Your Body at 35: a Brief History

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A day before you turn 30, you fly down to Miami Beach to celebrate your birthday. You spend your first afternoon frolicking on the beach and taking photos with your then-boyfriend.  The result is a series of photos that feature you standing on the beach in a hot pink bikini. Even five years later, you still love these photos. Not just because they commemorate a really great birthday weekend, but because they remind you of how you felt in that moment: free. You weren’t thinking about your body or what it looked like, you just put on your pink bikini and posed.

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This “laissez faire” attitude is what defines the relationship you have with your body during your first 30 years on the planet. Sure, you still remember the name-calling from grade school (skinny. bone rack. shrimp. skeleton) but in general, you don’t spend much time thinking about how your body should or shouldn’t look. You play sports. You dance. When you’re 18, you move to Toronto: a city where you’re always on the go and you make friends with women from diverse cultural backgrounds who also don’t think about their bodies. This helps.

But, between the ages of 30 and 33, things change. You end a long term relationship  and move across the country to live in your sleepy hometown on the West Coast. As your life evolves, so does the relationship you have with your body. Without the stress of the city, your body “grows to fit it’s new tank” and goes through what feels like a second puberty. Your rib cage expands and your hips widen. Your bust increases, you go up 2 bra sizes and your boobs become a force to be reckoned with. You go from 105lbs to 125lbs in just over a year. You walk less and drive more. Your body feels very different.

On one hand, you like this new you. You finally have what one would call “curves.” You feel solid; grounded. You like the way your body takes up more room in the world. Friends, family and lovers call you names that you aren’t used to hearing (curvy. thick. full figured. healthier looking.) Yet, it’s hard to get used to these changes. When you grab the fleshy mass around your waist, it feels alien – like it belongs on another body altogether. That’s when it bubbles to the surface for the first time and doesn’t let go: hate. 

You don’t hate your body. You hate the fact that you’re now spending time thinking about it, when you never did before. This new concern over your body feels not only like a betrayal to yourself, but to women in general.

You never used to feel this way. When you were a kid you danced ballet, swam and ran. You were taught to value your body not for how it looked, but for what it could do. How high it could jump. How fast it could move. As a thirty-something struggling with their body image for the first time, you long to go back to these carefree days.

So, you make some drastic changes. You remove the full length mirror from your bedroom. You start to work out harder than you have in years. You learn to kick and punch. You decide that if a piece of clothing requires Spanx, it’s not worth it. You start to feel really good. Scratch that – you feel strong.

Over the course of these three to four years,  the pop culture definition of what’s attractive also changes. Enter dawn of the Instagram/fitness model; with her rippled six pack and tiny bikini. She’s the latest version of unattainable beauty and she’s everywhere, touting the virtues of the paleo diet and squats. So. Many. Squats. After all, pop culture’s message is clear: it’s not enough to be healthy and fit – you also have to have an ass like a Kardashian.

You find yourself on a date with a guy who tells you that he’s attracted to fitness models and is “really getting into girls with big butts lately.” When he tells you that he encouraged his last girlfriend to do more squats (even going so far as to hire her a personal trainer because as put it, “a curvy girl at 26 is a fat girl at 30”) you want to throw up. It’s clear this guy is an asshole, but the experience still rattles you.

In a moment of insecurity you start to wonder not whether you’re fit (you are) but whether you’re fit enough. While ghostwriting articles for companies in the sex industry you stumble across the glossy, Playboy-esque photos on sites like Perth escorts and Brisbane escorts and wonder, “is this what men really want?”

You get angry when you realize that we allow so much of how we feel about our own bodies to be dictated by someone else. There will always be someone or something trying to make you feel less than, so you need to find a way to tune it out.

The next day at the gym, you imagine your date’s face as you pummel the punching bag and give it multiple roundhouse kicks.

You routinely tell yourself: I am beautiful. I am enough. I am strong. My body is a tool to do cool things.

Your body changes again. It doesn’t get smaller, but it gets more muscular. You kick and punch more things. A woman stops you on the street and asks you if you’re that “lady marathon runner that was featured on the news.” You laugh because you haven’t ran in years and tell her, “it must just be the pink shoes.”

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People have new adjectives to describe you (fit. muscular. athletic.) but your proudest moment comes when you overhear your Mom on the phone with your Grandma. “Simone has been going to this fitness class and now she’s freakishly strong. She helped me lift all these heavy boxes in the garage.” 

It feels good to know that your body can do cool stuff. 

You decide to stop worrying altogether about “how to get the perfect bikini body” and instead, buy a sexy one piece swimsuit that makes you feel like a million bucks. Shortly after your 35th birthday, you take this photo in Palm Springs.

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You make a promise to try and get back to a place where you don’t spend uneccessary time thinking about your body (unless it’s to celebrate it.) You know that it’s not going to be as easy as turning off a switch, but you’re committed to trying to find your way back.

You decide that you’re grateful for the struggle. It reminds you to enjoy the present moment. Because, there will always be a time in your life that you thought you looked better or worse than you do now. You can’t control the passing of time or what other people think, but you can choose to live your best possible life. Right now. Thick thighs and all.