Five thoughts on body confidence on my 34th birthday

A couple of months ago, a bunch of stories about women’s “”peak-nakedness” began circulating, after results of a survey found that women were most comfortable with their naked bodies at the age of 34. I almost wrote about it – as I had coincidentally just realized a couple of weeks earlier that I was totally down with my own naked bod – but I decided to put it off until today, which is my 34th birthday.

The stories I read about this survey highlighted a couple of reasons as to why women might feel more comfortable with their bodies at 34 instead of say, 26.  One is that by the time women hit their 30s, they may have settled on a diet and exercise routine that works for them.  Another factor is that women in their early to mid-30s may be in long-term relationships that boost their confidence.  Both of these things are true in my case. I’m in the best shape of my life right now thanks to my athletic training, and I’m married to a guy I basically can’t stop gushing about and who makes me feel like I can do just about anything I set my heart on doing.

But as important as those two things have been in helping me become more at ease in my own body, there are a couple of other things that I also think played a role, and I’d like to write a little bit about them, as sort of a way of marking this milestone in my life.

1. I am more selective about the media I consume.

For most of my life I was a women’s magazine junkie.  My magazine pedigree includes everything from Sassy and YM to Vogue and Elle to Oxygen and Women’s Health.  At some point I realized that I would put down these magazines and feel worse about myself than I did when I picked them up, and what was worse was the realization that I was actually paying for the privilege of feeling inadequate and lousy about myself.  So about two years ago I made the decision to ditch every women’s magazine that wasn’t explicitly feminist.  Sometimes I feel conflicted, because I know women’s magazines are also putting out some really good journalism, but until they stop sandwiching it between woman-hating garbage, I will be missing out on all of it.

Since then I have performed a similar culling of my social media accounts.  Life is just too fucking short to spend it staring at page after page of airbrushed abs or reading lightly-disguised eating disorders play out on blogs, especially when there are so many people creating body positive, feminist fitness media.  I don’t have unlimited resources in terms of time or money, and I am very protective of how I spend them.  That means no more glossy Photoshopped photo spreads, no more fitspo featuring an endless parade of women in g-strings and no more blogs that try to pretend as though a restrictive diet and obsessive exercise is a healthy way to live.

2. I value my relationships with other women.

I’ve always had female friends – with the exception of the period of time in my 20s, when I was in my crappy first marriage and I was basically isolated from having any genuine relationships – but it wasn’t until I hit my late twenties that I looked at the women I knew and was basically blown away by how impressive they all were.  Somehow I found myself in the middle of this whole generation of talented, motivated, creative, inventive, kind, generous and loving women, and somehow I was lucky enough to be friends with a lot of them.

My relationships with other women have sort of taken on sort of a symbiotic quality. I was more readily able to love and value them when I loved and valued myself, because I did not feel as though I had to compete with them. In turn, their love and appreciation for me has helped me to love and appreciate myself.  After all, if all of these amazing women want to be friends with me, it must mean I’ve got something going on myself, right? Right.

3. I’m older AND wiser.

I know this is a cliche but you know the funny thing about cliches is that they are often cliches because they are true.  There really is something about having been on this earth long enough to collect enough experiences and observations that allows you to start making a little bit of sense of the world, and to be better able to discern when something is valid and worthwhile and when something is unmitigated bullshit.  You start to understand that you don’t have to believe something as gospel truth just because someone says it, or that you don’t have to uncritically absorb what the media tells you, or that you don’t have to accept the world as it is presented to you.

A bullshit meter is an invaluable tool, and I believe that age and experience can help one develop a pretty finely-tuned bulllshit meter – notice I said “can” because you have to be open to it – which is part of why I think our culture these days tries to pretend as though women basically shrivel up into flesh prunes and blow away in bitter poofs of estro-dust as soon as we hit our thirties.  What better way to undermine the power of older women than by making female aging seem undesirable and awful?  Don’t buy into  that. It’s a lie told by people who are terrified of being called out on their bullshit.

4. I’m bored with my body image issues.

It’s true. If you tallied up all of the time and energy I’ve spent thinking about my negative body image over the course of my teens and twenties, I probably would have been able to use it to earn myself a graduate degree.  And I have to be honest with you – my body’s “flaws” are just not that interesting.  In fact, those fake “flaws” are probably one of the least interesting things i can think of.  There are so many books to read and essays to write and conversations to have and things to try and skills to learn and social justice battles to wage and adventures upon which to embark!  This world is full of fascinating and miraculous things!

The cellulite on the back of my thighs – who cares about that in the grand scheme of things?  If I care at all about my thighs, it’s because I want them to be strong enough to do things like pedal me across Europe or help me run the Keys 50 ultramarathon next year.  I really cannot be bothered at all to care about anything else.

