morning it hurts to get out of bed. My back aches. My lips scrape against each other, dry and chapped. After my first few limping steps I stumble into the bathroom, bumping my hip against the door jam. Ouch!
This is 56.
The worst part of the morning is that first glance in the mirror. Is that me? That wrinkled, bleary-eyed hag with straggly graying hair matted against a blanched skull glaring back from over the bathroom sink?
A thousand years ago when I was a teenager, my skinny body drew nothing but hateful scowls of envy from the mean girls monitoring the school hallways. Boys smirked at my flat chest in public but in private they greedily pawed beneath my tube top or skin-tight Jordache jeans when I stupidly acquiesced. I grew up with blond Barbie dolls and buxom bikini-clad Farrah Fawcett as my role models. I found it tough navigating society’s mandate of ideal womanhood as I sported thin brown hair, freckles and buck teeth.
Brains and Buns of Steel
Yet coming of age with Feminism I also read Ms. Magazine and watched Astronaut Sally Ride soar to the stars. Lucky me! My generation could aerobicize our bodies into exhausted physical perfection with Jane Fonda workout tapes AND become rocket scientists!
I studied fanatically throughout college earning almost straight A’s while in my spare time I jogged, drank diet sodas and attempted to tame my split ends into the sexy style of the day. Grimacing in pain, I waxed my mustache and my bikini hair before hitting the books to decipher calculus equations. I squeezed into pencil-legged Calvin Kleins and inched mini-skirts down my shaved thighs before sashaying past the cute guy in the second row in Econ 101.
A decade after graduating from college I managed my own business while raising two kids. “I am SUPERMOM!” I roared gleefully, or maybe a tad hysterically. I crunched my abs and pounded the pavement on foot or bicycle trying to work off the “baby fat.” But somehow I could never achieve postpartum perfection promoted by celebrity moms who pranced around in their slinky size 4 togs while cuddling their newborns. Stretch marks and wads of loose, puckered skin resulting from two healthy pregnancies and the obligatory breastfeedings unceremoniously announced my undoing.
I sought professional advice via cosmetic surgeons who assured me that if we sliced away a hunk of skin here and there from my distended belly, stitched together my separated abdominal muscles, carved out my belly button in order to relocate it back into its proper place, and squirted wads of gelatinous silicone into each breast, I could look somewhat presentable again.
Then it hit me like a ton of bricks. I was 35 years old. “Middle-aged” according to my then-husband, who made it crystal clear that surgical overhauls would do little to rehabilitate our failing marriage let alone our lackluster love life. I scolded myself that if I had thousands of dollars to throw away on medically unnecessary procedures I should donate the money instead to Planned Parenthood.
With age comes wisdom
I decided to view the aging process with a more realistic and positive approach. I didn’t have an embarrassing “mom tummy” I had to camouflage with muumuus. This was my “Joey pouch.” My Red Badge of Courage. When necessary I could cover up the unappetizing scar tissue crisscrossing my belly with sexy one-pieces that accentuated the firm ass I had earned through countless squats, miles of cycling and tasteless low fat meals. Yet even though I continued dieting until I appeared anorexic, at 42 I still had that droopy wad of loose skin flapping over my gut that nothing but a surgeon’s knife could excise.
Five years later early menopause and a doctor’s diagnosis of hypothyroidism rang the final death knell on my culturally-induced obsession with body sculpting. Decades of believing a woman should be pretty, sexy AND smart in order to successfully cement her mark on this world had left me permanently scarred and deranged. So I rebelled.
I declared war on dieting. I decided cheese, crackers and wine forged a perfect meal, homemade brownies WITH whipped cream frosting trumped a date with some creep, and exercise that met the minimum for cardiovascular fitness included strolling along the beach at sunset with a good buzz.
I still occasionally walk, hike, lift weights, mountain bike and snowboard. But physical fitness is getting harder and more painful. I’m tired. I can’t keep the pace. I can’t keep spinning my wheels.
And seriously, to hell with dieting! Raw vegetables are fine for salads and I munch plenty of those to offset the impending twin evils of high cholesterol and diabetes. But I will never pass on the dessert tray again. So I’m a little chunky around the middle. And my once fine ass is drifting southward. My thighs have filled out nicely with an impressive layer of cellulite. Push-ups and bicep curls can’t put a dent in my floppy upper arms. Don’t even get me started on my facial terrain. And that’s 56.
And now for something completely different …
Then blow me out of the water, here comes a parade of bikini-clad women well into their 50s and then some to body shame me yet again.
Christie Brinkley supine in the sand with chiseled abs and blond tresses at 65. Fucking 65 years old! She looks better at 65 than I did at 25.
You can’t stop 54-year-old Elizabeth Hurley from Instagramming a stream of photos of herself on the beach. Needless to say, she’s smoking hot.
Then there’s Demi Moore. She’s 56, just like me. That god-damn bitch has haunted my self-image for decades with her amazing career, her magnificent face and voluptuous figure, her sexy husbands and her adorable daughters. Last fall she posed nude on a national magazine cover as if it were just another walk in the park. Tanned, toned, wrinkle-free. A bod to die for. This is 56?
When is it going to stop? Seriously? I’m turning 57 any day now and society lobs another ridiculous challenge in the form of an unrealistic version of what a woman should look like. We all know Moore, Brinkley, Hurley, et al. have had tons of cosmetic surgery, their snapshots painstakingly photo-shopped. Still, they serve as a reminder of the unattainable ideal shoved down my throat since childhood, and it jabs me in the gut.
Screw these cultural weather vanes, these savagely narcissistic women who keep throwing down the gauntlet when the rest of us have earned a desperately needed break. Bad enough we have to compete with women half our age to date men twice our age, now we have luscious old ladies sauntering across our psyches as the paragon of what we should aspire to while the rest of us gray-haired has-beens wrestle with arthritis and overactive bladder?
Hell no I won’t go. I am not signing up for another bout of endless self-loathing. I’m sitting out this beauty competition. I’ve earned this body. I’ve worked hard for it, and I am not apologizing for the creases streaking across my face, the multiple chins that remind me of an elephant’s hindquarters, the sagging teats, the cascading handfuls of skin under my arms, the pockmarked globs of fat haphazardly situated from my midsection on down, the gray hairs on my head and scattered everywhere else.
No thanks ladies, I’m retiring from that rat race. I’ll gladly throw in the towel while you pass the chocolate covered almonds, pretty please.