how to stay young and beautiful

I just want to tell you a few wonderful things I have learned this year. Please stick with me here as I go to some kind of negative places at first…..because it all turns around in the end. Being a woman is sometimes just really difficult, ya know? This will be one of the most difficult blog posts I will ever write….but, I am brave, right?

I turned 39 a few weeks ago. I got up, I got dressed….I straightened my hair and I put on make up. I was in a great mood! I put on a sweet little sweater I had just bought, I felt pretty darn good….and then I looked in my bathroom mirror and thought…”wow, I look pretty good for being 39” (maybe it was the lighting?)

Then, I decided that since I looked so great that day….I would take a photo of myself on my laptop with my little built in camera. So, I did.

It was a reality check. I looked old. I looked tired. I looked much different than I thought I looked. In all honesty…I felt kind of angry….disappointed….frustrated….embarrased….ashamed….sooooo…… I sat there for a really long time, looking at myself…trying different poses and faces and really….. just sort of went downhill for a bit….my thoughts went all different directions…. “When did this happen? When did I get this old and saggy and….old looking?” It think I cried a little bit out of frustration…I stayed in the bathroom looking in the mirror for almost an hour.

I have gained 20 or so pounds the last few years and I have taken 10 of it off about 10 times…….it’s back again. It’s one of those things that I just have to buckle down and take care of, I know how to do it…it’s getting harder and I am more tired than I was at the beginning of this decade….but, I still know I can do it…….but, I also know I’ve got to get over some of the things going on in my brain about it, too…..or this cycle will just continue.

Here it is, plain and simple:

I am mean to myself lots of the time. I am mean the way most women that I know are mean to themselves. I rarely tell myself that I am o.k. in this body, in this skin…with this hair and these hips and that flabby stuff that showed up under my arms in the last few years. I am constantly in pursuit of something to help me to look better, to feel better about the way I look….to look younger….and when I finally find something that’s working, I move on to some other part of my body that isn’t right. It really never ends…there is always something on my body that went south while I was working so hard to fix some another part of my body.

I use Spanx and I wear flattering jackets and I know how to use the liquify tool in Photoshop. I am a pro at it!! HAHAHA!!! There are so many temporary fixes. But none of those things are reality, I live in this confusing, perfectly healthy body 24 hours a day that I can’t seem to be o.k. with.

I am embarrassed to admit all of this. I am in tears now….and can feel those tears gaining momentum, burning my eyes because I hide from these feelings a lot because I have some serious shame about them. I don’t want to be like this. I know it is not right to feel like this.  I am extraordinarily kind to my soul. (but somehow I separate that?)  I have learned to be kind to the girl inside of this body. I know that the worth of ALL of our souls is absolutely immeasurable…as is the wisdom of our souls…but our souls are housed in these bodies…and so much of the time, I treat my body like some disgusting monster…..almost like an enemy……..and then I expect my soul to be happy here. I feel incongruent……but I have yet to crack the code for this one. I am working very hard to change my approach…..

Because something wonderful happened this year that, if I focus on it, instead of on the youth that really is gone, no matter how hard I try to chase it down and beg it to come back…….if I focus on some authentic learning experiences I have had this year, I am at peace with this aging process……..I am at peace with this body, even if only for a few minutes….I am at peace with gravity and what it is doing to my face and my tush and the attention that I used to get from the opposite sex…and that people used to be so shocked when I said that I had 5 children but are not shocked anymore when I say that I have one in college. I am even at peace with the wrinkles and the old looking hands and the fact that I will almost certainly be a grandmother in this decade. If I focus on the TRUTH….I am at peace. It’s when I get stuck in the lies that I start to disintegrate.

One thing I know about myself is that my body image has ALWAYS been my biggest struggle. It is the thing that screams the biggest lies to me and tries hardest to keep me from moving forward and reaching my potential as a human being. I think ALL of us have a biggest struggle…and that we really have to know that it probably will always be something we struggle with to some extent…our whole lives…..whether it’s an addiction, or a chronic illness, or a way of thinking that we know is destructive, or a behavior……I know that we all have a big thing that we will always have to work hard to keep in check. Body image is mine….food, and my relationship with food……….things that sound so dumb and unimportant but that completely consume me if I let them. We all have some crazy secret struggle that keeps us from moving forward, enjoying peace and living to our potential if we give it the power that it seems to always want to take from us.