I know that a lot of women and men struggle with their own body image issues, so this is not to denigrate the very real pain and suffering experienced by them.  This is just to say that I’ve simply lost interest in obsessing over all of my body’s so-called “flaws.” Which, let’s be realistic about this, are basically made up things that don’t actually exist.  Does your body work?  Is it healthy?  Then you aren’t flawed.

5. I’m now highly aware of my own mortality.

When I say I’m aware of my own mortality, I don’t mean it in the sense that i know I could die someday.  I mean it in the sense that I know I will die and that it could happen at any time.  This little bit of knowledge came to me a couple of years ago in a really embarrassing way, and I almost don’t even want to share it because it is so embarrassing.  I had taken a sample of steak from the Publix Apron Works demo, and it was too big but instead of just spitting it out, I tried to chew it into submission, and then I accidentally tried to swallow it.  Problem was, it was too big, and when I tried to roust it out by harumphing, what happened instead was that my throat opened up just wide enough for the piece of steak to settle on top of my windpipe.

Somehow I managed to keep my shit together long enough to find a guy in the beer aisle and basically force him to give me the Heimlich maneuver.  (Quick tip: if someone comes up to you and their face is turning purple and they keep putting their hands at their throat, don’t just slap them on the back, okay?)  Then I got my ass out of the grocery store and I sat in my car, sobbing tears of terror and relief with my head on my steering wheel.  I was so horrified by what had just happened.  I kept thinking about all of the things I quite nearly lost out on in my life, and the three things I kept thinking were: I never got to see New Zealand, I never wrote a book, I never had a baby.

And what I never once thought about?  That I never had six pack abs, that I never reached 18 percent body fat, that I would never know what it was like to have a big rack. That really threw some shit into perspective for me.  I realized that what I valued in life were experiences, accomplishments and relationships. My body is the conduit through which all of these things happen.  What’s more, I realized that my body – and by extension, my life – is something that can be taken from me at any moment.  Maybe i don’t choke to death on a piece of steak, but maybe I get in a serious car accident while driving home from work, or maybe I have a brain aneurysm while out for a run, or maybe I go see the ob/gyn and she finds a cancerous tumor on my ovary. These things happen all the time.

Why spend the precious moments that make up my life in waiting until the mythical day when my body finally meets that made-up bullshit beauty standard to start appreciating her for what she allows me to experience?  I refuse to behave as though I can take my health, my body and my life for granted, because I know that I cannot.  Instead I have chosen to treat them as the irreplaceable gifts they are, and to treasure them as such, because without these things I do not exist.

——

So these are a few things I would say have helped me to become confident and at ease with my body as I approach my mid-30s.  I hope, though, that the articles about this are wrong, and that I don’t peak at the age of 34.  I hope that I continue to grow more comfortable and confident with myself, even as my skin starts to wrinkle and my boobs start to sag.  I hope that I can continue to find power and joy in something other than my body’s ability to meet a superficial standard of beauty, because I have to say I like where I’m at these days, and I can only imagine that it is going to get better.

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55 responses to “Five thoughts on body confidence on my 34th birthday

  1. Happy Birthday!!

    I completely agree with you on the women’s magazines. I didn’t intentionally stop reading them for that reason but I immediately noticed that after I stopped buying them I felt significantly better about myself (and I also stopped buying a lot of beauty products too!).

    I also noticed the same thing when I stopped watching television with commercials and any shows that were geared to women.

  2. Happy birthday! Great post.

    ‘m blogging (again) soon about how weary I am of being told I am “plus size” when it’s a tedious way to distract, label and shame women for…being bigger than other women? WTF? This week, so far, I’ve played 18 holes of golf and did an hour of BP (batting practice)…and will be playing softball this weekend and possible golf again. After my dance class.

    And yet (facepalm) I am still a fucking size 16. I just don’t care anymore. At 56, I am still strong, fit, flexible. That’s a lot.

    • Yes, I too am a50+, plus-size active woman, trying very hard to get rid of the insidious self hating thoughts that plague me still. I’m freaking awesome! ( new mantra practice)

      • I would go so far as to say that even if you are health-impaired, your body is still your business. You may choose to include your doctor and others in how you care for it, but in the end, your body, your business.

      • I agree completely. I think that ideally people would want to take the needs and opinions of a select few into consideration (children, partners) but ultimately the decision should always belong to that person.

      • It can be a challenge for people – especially women, considering the way we are often conditioned to please everyone around us – to extricate themselves from the mindset of needing to heed the judgement of everyone around us. It’s one of those lessons I had to learn, but like all of my best life lessons, the hardest ones have also been the most worthwhile ones.

