By Jessica Roberts, Intern 2015
Oh, hello there, 29th birthday.
Here come the wrinkles. Is that a gray hair? Are parts getting … droopier?
As a woman, I think I’m supposed to feel some kind of fear or anxiety about the approaching third decade of my life: the signs of aging, the mortgage, the sense that I’m supposed to have it all figured out.
And yet, mercifully, I do not find myself looking over my shoulder longingly at my 20s. Don’t get me wrong — my life’s highlight reel will feature many moments from the past 10 years. I survived rigorous academic programs, started my own business, met and married my best friend, and last year gave birth to our daughter.
However, my 20s were also a learning process, especially about my body — its aesthetics and function, its strengths and limitations. I spent the better part of the decade pushing and prodding and abusing this body with too much caffeine, not enough food, punishing exercise, and sleep deprivation. And then I had to learn how to nurture the same body back to health, to conceive, grow, and safely deliver another human into this world. A baby girl who is so perfect, just as she is, that I recoil at the thought that she would ever do to her own heart, organs, joints, and skin what I’ve done to mine.
Finally, finally, at age 29, I’m starting to value function over form, and accept what my body is, instead of what it could, or should, or might be.
Here are 29 things I’ve learned about my body in the past 29 years — a list I will use to guide a more graceful entry into my 30-year-old body by this time next year.
- It’s possible to make peace with your self-proclaimed “flaws.”
- It’s possible to continue actively disliking your body or its appearance and still lead a happy, productive life.
- The things you don’t like about how you look might be another’s favorite part about you. I always hated my “chunky” cheeks. But my husband says he loves my face, especially my cheeks (and never refers to them as “chunky”).
- My body is stronger than it looks. People laugh when I say I did competitive powerlifting. But even though my days of deadlifting twice my body weight are over, I can still carry a little 20-pound kettlebell of a child everywhere (my daughter just keeps growing!), while wrangling five bags of groceries or a suitcase in the other hand.
- Pregnancy does not destroy a woman’s body. Changes it? Sure. So do a lot of things, like injuries, illnesses, voluntary cosmetic procedures, and aging.
- Bodies are not static. They are dynamic, ever-changing matter, and any attempt to attain the so-called perfect body will fail when age, disease, and life circumstances won’t let you freeze time and space to preserve it.
- My body can never be perfect. Because I’m a human being, and a large part of the human experience is hosting a unique constellation of imperfections.
- My healthiest diet includes room for ice cream. Seriously. I couldn’t get pregnant when I was eating “clean.” Some women’s bodies can — mine couldn’t. My mood, cognitive abilities, and lady plumbing were all happier and functioning better when I made room to eat what I love and love what I eat.
- I look more beautiful when I smile. Actually, everyone does.
- I’m super flexible. I don’t know how or why or where this comes from. All I know is that I do not care for yoga, but I’m damn good at throwing myself into camel pose.
- Stretch marks have zero bearing on my or any woman’s attractiveness. Ditto for cellulite. They are part of having skin. Have skin? It will get some sort of mark, ding, impression, or scar at some point.
- Dear body, I apologize that I took my fertility for granted. It wasn’t until I had to fight to regain my cycle by eating a more calorie-dense diet and easing up on all intense exercise that I truly appreciated what a marker of health getting my period is.
- Needing sleep isn’t a sign of weakness. Nobody is handing out medals for winning Most Sleep Deprived. I wish I had gotten off my high horse about being able to function on little to no sleep earlier, because now, as a new parent, I lust after a solid night’s rest.
- It’s not cute or cool or sophisticated to dismiss health or body concerns. It’s irresponsible. You only get one body. It took me some time to respect when it needed a little extra care, rest, and in some cases, medical attention.
- Just because my body can withstand one more mile of running, one less hour of sleep, one meal less, doesn’t mean it should.
- What’s effortless for my body isn’t necessarily so for another person’s body. Part of appreciating my own body is helping others when they require some outside assistance.
- What’s effortless for other people’s bodies is sometimes hard or impossible for my body. It’s OK to admit you need help instead of hurting yourself or giving up.
- I look really nice when I choose to put on some makeup.
- I look really nice when I choose not to wear any makeup.
- Clothes are made to fit my body, not the other way around. If a pair of pants is making me feel bad about myself, I need to ditch the pants, not diet my shape into submission.
- The mind-body connection is real. Part of lifting heavy weights is not doubting your ability to get them off the ground. At the risk of sounding like a third-grade classroom motivational poster — Believe = Achieve. At the same time, the real achievement is accepting there are some things I cannot do sometimes, now, maybe ever. This isn’t due to any lack of willpower, but because there are some things that are difficult for me. And that doesn’t negate my overall self-worth.
- My anxiety manifests itself physically. My stomach hurts. I have vicious, restless insomnia. My fists curl into tiny, tight balls. My shoulders rise to sit next to my ears. My heart races, my mouth is dry. I am exhausted and hyper-alert at the same time.
- One way to manage my anxiety is to address the physical symptoms first. I tense and then release my body, feet to head. I lay down for 10 minutes. I take deep breaths. I force my shoulders down and stretch out my fingers. By managing the tension in my body, I take the first step in alleviating my anxious state.
- My body doesn’t like piercings. I had to have my ears pierced three times over 10 years for it to stick. I kept them but decided to forgo other piercings, despite having an interest in getting my nose or eyebrow done.
- My voice can be clear and articulate. It’s my responsibility to use it, to vocalize my own needs, skills, and talents, lend support to causes and persons I believe in, and to speak up and out when I see something I believe is wrong.
- You are allowed to define and enforce boundaries about your body, what you are willing to do with it, and how you want to express intimacy with other people’s bodies. You are allowed to say no at any time. You are allowed to say yes once and then never again. You are allowed to give emphatic consent many times, and not have it mean that you are transgressing.
- My womanhood is not defined by my body’s ability to reproduce or my desire to be a mother.
- Gut feelings are often valid. By trusting my initial response, I’ve been able to make some educated guesses about who to trust, which opportunities to pursue, and how to proceed safely.
- Aging is a privilege. Regardless of how the years make their mark on my body, I got to have them. I got to visit Rome, splash in the Pacific Ocean, hold my husband’s hand, dance my butt off at friends’ weddings, and watch my baby grow into a little girl.
Get to. I get to get older.