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Bathing Suits, Bikinis and Our Bodies!

By Suzanne Braun Levine

Recently I came upon a photograph of myself in my first bikini (it was really a two-piece, compared to what goes as a bikini these days) and I was struck by how good I looked. That thought lasted about two minutes until I realized that when that picture was taken, I thought I looked fat and bulky; I was not happy to be looked at. Then I realized that I feel the same way today. Fat and bulky. Plus, wrinkled and saggy. What a waste, I thought, not feeling good about my body back then. And just as much of a waste feeling ashamed of it now. As one woman said to me after having the same then-and-now photo revelation, “We’d better start appreciating ourselves now or we will look back in a few years and wish we looked as good as we did then.” It’s time to get rid of this second guessing about our appearance, and try to accept that even if our bodies don’t look as good as they once did, we can feel better about our Selves than we did back then.

Many of us have had body image problems all our lives. Most of us have body image problems now that our bodies are changing. Some of it is due to growing up in a culture where women were supposed to be beautiful, and thin and doll-like. That made it impossible for me to appreciate how I looked as opposed to how models and celebrities and role models told me I was supposed to look. (There is some consolation in the certitude that those same models and celebrities are sagging now too.)

One way to look at the current situation is that the pressure is finally off. In the same way as we are reconsidering our expectations in many areas of our lives, women tell me of changing their standards for what they expected from their bodies; one woman put it this way, “You know I’m into ‘fit’ now as opposed to ‘fat.’ I may not look as glamorous, but I can put my suitcase up on the rack on the airplane. I get so much satisfaction out of feeling strong and fit that I don’t focus so much on skin tone and all those things that you can’t do anything about.” My trainer tells me that she has noticed that when her clients turn fifty or when they go through menopause, or become grandparents, they get serious about being healthy and fit; they aren’t so much exercising for appearance as they are for long-term health and for feeling strong. The body image is internal. I often laugh at myself because I used to look fit on the outside and I was nothing but flab on the inside, now it’s the reverse.

We all have good days and bad days, and there’s no getting around that. But we have a new source of healing humor. I have had some of my best laughs with my friends when we get together and someone announces that she’s discovered a new decrepitude. First of all it’s a relief because we’ve probably noticed it on ourselves and not wanted to pay attention to it, but also the camaraderie is infinitely supportive. What I hate are the put-downs, the birthday cards and snide poems that make cruel fun of our looks; when we laugh at those, we are laughing at ourselves, not with each other. For me, there is a big difference between the sort of empowering laughter, and the humor that is, to me anyway, a continuation of the self-disgust that we grew up with.

The pressure is off in other areas too. Including sex. We used to be encouraged to see other women as rivals, so we always had to compare ourselves to them and try to be sexier, or more beautiful or thinner. Now that we are, for the most part, all on the same side, the self-doubt can be handled differently. Many of the women I have interviewed for my next book How We Love Now have told me that when they find a right relationship in their fifties and sixties it’s amazing how un-self-conscious they feel when they get down to the sex part, that they just feel accepted for who they are by themselves and by the other person. What they are focusing on is not how they look, but on how they feel, on what will give them pleasure and their partner pleasure rather than on how they look.

There is a scene in the movie “It’s Complicated” – directed by Nancy Myer — that takes place the morning after the Meryl Streep character has just slept with her ex, played by Alec Baldwin. He waddles off into the bathroom looking… his age, while she gets up smiling and starts wrapping herself up in the sheet. He is confused. “But we were naked last night, what are you doing this for?” And she replies, “We were lying down then.” That line embodies (get it?) the kind of good-natured acceptance of how her body looks with gratitude for how it works.

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One Comment »

  • Janett Brown said:

    Thanks for this great post. And I think with some working out, every woman can have the body that she has been dreaming of. ;) We just need to stop complaining about the way we look and take care of the way we look. ;)

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