  3. Happy birthday! I really enjoyed reading about your perspective on body confidence- and how the reasons were so much more than skin deep. I wish more media out there shared your “why’s.”

  4. A.) Happy birthday!
    B.) As of tomorrow I will have two years until my 34th birthday, so this was really interesting to read. I definitely think having a stable relationship and a solid fitness routine is extremely important, but I think you really hit the nail on the head regarding culling the kinds of images that aren’t that positive in the long run. I let my subscriptions to Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar lapse on their own, and honestly I don’t really miss them.

    I’d like to think that 34 starts the age of comfort, rather than some sort of peak, but I don’t know if I’ll feel the same way in two years, or ten years. In any case you are 100% correct in reminding us all to love the bodies we have no matter what age we are.

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  6. Happy Birthday! I absolutely love this post. I used to have an eating disorder and hate the way the media portrays women. Thank you for encouraging us to love who we are, no matter what size.

    • Thank you! And good for you for recovering from your eating disorder. That’s a huge thing you’ve done and you should be very proud.

  7. ‘bitter poofs of estro-dust’. Amazing.
    I hope I’m heading towards total body confidence, as I edge towards 28 but I know I’m not there yet. Sometimes I can’t help chasing that 6-pack abs dream. But you’re right, if I were to die tomorrow, not ever having a washboard stomach is not going to be something I regret.

    • My thoughts are that if the six-pack happens because of my training and my diet, then that’d be cool, I wouldn’t, like, start mainlining Cheez Whiz to make them go away. But I’m not really going to put a ton of effort into making that specific thing happen. I’ll work my core, do my compound lifts, do my speedwork and try to eat healthfully but anything beyond that, like spending an hour on an abs-specific routine (which I have done at several points in my life!) is just not anything that interests me anymore.

  8. Happy Birthday!

    This was a good read. I’m not into my 30s yet, but I’m a hell of a lot more comfortable with my nekkid self than I ever, ever used to be. Part of what helped was the regular, varied exercise. It was also changing my thinking into my body being capable and powerful.

    Another thing that helped was negative: a gym staffer who kept setting goals I didn’t want- the most recent was suggesting I try to drop from the 18% bodyfat I was sitting at to *15%*. That solidified when I was able to go “hell to the no”, and report his ass, rather than fixating on it as a new item to correct.

    • WHAT. He wanted you to go from 18 percent to 15 percent? Why? You were already so lean! That is outrageous. I am so glad you reported his ass because that is some BULLSHIT.

  9. Happy Birthday and YES come to New Zealand!!! Totally worth the crazy flights to get here :)

  10. I love your perspective! As a newly 32-year-old, I am feeling fantastic about my current age and future aging. Bring it on, we’re more alive than we’ve ever been. Happy birthday!

    • Thank you! I am too! And I don’t know about you, but I would have never, ever considered this to be a possibility when I was 29 looking at 30. I was really unnerved by turning 30, and I look back now and I don’t even understand why.

  11. At 21, I loved this post. I’ve spent the last year or so attempting to reconcile my body image issues and give myself credit for being kickass in so many other ways than 6 pack abs, perfect skin, magazine-style body shape etc. Your facebook account regularly kicks out articles and fitness wisdom that I love, take to heart and learn from. Happy birthday!

  12. Great post! I agree with every word you wrote, and at 36 couldn’t feel better about my body, after years of struggling. Thanks for this post. And happy birthday!

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  14. So basically, I should just give up blogging and just repost your posts to my site every day.

    Nah, I have too much fun blogging to do that – but seriously, you’re awesome. Keep writing the stuff I want to say, but better than I ever could!! :)

  15. Happy birthday!

    As someone who is about to hit 34 in a few months and is similarly, for the first time, feeling really good about my body and health, I think you completely hit the nail on the head.

    Particularly, the friendship with other women piece of the puzzle. I had never thought about that — at least not in the way that I had noticed that I was done with the magazines, had finally found a nutrition and fitness regime that worked for me and that I truly enjoyed a few years ago, and was over fretting about my cellulite because enough already — but its absolutely true. As I hit my 30s, I stopped comparing myself to all of my friends and, instead, just accepted that we are all amazing in different ways and that is f-ing fantastic and we are so lucky to have chosen each other to share everything with. It really made all of the difference.

    • Isn’t it so liberating to reach that point in your life where you no longer feel like you have to compete with every other woman in the world and you can just appreciate them for who they are? I don’t know what came first for me – whether I was first able to see the excellence in other women or whether I first saw it in myself – but I feel like the two are deeply interrelated and that being able to have that platonic love for other women has represented a very big milestone in terms of my own self-image.

