“The grass is looking greener,” I noted to myself as I walked my dog yesterday. I must have been thinking about the topic I was going to present that afternoon to a group of 10-year-old Junior Girl Scouts, because looking at the grass brought to mind the common expression, “The grass is always greener on the other side.”
What topic would make me think of that? Body image! I read in the New York Times last week that eating disorders are affecting more older women now. No age group seems to be immune. This is actually what I am seeing too. I talked to a woman in her mid sixties last week who is following a 500 calorie plan to lose the 10-or-so pounds that have bugged her for years. On the other end of the spectrum, girls as young as 8 or 9 are worried about calories and whether or not their thighs look too fat.
Since I have a sneak peak at how women really feel about their bodies, I will tell you that it seems to have very little to do with how someone looks. The woman you see at the gym working out like crazy may actually be the most internally tortured on this issue. My message is “Be careful what you wish for” – another cliche expression, but equally appropriate. The grass may not be so green over there, in someone else’s head.
It is simply not possible for most women to look like the female ideal that our American culture seems to embrace. Only a hermit could avoid seeing hundreds, possibly thousands, of these images every day in magazines and on TV. Images of our culture’s “perfect bodies” cover the entire sides of buildings in New York City! This is hard enough for most women, but especially difficult for women whose bodies are going through natural changes – like adolescence and menopause.
Adolescents grow quickly. It is normal for a girl to become softer and more rounded as her hormones cause her body to mature. It is equally normal for a menopausal woman to store more fat around her mid-section than she did before. It is caused by shifting hormones. It is true that kids are getting fatter, and childhood obesity is a real concern. For women of all ages, keeping a minimum of body fat around the belly is a good plan to avoid heart disease and diabetes. Keeping those health concerns in mind, there is still a benefit to accepting the limitations of your body, including a realistic idea of your healthy weight and shape.
I plan to move into my older years caring about my health and quality of life, and I also plan to care how I look – within reason. I will never “let myself go”, but I am planning to work on developing other parts of myself that will hopefully keep my self-esteem high as gravity and time work their magic on me.