“Forty and Fabulous!” “40 is the New 30!” “Still Sexy!”
So proclaim the covers of every woman’s magazine, and at least one segment of every daily talk show. The message is everywhere, and it purports to empower the middle-aged among us, by preaching the gospel of happiness through bodily transformation. Exciting news, Ladies – we can still be seen as beautiful and desirable to men!
That is, as long as we jump through some hoops.
Hoops that usually consist of some sort of change in eating habits and the addition of an exercise regimen. It’s a Recipe for Happiness, right? Put in the right combination of dietary restrictions, mix with the correct amount of cardio/lifting/lunges/whatever, and Poof! Out comes Bikini Body Mama, hotter than ever.
I suppose that some women find this message empowering. After all, who doesn’t want to be seen as beautiful? At age 44, I sincerely hope I would not be silly enough to post a Bikini Bathroom Selfie onto social media. A big part of me would like to have the option, though.
But I’ve concluded that this Forty and Fabulous message is just a form of bondage, another way for women to feel shame over things that don’t even matter. Here’s why.
Four and a half years ago, I began a serious fitness regimen and a major overhaul to my diet. I lost 30-plus pounds and four clothing sizes, and I gained a lot of strength and health and self-esteem. I felt Forty and Fabulous!
But gradually, I began feeling like somewhat of a failure, because the recipe didn’t work like magic on my body. Despite the tremendous gains in my health and shrinkage of my girth, I did not transform into Bikini Body Mama. My rock-hard abs were hidden under skin that, after accommodating four babies in five and a half years, resembles nothing so much as a bulldog’s face. My shoulders, arms, and back, always naturally padded, grew to linebackerish proportions with the development of those muscles. (Most women do not bulk up with weight training; I think I must be the exception).
But I was not giving up on The Dream yet. So, I tightened up my eating even further. After two months of cutting out all sugar, dairy, grains, legumes, and chemicals of any sort from my diet, I had shrunk a bit more, but was still far away from my Bikini Body Mama dream; no Bathroom Selfies were in my near future. And I felt like a Big, Fat Failure.
That’s when I decided that chasing the Forty and Fabulous dream was a stupid waste of my time.
I began to awaken to the fact that a good chunk of my thought life had been dedicated to thinking about my body, comparing it unfavorably to everyone else’s. This affected me, certainly, but what about my kids? Attitudes are caught, not taught. What were my three daughters absorbing through my constant self-criticism, even though I never voiced it aloud?
One of my saddest realizations is that I have allowed my feelings of failure to eclipse the very real successes I’ve achieved on my wellness journey. It wasn’t the dietary changes or the fitness regimen that were faulty. Both have contributed greatly to my physical and mental health. What derailed me is that I bought into the big Lie that our worth as women is determined by our outsides. We are beautiful. And bikinis don’t have one freaking thing to do with it.