I will turn 48 this month and while I hate being typical, I am being typical in that it’s eating my lunch. In part, this is due to realizing that I will be less than 7 years from the age at which my father died. That’s a shocker, although really it is only math. I am no more or less likely to die at my father’s age than any other–and the women in our family live into their 90s. On my mother’s side. Which is the side I am counting. Still, my tendency to the morbid makes me wonder what it would mean if I had only 7 years left.
On second thought, let’s not think about that. Delete file.
There is a great deal of patriarchy-inspired baggage that comes along with aging as a female. On the surface, a trifecta of concerns: Loss of sexual attractiveness, becoming invisible, looking old. I spend a lot of time lately disliking my body for various and sundry reasons that include being “fat” (don’t freak out, I’m coming right back to that to explain), being “ugly”, being “old”.
On “fat”….I am not fat. I know this. I am bigger than you think I am because I don’t show you the bits that are large. As I have delved into this consciousness-raising that is body positivity, I have found a secondary trap: I can, really, truly, completely honestly love just about anyone else’s body. But not mine. It’s a situation of “growth:but”. Does your belly bother me? No. Your ass? Your cellulite? No and no. Your varicose veins (Okay, let’s be honest, mine bother me and yours bother me because they bother me in general)? I am bigger than I would like to be is what I want to say yet, if I unpack it a bit more, what I come up with is that I don’t feel healthy or strong. I feel soft and weak and therefore, old–but not wise and wonderful. “Fat” is just a stand-in word for “I don’t like myself.”
I compounded this by going to see Atomic Blonde this past weekend. That is a fantastic movie, btw, met and exceeded all hopes and expectations in terms of every possible quality. It also, though, brought up that feeling that much of entertainment does: I cannot possibly ever be that impossible combination of skinny, flawless, strong, bad ass, warrior superhero female. (Wonder Woman, I am sorry to say, did not make me feel this longing at all, and I entirely blame the costume and the decision that she never once got dirty no matter what she was doing). How much do I want to be Charlize Theron in that film? So much it hurts. Which exists right alongside the reality that even Charlize Theron can’t be Charlize Theron in that film.
I have long (since the age of 6) relied on a serious fantasy life that I discuss with no one but that has allowed me to steal away from reality and become something I am not. It’s intensely private, and I mention it here only because it’s a way of pretending to be the thing I am not and can never be. The person I pretend to be in my fantasy world aged along with me from about 6 years old until around 30, 35, hell, maybe she’s 40, but not in the way that *I* am 40. She is now sort of ageless (for a fantasy, I tend to be very hard on myself for some of my continuity issues, this is my cosmic ability to ruin something for myself for no reason other than to continue the process of criticism I was raised with–I can interrupt a whole pleasant episode by getting concerned that I haven’t attached an exact age, and am I being true to myself by imagining a younger woman, etc). I remember when I was little, I worried about the normality of this fantasy life, this serial pretend story that I “wrote” in my head constantly and tried to obliquely ask my mother about it (whatever “oblique” is for an 8 year old) and wound up being told it was fine to “play pretend”. This was not satisfying, and I worried and still do that I am utterly WEIRD and probably pathological. I have never raised it in therapy because I don’t want to ruin it with analysis. But. It’s those times when I find myself mourning the fantasy and finding fault with reality that I feel, well, like I’ve been poisoned by the false expectations and requirements for being The Right Way and am just perpetuating that with my fantasy life. I mentioned I overthink things, right? I do that.
No one is Charlize Theron in that film. No one is my fantasy self. Nowhere are we taught to be satisfied with what we are right here in the world. I try to say to myself that my body, it’s doing a damn good job of just keeping me alive, especially since I’ve got a lot of extra damage since I didn’t even start out with a complete set of collagen–from the get go 35-55% of my body’s protein is flawed. I should be celebrating every day that I get up and walk around, right? Yet, there rises the image of Charlize Theron, gritty, bruised, injured, raising her perfect body out of a tub of ice cubes and then her body double (guessing) naked at the mirror and I feel exquisitely not enough as the reality of, say, throwing up because my bath was too hot last week tries to run alongside that.
So, maybe, 48 will be the year that I get closer to closing the gap between who I think I ought to be because of a toxic culture and who I *am* despite it–and find a place to feel okay about it. To remember that no one is what we are shown we should be. To grasp that it’s okay, more than okay, it’s fantastic to be right where I am. The year I stop worrying what people will think of my (gross weak eww) body and just go forward, unapologetically, with the packaging I’m in. To look at my body without thinking gross, weak, eww, and to not even care if that’s what someone else (a 20 year old who fears aging and fights it with savage critique, for example) might be thinking. That’s a tall order, I know. I sense in myself, though, a growing weariness with buying into not being enough. I suspect that means I am getting wise, even as I worrry it means I am getting old and will soon start wearing orthopedic shoes and sweat pants. I’ll save them for 50; although that may be only to burn them on a pyre made of birthday cake candles.