For some women, there’s a particular moment when we recognize that our bodies are no longer young, and for others, this is an ongoing process, simply a continuation of the lifelong body judgment we are taught from a young age.
We know that we have internalized the expectations of a youth-obsessed society and the unrealistic beauty standards in media, standards reinforced in how we talk about ourselves and other women, in how men talk about women and respond to us.
But knowing this doesn’t necessarily change how we view ourselves in the mirror.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, we’re told to accept who we are, to embrace our bodies and stop trying to change them. Yet this attitude can be just as limiting and just as damaging when it leads to judgment and shame for wanting to dye our gray hair or smooth out the furrow in our brow.
Wanting to accept our bodies as they are doesn’t necessarily change how we view ourselves in the mirror.
In many ways, it’s easier to spot and even discard, if only partially, the beauty standards of a patriarchal society. Women all over immediately and righteously eviscerated Tom Junod’s sexist Esquire article, “In Praise of 42-Year-Old Women.” And in Robin Korth’s article for Huffington, “My ‘Naked’ Truth,” few women readers would not immediately see that the man Robin was dating, who wanted her to hide the signs of aging in her body, was not a complete sexist ass.
Even when we struggle with how much we’ve internalized the definition of beauty as equal to our value in the eyes of men and society, we know it exists and we recognize its harm. More subtle, however, is the harm from the other beauty standard, the one that tells us we should accept ourselves as we are, that we are superficial if we devote time to the appearance of our bodies.
All the “shoulds,” implied and blatant, whether they are intended to be empowering or not, are simply obstacles that distance us from our bodies and from discovering what we, as individuals, truly want.
Some women may discover that completely letting go of their cares about how they look to others really is freeing and in keeping with who they are and who they want to be. Others may find that their bodies are a canvas to express themselves on according to their own standards, using any tools they choose, from makeup and fashion to botox. For many women, the body itself may be the artist’s tool, valued for the beauty and meaning and connection it can create in the world, like all great works of art. And still others may strike upon a combination of these or other views.
These are just a few of the ways individual women might view their bodies if freed from the noise of the “shoulds” and the implication that women are all the same, that one standard of beauty or of acceptance applies to all of us. When we can get in touch with how we view our bodies and how we genuinely want to view our bodies, not how we feel we should, what we see in the mirror will be our true selves embodied, at every age and stage.