My Forever Self

When a friend and I were talking—I’m sure I was whining about my back or the flab on my arms or something my husband said the other night—she looked at me and, not in a patronizing tone but in one of acceptance and understanding, said “My forever self.”

“Write that down!  It’s a perfect title for a book—maybe my next one.”

Dutifully, she found a piece of scratch paper and wrote “My Forever Self,” as if it were already a book or magazine article on her shopping list.

Okay, what did those three words really mean?  Was it a call to arms of sorts (no, not my flabby ones) to honor our physical, emotional, intellectual selves and to understand that we’d better make the best of things because—at least, in this turn around the block—what you see is what you get?

For many of us, that’s a tall order—at least, when it comes to body image and aging.  When I wrote about “age jumps” years ago (and then again more recently), I suggested that we not run from change but mourn a loss and then move on.  Feel sorry for yourself for a day or two and then get on with it.

We each have our Achilles’ heel (or heels).  Actually, I have no problems with either of my heels.  Other parts of my body?  Well, you already know about my flabby arms.  But, no, my arms and every other body part are mine forever, and I’d be wise to acknowledge their strength and longevity and take good care.

Or did my friend intend to encourage us to recognize our physical/emotional/intellectual pain—real pain— and to own it?  To not resist because then the pain persists?

So, I asked her.  She’s a 62-year-old woman who was told by a doctor when she was a babe in her twenties that she had physical issues like those of a woman 50 years her senior.  She could have done as her mother and sister had: she could have curled up in her misfortune and, in a very real sense, given up.  She did not.  Instead, she understood that she had limits and worked within the day.  She studied and became a professional dancer, a physical trainer, a dance instructor, and a choreo strength trainer.

Most evenings, her restless leg syndrome keeps her up into the middle of the night.  Most mornings, she cannot walk.  But she takes her time, practices all the stretches she teaches and, by mid-morning, her first client arrives.  She moves right along with her.  She does not feel sorry for herself—at least, not most of the time.  (She is human after all.)

“My Forever Self.”

I have another friend who has MS.  Her one leg is particularly weak; she may soon need a cane.  In hot weather, the electrical charges in her body go haywire.  Not that long ago, she mentioned that it felt as if a body part had disconnected from the rest of her.  It was strange, uncomfortable, and worrisome.

“I’m such a wimp,” I told her one day.  “I don’t know how I’d handle your diagnosis, limitations, and pain?”

“I was a wimp, too.  But when you’re up against it, you have a choice: Accept, do whatever you can to ease the discomfort and live life to the fullest or fold like a wilted leaf and live a life of anger and regret.”

She chose the former.

“My Forever Self.”








“I’ve watched friends and coworkers try Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers, the Zone, or eliminating sugar, wheat, or dairy — and they never seem to be happy even if they do lose the weight.”

Hmmm . . . That sounds kinda’ like . . . well, sorta’ like . . . why am I kidding myself? . . . like ME.

Take this morning, for example.  I looked in the mirror and felt bloated, fat. And that just a matter of days after everyone seemed to notice that I’d lost weight.  (It took them long enough!  I’d be eating “paleo” for almost two months!)

So, can we ever be happy with our weight, whether or not we get the external feedback we need (“Oh, you look so thin!”) or the internal voice that says as then “SNL” star, now junior U.S. Senator from Minnesota, Al Franken, so memorably uttered in Daily Affirmations with Stuart Smalley: “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me.”  Smalley refused to “beat himself up” and affirmed daily that he was an “attractive person.”

It’s no secret that women (and men) are preoccupied with body image.   BWell Health Promotion, part of Health Services at Brown University, reported that in one study of college students,  74.4% of the normal-weight women said that they thought about their weight or appearance “all the time” or “frequently.” And 46% of the normal-weight men surveyed responded the same way.

So, why are so many folks unhappy about their weight?  (Never mind the shape of their nose, the size of their ears, the fullness or lack thereof of their lips, the color and texture of their hair, the barely visible crows’ feet, and on and on.)

It doesn’t take a scientific/cultural study to answer that question.  We take to heart (take to our brains) what family and friends, strangers have to say about us or about the physical appearance of others.  It’s hard not to personalize when you’re feeling self-conscious about that roll around your stomach and someone makes a snide comment about “that” woman over “there” who must have been shapely once but who now looks like the female version of the Pillsbury Doughboy.

Oh, and those images of idealized bodies in magazines, movies, online, and on TV.  The average American woman wears a size 14.  But you’d never know it.  How could you?  Pick up a copy of People, turn on national TV news, check out music performers, page through Cosmo or Vogue or Vanity Fair.  The men are buffed with six-pack abs, lats the size of Texas, and muscle-popping arms that rival those of Popeye The Sailor Man.

And the women?  Well, they are either 6 feet + and weigh 115 pounds.  Or they have had plastic and cosmetic surgery to fill out their boobs, lift their stomachs (even their butts), nip the jiggly skin under their arms and remove the excess fat on their inner thighs.  Or, as some claim, they were just born with their perfect 10 bodies and have never stuck to a diet or exercised a day in their lives.  (We who are not so blessed cringe when we hear such testimony.)











In all fairness, a recent issue of People featured “The World’s First Size 22 Supermodel” who went from “bullied teen” to “plus-size star.”  Anecdotal reactions:  “It’s a shame.  She has such a beautiful face.”  “Good for her!” “Hey, maybe there’s hope for me.”  But not one, “I want to look just like her!”

I can’t remember a time when my sister, 6 years younger, and I did not compare our bodies.  It started when we shared a full-size mirror on the back of the hallway door.  Her butt was wider; mine stuck out more from the side. Her shoulders were wider and her arms fuller.  But my strong, hefty legs that refused to taper to a dainty ankle looked like Doric columns in comparison to her more shapely set of gams.

Both of us are now officially seniors.  Yet we continue to compare our bodies. My sister lost a lot of weight in an attempt to curb the side effects of Lyme Disease.  She wears a size 2.  Size 2?  And I must admit:  When I first saw her after her weight transformation, I was envious.  But with some time, I realized that she’d had to lose weight in order to tamp down the nasty side effects of her disease.  I looked just fine and, even more importantly, felt great.

My friends will snicker when they read this:  But I’ve decided to try really, really hard and cry “Uncle!” when it comes to dieting.

As Stuart Smalley said:  “I refuse to beat myself up.”  “I am an attractive person.  And doggone it, people like me.”