It’s that time of year when grown women like you and me are showered with messages about what we should and shouldn’t wear if we want to feel the sand between our toes and the sunshine on our back.
Only last week I read an article in a lifestyle magazine declaring: “scrub, sculpt and smooth before you dare to bare. The must do exercises for a peach-perfect beach-ready bum.”
At 53, I’ve absorbed and been limited by messages about how my body should look for 42 years.
As a consequence, I’ve been underweight and obese (according to the medical BMI charts). I’ve been called “fatso” by a group of young men in a passing car (in Spanish!) and jokingly ‘complimented’ that at least I don’t sweat much for a fat girl.
I didn’t run for decades because I didn’t think runners had wobbly thighs and chunky knees. I didn’t surf (a life long dream) because I didn’t see women like me surfing. I did sub-aqua dive though because the sea never judges and cradles your body whatever your age or shape. I will never forget a wonderful drift dive, literally flying through the water like a tiny tropical Nemo, albeit in the cold waters of North West Scotland.
And now, with 54 in sight, I’m in the middle of those BMI charts – a “healthy weight”, whatever that means.
More importantly, I’m gradually reaching a place of peace, a quiet balance between who I am on the inside and who I am on the outside. Breathing into myself. Embracing my dimpled thighs and curvy tummy. Discovering my natural shape and growing joyfully into my future.
In my fifties, my body and I are becoming friends. At last.
If any of this resonates with you, here are some lessons I’ve learnt along this winding and sometimes difficult path. I’m not an expert except for my own life, but you may find them helpful for yours.
1. Be kind to myself
Going to bed early with a book, dancing on a hill at sunset, speaking to myself as I would a friend – not with the criticism I used for decades.
2. Appreciate all my body has gone through and given me
The exhausting, hungry years, two gorgeous boys, healing after two miscarriages, grief, the menopause and the ageing process. And here I am, still standing, still smiling. So grateful.
3. Tiny adventures moving joyfully
Treading water in the sea, lifting heavy things in the gym, running at 9pm in the hills, paddleboarding with my youngest son, rowing a marathon with my eldest by my side.
Moments of true joy – my body and I in unison. Friends on an adventure, exploring all that life has to offer. Together.
4. Not compare myself to others
This has been so hard for me. My natural inclination is always to assume I’m not good enough on every level. I have to work hard to breath through it.
As women growing up in the 1970/80s we were also taught that we were in competition with each other. Comparison, allegedly, was simply an occupational hazard of being a woman. That’s something I’m choosing to unlearn. I’ve replaced it with “we rise by lifting others”.
Being kind to myself and other women.
5. Above all, remember that life is so short and so precious
And create joy whenever I can. In our 40s and 50s, I am sure we all have friends who are unwell or those we have lost too soon. Far too soon. I’m here and healthy. I want to make the most of the days ahead.
I spent years waiting for my body to be slim enough (the last 10lbs!) to do the things I wanted to do. I don’t want to wait any longer.
This is not the stuff of “transformation” pictures, no before and after triumph. No diets, cleanses or programmes. Just tiny moments of accepting, loving, nourishing myself as I am, dimpled thighs and curvy tummy, over many years.
Am I totally 100% body confident every day? No! Absolutely not. But then my confidence in my work and being a mum ebbs and flows too, so why expect this to be any different?
Ups and downs. Forwards & backwards.
But from now on I’m going to to wear what will enhance my joy and the adventure I want to have on the beach, not play to anyone else’s agenda of what is deemed “appropriate”, “brave” or required to “prove” myself.
One day a wetsuit, another leggings and a rash top, a swimsuit or woolly hat and scarf as I see fit.
My adventure, my body, my choice.
I’ve finally realised that the time is now. There are waves to be ridden, shorelines to clean and cartwheels to enjoy. Today, on the beach, just as I am. My body and I. Friends at last.