Posted in Writing Life

*Voluptuous Aging

I came across this personal account of aging while browsing the internet. It struck me as so lovely and positive and apropos of yesterday’s post, that I wanted to share it. Here is Margaret Morganroth Gullette speaking from the Our Bodies Ourselves website:

[I]n the shower one morning I made a discovery. As I was twisting to look back down my side, the curves of hip, buttock, thigh, calf, and ankle came into view — startlingly elegant, powerful, and voluptuous…

When friends complain about their bodily “aging,” offering a sorry list of what they don’t like about their skin, their weight, their hair color, or their muscle tone, my new insight suggests not falling into masochistic empathy. Rather than say, “Yes, I hate mine too,” we need to ask, “Isn’t that product placement speaking?” or “If the perfection industries didn’t make billions on constructing our misery, would we be worrying so much about our hair, our abs, our waists?” Why reinforce women’s supposed ugliness in the guise of friendship? Why provide personalized commercials for the commerce in aging?

Sarah Haskins explains it with humour:

And Margaret’s advice:

Focusing instead on what we learn to find lovely, in time we could praise the whole body-mind — its spirit, character, charm, responsiveness. What a taunt to the relentless American cult of youth. It feels good.

When I was 17, I read Our Bodies Ourselves for the first time, gripped and enlightened by the kind but explicit language and diagrams. I was young then, but I felt old, having lived too much, and felt ugly, having been told lies. A minicomputer cost about $40,000 and there was no internet.

Now I’m rather older and here we are online, talking to each other around the world. I don’t much feel my age–whatever it ought to mean to feel it. Instead, I feel a bit like Mork and Mindy’s offspring who was aging backward. I like my body a lot more than I did at 17. To be honest I’m rather fond of it, and hope to hang onto it in good condition as long as possible. So I think I’ll take Margaret’s advice and have an appreciative look at it in the shower, for, like flowers, bodies respond to some attention and gentle praise.



Lilian is the author of Web of Angels, a novel about a mom with DID (multiple personalities). She's also the author of the historical novels, The River Midnight and The Singing Fire, about secrets, friendship and motherhood in 19th century Poland and London.

8 thoughts on “*Voluptuous Aging

  1. Opposingly, it was also in the shower or correctly afterwards that I discovered that my body was aging. All of a sudden one day I no longer had to just dry my front and back, I also now had to dry my sides. I never had sides before. Unfortunately I did not and continue to not treat that revelation as positively as Ms Gullette, however I do agree agree with your feeling of aging backwards. A nice positive post. Thank you.

  2. This is so lovely and encouraging. I do tend to be far too hard on myself in terms of how I look, particularly after chronic fatigue has left me a bit thin. I should practice a more positive attitude. After all, my negativity only hurts myself- what’s the point of it?

  3. I’ve never had a problem with how I look – so I don’t have that instinctive “me too” reflex when a friend tells me what they hate about their body. Instead, I look skeptical and tell them why I think they look great. (On the other hand, I firmly believe I don’t photograph well, and try to stay behind the camera!)

    1. Rachel, that’s wonderful–how did you manage to escape advertising and media unscathed? Btw I also have an awful time in photographs. I stiffen right up. I made A take about a million to get one for my website.

  4. We are relentlessly drowned in messages about our flaws, it’s true, Lilian, and perhaps it’s one of the reasons I don’t want a TV at home – I just don’t want or need the negative reinforcement. As I get older, I am a lot more accepting and appreciative of the way I look, but it’s taken some time and some work to get to this point. I do get distressed by relentlessly unflattering photos, I guess because they’re the permanent visual record of me, and they’re just about always pretty bloody awful.

    1. Di, I know someone who has a tv without tv reception (no rabbit’s ears) and uses it only for watching DVD’s. Our compromise is a tv with rabbit’s ears but no cable or satellite dish. My kids only watched public tv until a couple of years ago and since then only shows like So You Think You Can Dance or the FIFA games–with me and/or my h. The funniest thing was to see them play-acting shampoo ads when they started watching commercial tv. They mouthed words because we always have the tv on mute during commercials.

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