I glanced at the window and saw my reflection. I was the oldest woman in the room by 25 years. My daughter Annie had invited me to participate in a workout session with a famous California fitness guru. It was not what I was expecting as a Mother’s Day gift. My daughters Annie and Amanda are sleek and toned. As I glanced at their young bodies, I felt the twinge I feel when I fall off the precipice and make a comparison to my aging body.
We began with crazy fast “burpees.” (I’m not sure if I had done one since the sixth grade for The President’s Fitness tests!) Thankfully, we had options: Option A for those who had just had a baby or had been up all night with a sick child; Option B for those who were strong and in great shape; and Option C if you were a goddess who lives to exercise. I felt no shame being Option A.
The intensity of the workout increased as the instructor quickened our pace and simultaneously began to name the frustrations young wives feel as they try to be supermoms and professional women. With the cadence of rock music, she exposed the myth: Just try harder and everything will work out. She took on the foolish lies: “Look good, and no one will know you are lonely” and “Loose five pounds, and your life will be great.” It was a rock concert/therapy session with physical torture!
We were given short, quiet times to catch our breath in Child’s Pose, and emotions bubbled up and tears released. I had a fleeting moment of picturing my mother and grandmother in the class alongside me. I realized how much I missed them and tears of love stung my eyes. Then, the workout resumed, and we were instructed to shout with the rhythm of our vigorous steps while we sweated out our hurts and hostilities toward jobs, children, husbands, and our bodies.
We are at war with our bodies. How did we get here?
Our pastor is doing a series on Knowing God. His recent sermon was on Psalm 139:13-18. I especially love verse 14. It reads, “Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it.” Wow, I just love that! He asked the congregation, “Do you thank God for who you are? Or do you resent God for how He made you?” His research showed that 90% of women and 50% of men say that they are dissatisfied with their body. He said the other 50% of men were lying. He also reported that 20 million women and 10 million men have had or will have a clinical eating disorder in their lifetime.
I came home thinking about the sermon and did some research. Last month USA Today featured an article stating, “An American Society of Plastic Surgeons report found that $16 billion was spent on cosmetic plastic surgeries and minimally invasive procedures in 2016, which is the most the U.S. has ever spent on such operations.” Another article quoted that Millennials and Gen Xers are heading to plastic surgeons or dermatologists not to undo the toll years have taken on their skin, but to prevent it.
I watched the documentary “Embrace,” directed by Taryn Brumfitt. In 2013 Taryn, a mother in Australia, posted a “before-and-after” photo of herself during her pregnancy. It went viral on the Internet and was seen by 100 million people worldwide. The comments she received were vicious. She realized the power of body shaming and body loathing. She traveled the globe talking to experts, women on the street, and well-know personalities about the alarming self-hatred related to not having a perfect body.
I feel sickened with this global epidemic related to women’s bodies. Are we destined to have unhealthy negative self-talk for a lifetime? Our gender is objectified and sexualized while simultaneously critiqued for not being sufficiently sexy.
The day after my Mother’s Day workout, I went to my yoga class. The instructor began class with an explanation of the term “Svadhyaya,” which literally means “one’s own reading and self-study.” She said it is good to study wisdom teachings to help cultivate self-compassion and self-discovery. Then our instructor said that anytime you find fault with your body or yourself with negative words spoken in your mind, it’s like you are vomiting on yourself. That got my attention.
As believers we say that the Holy Spirit resides within our bodies. It is honorable to take care of our body, mind, and spirit. For me, the toning and stretching of yoga postures helps keep my sciatica at bay. This practice quiets my mind when I focus on breathing and my body parts. But what do we see when we look in the mirror? Do we see the temple of the Holy Spirit? Do we see a body that is the delight and masterpiece of our Creator God? Or do we find fault with our thighs, stomach, wrinkles, or gray hair?
I looked into the mirror after all this reflection and decided that I am not going to color my hair anymore. On one hand, it is a big decision. On the other hand, it is no big deal. Coloring my hair began in high school with Clairol’s Nice ‘n Easy Frost & Tip kit. In college being natural was the rage. After our children were born and the house was decorated, it seemed time to “redecorate” my hair by covering up the gray. I started out brown, then red, and then blonde. Now it is time to embrace my new senior citizen body, including my hair.
I fault no one for coloring their hair or pampering themselves with Botox or cosmetic surgeries, but I finally decided for me enough is enough. Aging is inevitable, and the passage of time will take my body to death one day. But until it does, I can fight back by blessing my body, laying my self-critical weapons down, and finally resting in holy imperfection.
Becky Allender lives on Bainbridge Island with her loving, wild husband of 40 years. A mother and grandmother, she is quite fond of sunshine, yoga, Hawaiian quilting and creating 17th Century reproduction samplers. A community of praying women, loving Jesus, and the art of gratitude fill her life with goodness. She wonders what she got herself into with Red Tent Living! bs
Oh, Becky. I love this! Thank you for speaking a truth we (I) hold behind clenched teeth. I want to be able to bless my body and “rest in holy imperfection.” What life-giving words! Love to you.
