This morning I received a link for Pamela Tames' What's Menopause to You? Reading it got me to thinking about how even after managing to get to the age of 40 we still haven't quite earned the right to feel good in our own skin. Now that I'm over 40 I don't see a firm butt in the mirror, my boobs are heading south despite a terrific underwire bra, my abdominal muscles haven't spoken to each other since I had my twin sons 21 years ago (they might as well be the Hatfields and the McCoys) and my thighs are kissing cousins. Yes being over 40 and menopause has given me a lot more than I bargained for. However you'd be surprised to know that I'm okay with that. Although I love the media for showing me how great Helen Mirren looks in a bikini and Madonna jumping around in a video with Justin Timberlake, I've decided I'm okay with my over 40 full figured self.
You see I entered this world big from the beginning. I weighed in a few ounces shy of nine pounds and then I spent the rest of my life trying to live down a tiny three lettered word 'big'. I hated being the big girl. At one point in my life I had so much black in my closet I thought I'd hear the voice of James Earl Jones as Darth Vader at any minute.
Looking back now I realize my body was smoking back then but the fact was I was bigger than most of the girls I went to high school with, even though I had a nice body. However I thought at 5'8 I was supposed to be 115 pounds despite the fact I was the second to shortest woman in my family. I spent so much of my teenage years hating my body and feeling bad about myself that I didn't know I was beautiful.
We live in a country where bigger is generally better. People don't usually want a small raise for their hard work, they want a big raise. When it's time to buy a home or do some improvements most people go bigger. I've never heard Pat Sajak say let's spin the slim wheel and contestants don't generally shout "Little Money!" when they spin the wheel. The contestants on Deal or No Deal aren't trying to get the cases with the small figures, they're trying to get rid of them for the big payoff. Still the pursuit of the 'ideal thin' body remained a focus for me for many years.
Then my life changed. I was diagnosed with uterine cancer at 23 years old. I underwent six years of chemo, biopsies and more surgical procedures than I'd like to remember. To top everything off I was a divorced working mother and sole parental supporter of my sons, so I spent many days going from chemo in the morning straight to work with a supply of, Compazine, airsickness bags, crackers, ginger ale and a very understanding boss. I can't tell you how many days I spent lying on the bathroom floor green with nausea wondering how on earth anyone could want to make themselves sick just so they won't gain weight.
For the first time in my life I wasn't focused on losing something, I was focused on gaining. I wanted more minutes, hours, days, weeks, months and years to spend with my children. I was desperate to see my toddler sons grow up and to make it to my 30th birthday. It took a diagnosis of cancer to make me realize what truly counted in life and it wasn't size; it's love. However through chemo I met couples going through the depths of illness together and the love they showed one another touched me in the deepest part of my soul. It was then I decided to forget my obsession with size.
As a result of cancer I lost a lot. In 1995 I had a hysterectomy after battling the disease in my uterus for years. Yet in a strange way I'm thankful for the lesson having a catastrophic disease taught me. I gained a new respect for life and losing weight was not the key to happiness or feeing beautiful. The key to feeling and looking beautiful begins with self love; a love that includes body acceptance, setting realistic goals for your body and living a healthy lifestyle. Soon after I came to that realization I was diagnosed with MS in 1996. MS changed my life and caused me to modify my lifestyle to accomodate the disease. I now do MS Yoga. Tai-Chi and Pilates to help keep my body limber and my mind centered. I won't be posing for the cover of More or Shape magazine but I'm making it work. I won't lie it's a work in progress. Everytime I see some happy 40+ woman going on about how she runs 8 miles a day and has the body of a 20 year old, I have to think before I roll my eyes.
Still I'm thankful to say that I've been cancer free for almost 14 years and I've been able to live successfully with multiple sclerosis for the past 13 years. It's not easy but I embrace every day flabby butt, cellulite and all. I may not be going through a Madonna like menopause but I can live with a little more jiggle in my wiggle.
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