I really am so embarrassed to be admitting all of this. The more I type, the more I cry..the more I want to delete the whole thing.  I DO KNOW that it is the TRUTH that sets us free….and I am facing this truth full on, I am ready. I know the power of living in our own truths and of treating all things and people and situations with love…..I am ready to completely and unconditionally love this part of myself. I am not talking about loving the parts of myself that I feel are too chubby or wrinkly or saggy…I’m talking about full-on embracing and loving the parts of me that STRUGGLE WITH MY BODY IMAGE. I am talking about being honest with myself FINALLY that I will probably ALWAYS struggle with this, but that I am going to embrace that part of myself with the biggest bear hug and tell her that it’s ok….that we are one….she is a part of me…and that we are going to figure this out together so that we CAN love all of the things that are happening as I am aging. I am going to stop HIDING and STUFFING down that part of myself. I am going to stop being ashamed of the way she is feeling….and I am going to confront it. I am going to sit with her and be with her and hear her. I am going to invite her to be part of me….because the more I run from her and hide from her……..the more she controls what is happening in my life. I think she just wants to be heard. I am ready.

This won’t be the last time I will talk about this whole body image issue….it is a HUUUUGE issue for so many of us…holds so many of us prisoner. Over the next months, we will be talking about it a lot….about eating disorders, body shame…about perceptions that we have with our worth being attached to our appearance, or our size, or our weight……about using food as a drug or a punishment rather than as fuel and a nurturing tool…….it’s where I am at in my journey and I’ve gathered lots of women to help me write about it….I am looking forward to working through this with so many of you…..

BUT PLEASE KEEP READING because I haven’t gotten to the best part yet!

For now…I hope that you will join me in having compassion with yourself and the weak parts of you. I have seen the miracles that can happen when we accept and embrace the weak parts of ourselves rather than run from them, or hide them away, or treating them with unkindness and shame…….

I have seen what REAL beauty is and I hope to get better and better at clinging to this truth and staying away from lies that torment women when it comes to our appearance and our age and our body size……..

Let me tell you NOW about a few wonderful experiences that I have had that I am going to cling to when I am feeling weak about this all……

When we held our first Brave Girl Camp, last October…..women walked through the door of all ages and all walks of life…….but the women who fascinated me most…who drew me in…..were the women with the beautiful gray hair and the gorgeous wrinkles…..and the huge hearts and the infinite wisdom…and the peace of soul, even in their struggles….

It happened again at the next camp….

and then the next….and the next….

every morning at breakfast through every night at our share……I would stare at them….their whole alive and twinkling selves….and I was in awe of their beauty… raw, transparent and real….so inspiring………so awe-inspiring.

Every time I am at camp…and every time I come home from camp…I have this new feeling about ME. I am not afraid to get old anymore….I am not afraid of wrinkles or a few new curves or ANY of it….I am actually EXCITED for it. I am READY to embrace my authenticity in the way that they are embracing theirs. I WANT TO BE THAT, and DO THAT, and I want to BE OK with that. I want to be the “older woman” in the room who is now in the position to teach the younger girls that it’s not so scary to grow older…that it’s actually quite wonderful. (ok, I often AM the older woman in the room………..I’m just going to EMBRACE IT now….)

These women….TRULY are THE MOST BEAUTIFUL WOMEN I know…..and perhaps their beauty shines even shinier in my eyes because I DO KNOW THEM…and they KNOW ME. We had the time and we took the time to really, truly SEE each other……..past the wrinkles, the age spots, the pull of gravity on our skin and the wrinkly hands….and we SAW each other. Each camp, I end up having one of the most meaningful conversations of my life with one of the older women. They laugh and they cry with me….with all of us…and they share the wisdom that ONLY CAN COME from living. This true wisdom that radiates through these women and that inner peace hold hands with getting older………..they hold hands…..they are one. They are like young girls and old women all at once. They are YOUNG and they are BEAUTIFUL.

When I am in a weak spot…and all of the lies are coming at me with brutal force…….I really just have to pull one of these photos out and see the ONE MOST USEFUL and EFFECTIVE beauty tip EVER known to man (or woman!) it is…..authenticity. It is happiness…joy….embracing your journey…not resisting it…it is kindness….openness………

…… shines through your skin and your eyes and your hair and your beautiful, well-earned wise bodies and it makes you the most gorgeous woman alive.

So then I tried that.

I thought about things that make me feel alive….and suddenly, I was just a little bit prettier…..a little less sullen… eyes were sparkling and I was o.k.

Pretty easy, huh? No surgery, no diet, no pills………just a little bit of perspective….a choice…

THAT is how to be young and beautiful…forever and ever.