Thank you Christine! How WOULD daily life be if we were constantly astonished at God’s craftsmanship of our bodies? What would that be translated to joy for each day? I am challenged to be more full of care and delight!
Thank you so much for writing about this, Becky. It’s such cool timing, because just a few weeks ago, I watched the “Embrace” documentary. I was moved to tears and I’ve been telling all my girlfriends to watch it too. As I see more and more gray hairs sprout at my hairline, the fine lines develop around my eyes, and the way certain body parts sag more than they used to, I’m aware that this ideal we have of beauty is a myth, just as perfection is a myth. Our bodies are mysterious and complicated, and my many years as a nurse have fostered a sense of awe in how God made us. At the same time, our bodies often fail us and betray us, and it’s such a humbling thing to walk around in a body that often seems to have a mind of its own. We are jars of clay, indeed. What a complex part of humanity and femininity! Thanks for giving words to your journey with aging and womanhood. I think the only place to land is embracing ourselves and being kind to our bodies for all that they do for us! The alternative is soul-sucking! I love yoga and find that it’s been such a profound practice that helps me find my breath and honor my body. Thanks Becky!
Thanks Libby. Yes! The movie Embrace was astounding in so many ways. I was so furious at the many comments from men that were hurled at her. Rather than stay with that staining judgement of men…I DO think the wonder of each person’s journey in their body is to be marveled at. You must have seen so much glory in your career as a surgical nurse, Libby. How little I do know of how amazing our bodies truly are. The media hurls so much unattainable imperfection….I hope I will embrace who I am without judgement or complaint more and more.
Dear Becky, I loved this and how it spoke to my heart and gently stepped on my toes in an inviting way – not condemning. That is until ….. the “decided that I am not going to color my hair anymore” words. That one got me. I wish I was there with you. But realistically I’m not. Maybe some day. Maybe I’ll encourage my daughter to come to the nursing home and color my hair if that day comes. And I love how it’s okay with you. You’ll accept me anyway, grey or artificial auburn. You also offer me a space to ponder why keeping my gray colored seems so important. I love looking younger than the years say. AND – there’s always an “and” – is there a place where evil can come into my delight and twist it against me. As always sweet friend, you offer me such tender places to ponder. And ponder I will – but with a renewed kindness to my physical, aging body. love you, Valerie
Ah, Valerie!!! I love your dark hair and your petit body and your beautiful face. The fact that you are a matriarch of so many lovely grandchildren and children does not mean you cannot keep looking young with your lovely dark hair. As women…we choose however to keep loving ourselves and seeing our selves lovely. I love dark hair on any age on man or woman!
BIG SMILE. Enough is enough, and now you will know/have/be so much more…more time, more natural strength, more freedom to be who you are. I look forward to that promised crown of glorious gray. Bravo, friend. Bless yourself.
Thanks! It will be interesting….to see what that will look like! AND, if I do not like it….guess what? I will choose coloring my hair once again. Freedom to be me!
Once again thank you so for allowing your vulnerability to shine. Once again God has used you to speak words and thoughts I need to hear. I have really been working on love toward my body versus hating it post harm done to it. Just this weekend I was trying to compose a letter to it thanking it for all the positives (oh so hard). Your words give me encouragement to continue on the journey of embracing it, celebrating it’s “wonderfulness” and reveling in it’s “holy imperfection”. grace and love-Joan
I am thrilled you began writing a letter to your glorious body! I am thrilled that you, too, are embracing, celebrating your body’s wonderfulness. Seriously!!! Let’s do that more and more. I think our joy will shine greater….
I love this so much… in my youth I was very fit… while have very unhealthy … broken view of my body. After years of self-hatred … years of anorexia … I found healing … I could learn to love myself… turning 60… and having some injuries… my muscles turned so quickly to mush… my body formed was changing so quickly… in what I considered a negative direction. I found myself looking in the mirror and shaming my aging body … I heard old familiar taunts toward myself… by God’s grace… His love broke through… and I could start The process of blessing my body instead of cursing my body…while holding the tension of aging well… strong body , soul, and mind … but holding this in a more gentle space in my heart.
When I turned 50… I told the Lord I wanted to be gray and gracious … I had encounter woman who were not wearing aging well… so as my hair was turning gray… i looked at it as my journey of growing old gracefully… graciously…. funny thing… I am graying very slowly … not sure what that says about my process in graciousness🤣 You dear Becky ooze with the graciousness of God… so you might want to be prepared to be fully gray☺️ .