  16. Happy birthday, hallelujah and amen sister! Thank you for continuing to help me see what a positive, healthy self image train-of-thought looks like. This, for me, is what it sounds like.
    I never consciously realized what effect reading those damn mags was having on me. I always whined about how media makes it impossible to feel attractive when overweight, and now you’ve articulated it for me. Subtle difference in depths of understanding. I love that drop from I get it, to Oh…NOW I get it.

    • Thank you! It really is incredible how much of a difference ditching the world of the ladymag has made in my life. Plus I’ve also really cut down on my consumption of gossip magazines, to the point that when I do read them I am often disgusted by how judgmental, shaming and superficial they are. Just terrible.

  17. Happy birthday! ♥ And thank you for this post. I think my favorite bit was point #4. There are many other things to spend my time on, and I join you in being done with the body image issues. My mental health is better for dumping those head games, which leads to better overall health. :)

    • Indeed! I’m a big fan of doing the work necessary to break negative thought patterns. Not only is it just a more pleasant way to live, but it’s also much healthier and more conducive to personal growth. You can’t grow if you’re fighting the same battles over and over again.

  18. Happy Birthday! I think whatever age a woman is when she has all the realizations you’ve had is when she’s TRULY comfortable in her own skin. With all the hang ups we carry, we can’t possibly love our bodies. Good for you! :-)

  19. I only wish that these issues were more often discovered during the earlier years. Not just for woman, but for all. I myself only became comfortable with myself at age 18 and even then I think that was too old. Great read

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  21. Hi, 2 things – I just subscribed to your blog due to your great Britney Griner article and the first thing you do is you write about coming to NZ. I happen to live in NZ, so please feel free to drop in when you are here :-)
    On a more serious note, body image problems are a problem of all Anglo-Saxon countries. The taboo of nudity isolates girls and women from each other, with women’s magazines the only source of (very sickening) body images – I call it the plastic body. The extreme end of the body image problem is anorexia and bulimia. Anglo-Saxon countries have the highest numbers of anorexia and bulimia in the world.
    I happen to have grown up in continental Europe and a more relaxed attitude to nudity leads to a higher acceptance of our own female bodies. Seeing all the different shapes and sizes and forms makes you very resistant to the rubbish that the women’s magazines produce. That is not how real women are. Real women are thick, thin, short, tall, small and big built, all shapes and forms. And all of us are beautiful!!! :-)

    • Will do! I have to set aside a good chunk of time and money to make my way to your country but I really, really hope I am able to do so sooner rather than later.

      Also you make a great point about the taboo of nudity (nice way to put that) contributing to unrealistic body images. I wrote about that on a blog post a while back, about how most of us go our whole lives only seeing a couple of naked bodies in the flesh (ha) and then the rest of the bodies we see being these heavily mediated, altered ones. One of the things I like about being in the women’s locker room at the various gyms I’ve used over the years is that it’s one of the few times when you actually see other women naked in this society, and it quickly becomes apparent that the “flaws” that are such a source of shame for many women are “flaws” that the vast majority of us have. But when you never see flesh-and-blood bodies it can be difficult to realize that.

      Anyways, thanks for subscribing! I look forward to hearing from you on future posts!

  22. Happy belated birthday! I loved so much about this – I couldn’t agree more. I especially relate to the part about having amazing women friends. I do too, and they are my heart and soul. But I also want to say this – I just turned 40 a few weeks ago, and I am loving my body! I love how I look, and I love how I feel. Just wanted to say that it definitely doesn’t have to stop at 34 – not by a long shot. If life is this good now, I am looking forward to 50 and beyond!

  23. It is good to hear you are reaching body confidence. When I was 34, I definitely didn’t have it. At 41, though, I definitely have it. I have learned to ignore negative influences and surround myself with good, supportive people as much as possible. As detrimental as athletics were to my self esteem when I was younger (I was overweight and uncoordinated and the first girl in my class to need a bra, and sports just drew attention to those things), they have helped as I get older. I might not be as thin as the other cyclists, but I can climb hills as well as they can. I might not be the leanest triathlete, but I usually get hardware at the end of the race and love passing someone with a 24 written on their right calf. Some of us just take longer to peak than others. I never would have thought I would be this comfortable wearing spandex or skimpy shorts in public.

  24. “What better way to undermine the power of older women than by making female aging seem undesirable and awful? Don’t buy into that. It’s a lie told by people who are terrified of being called out on their bullshit.” What an amazing quote– I never thought about it that way before, but it’s so, so true.

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