Susan Sarandon said, "I look forward to being older, when what you look like becomes less and less an issue and what you are is the point."
I can't wait for the day when I can relate to these words as opposed to longing for that perfect body and that flawless image.
I went from three years of competitive body building in a bikini division, where what I looked like controlled my every movement, and what I was, was a self-absorbed woman who constantly analyzed her body, deciding what needed to be done next in order to win the top national title, get sponsors, and appear on that coveted Oxygen magazine cover. Finally, one day when I was comforting my daughter who was having her first episode of teenage angst, as she was crying in my arms, I was mentally counting how much time this adolescent break-down would cost me in the gym. It was at that moment that I realized the depth of my obsession, not only with my body and my looks, but with my attempts to stop the clock.
Now I'm in a career that has me working 12-hour shifts, running off my feet to tend to the needs of my patients; working a pattern of days and nights, all of which are not at all conducive to my previous regimen of weight lifting, cardio, and healthy eating. On my infrequent days off, instead of sprinting on the treadmill for 45 minutes a day, I am spending that time lounging on my couch, watching daytime TV, and quite literally eating bonbons.
I try to accept that this is real life. This is what working women with families endure. There is very little leisure time; more to the point, a chiseled body and the necessary accoutrements that go with it like sleek shiny hair, manicured nails, and glowing skin are not impossible to achieve, but in my lived experience, the woman who achieves these is most likely lacking in a few other aspects of her life.
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I understand what Susan Sarandon means by the above quote, and wouldn't it be wonderful to be that person who is so complete within herself and her worth as a human being that the feminine archetype which requires a much more self-absorbed mindset, more than 24 hours in the day, and the stopping of time -- that person that Susan is describing pays no attention to the stream of advertisements promoting the secrets that will stop the hands of time and the loosening skin beneath the chin, which was crudely referred to as a "waddle" in Ally McBeal.
But as I sit on my bed typing this on my laptop, as my gaze travels to the mirror, I startle at the sight of the woman staring back at me. I've come off three nightshifts. I haven't combed my hair or even applied chapstick to my dry, cracking lips. My own "waddle" reminds me that I am in my 40s. And as opposed to embracing this moment in time when I've accomplished many of my dreams; I'm raising four glorious human beings; I've become the nurse I always said I would be; I am smart and skilled; all I notice is my own "waddle," laughing at me, screaming that 40 is not the new 20. Who said this and why? Why can't I just be 44 and be okay with that? Why did we decide to round 40 down to 20?
Of course this is entirely my issue, my own haunting demons which darken my thoughts and prevent me from seeing the bigger picture, from accepting and embracing who I am as THIS woman, as opposed to wishing I was THAT one -- that one who looks like Jennifer Aniston, with perfectly coiffed hair and pouty painted lips. Instead of the one who is fixated on the stubborn grey roots that the box of L'Oreal can barely cover. Undereye concealer excites me and anti-ageing serums tease me, and despite my secret desire to let my armpit hair grow long and bushy, to be that woman who is OK with who she is because she is fabulous in her own right, I ask my friends to repeat the name of that product that they use that helped to diminish those fine lines.
I know women who tell me they don't care what they look like. They are fine with who they are and they embrace their age, proud of where they've been and where they are going. And as I listen to them, that voice in my head quietly questions the authenticity of what they're saying, because entire ad campaigns and television promote the opposite. They show women transforming themselves via make-overs, bootcamps, and surgery to become the feminine ideal.
I am on a journey of self-discovery, to love who I am the way I am: dark bags under my eyes and all. But if I'm honest, and I am, this is going to take a long time, and call me shallow all you want, I've been brainwashed by decades of women succumbing to this idealism. And if Susan Sarandon's words are true, and "what you are is the point," maybe being what you are is indeed a complex mixture of narcissism and truth.