Dear Ro, bless you. I am grateful your anorexia is no more. So sorry for that journey that was yours. You radiate grace and beauty to me and I trust to so many. I love how you described your journey: “by God’s grace… His love broke through… and I could start The process of blessing my body instead of cursing my body…while holding the tension of aging well… strong body , soul, and mind … but holding this in a more gentle space in my heart.” Yes! We must have gentle spaces in our heart to hold so many things that once were and are no more. I love how you gave me a visual way to imagine that. Thanks for your comments.
I always love to read your posts. I’ll be 69 next month. It made me laugh out loud when you described your Mom’s Day gift. Kids are so oblivious to the aging thing. It’s refreshing that even in your family where self reflection is an art form, they don’t quite get it. I love how they love you and want you part of their world and how memories of the love you have for your mom and grandmom brought tears to you eyes. All of that is so lovely. I actually think aging is designed to break us down and turn to God. It’s for those that don’t turn early on. And refine those that do. Bless you Becky Allender for being so gracious and actually going to that class. You are braver than me!
Dear Ginger. Thank you. I, too, love how my family loves me and wants me to be a part of their world. I had not reflected on that before and realized how precious that it! You phrased this so beautifully: “I actually think aging is designed to break us down and turn to God. It’s for those that don’t turn early on. And refine those that do.” May we grasp what you wrote more and more because…in our “breaking down” Jesus becomes more and more assessable and near to us. Which is immeasurably priceless. And…my bravery! Yikes…I was already in the room and it wasn’t until then that I realized that my yoga mat would be used differently than it ever had been before! Grace and mercy are such great gifts to age with!
I always look forward to reading your thoughts. I have come to anticipate what searching within myself they will evoke. Aging…aging well..wearing our aging outwardly. Thank you for your offering today. May God continue to bless you and your influence. Much Love and Appreciation. Jaimi
Thank you Jaimi for responding. I am with you! May we wear our aging well and with wholehearted gratitude!
Oh yes…I get all of this! I stopped coloring my hair about 7 years ago. It was a pain to grow it out but I did. Never going back. “Vomit all over yourself” gee…I get that, too. Great reminders here, Becky. Ones that warm my heart to see this so clearly with you. Blessing💜MJ
Thanks, Mary Jane. I love your gorgeous silvery hair! I do dread the “growing out stage”. Dread it and you give me great hope that if you lived through it, so can I. Here’s to spilling blessing out on our bodies!
Thank you Becky. This. Is. My. Body.
Not yet! You are too young!!!
The sacred embrace of who and what we are. Working at holding the reality that acceptance of my aging body is truly a gift only i can offer myself.
You said it brilliantly….”Working at holding the reality that acceptance of my aging body is truly a gift only i can offer myself.” Yes and yes and YES!!! Thank you, Elaine, for responding with truth and calling me to a greater “sacred embrace” of my aging body.
Thank you again Becky for bravely speaking from your heart. You do so in a way that invites me to consider the ways that I am tempted to war with my body instead of embracing all of holy imperfections. You speak with curiosity and truth and it is quite refreshing!
Thank you Bethany. I do hope I can embrace more of my growing imperfections as the years go by. The other option….Well, is just not loving!
I feel as though I’ve always been at war with my body. Ugh! Thank you for inviting me to lay down my weapons and bless my body. I need that reminder more than you know. I deeply admire your choice about your hair – such beauty and kindness in that.
Dear Jenn, here’s to both of us laying down those weapons. And…my hair…well, one more thing to bless and….if for some reason it does not seem to be the right option, I have not signed a contract and am not bound to it for the reason of a blog entry! Grace, more and more grace is what living needs to be about. Thank you Jenn.
You are brave and beautiful as a truth-speaker and embodiment of grace. Thank you for allowing yourself to be seen
Thank you dearest Annie! It is freeing to be seen!!
I am working on my “crown of glory” which is kindly still hidden (mostly) among the curls. But the “sparkles” (as my nine year old calls them) are definitely there. I am grateful for the honest conversation of older women here as I grow into becoming my older self. I love the kindness towards personal decisions and the truth that each of us battles our own demons. What is right and good for one to release and accept, in this case going gray, is not necessarily the same for another. There is goodness and grace and such humility spoken here.
Becky, I love your long, beautiful hair and the way it frames your face and kind eyes. I am confident that as your crowning sparkles begin to grow out in all of their holy imperfection, your beauty will continue to deepen. And, yes, FREEDOM to be yourself and to choose to play with your hair color again is always an option. We are not stuck choiceless. Every Blessing and much love on your continuing journey of wisdom and beauty.
I love that you have sparkles and therefore, so do I! That is brilliant and has changed much in my heart as I reflect on my hair that has lost pigment are now sparkles! Sounds so much better than, “I am old and therefore my hair is old and gray.” It is important to have conversations with older women and seems now I am in the older category and yet there are so many women who are in their eighties and nineties and I think I am brave enough to want to hear from them too….Thank you for your reply, Julie. Enjoy your young body!!