Saturday, December 29, 2012

Fat and middle-aged: the advantages

Visiting with a friend's dogs on Christmas Eve
This post is specifically for women "of a certain age," although young women might also find it interesting.

For me the best part of being middle-aged and overweight is not having to waste time and energy playing the "is he looking at me?" game. I was single and thin until my 40's and I spent a lot of effort trying to catch the attention of other single people (mostly, but not always, men). I fanatically kept my weight down, carefully chose my clothes and constantly looked at myself in mirrors and reflections to make sure I looked pretty and sexy. In the gym I abandoned all modesty and wore tight tops and short shorts. Everywhere, at all times, I glanced into faces to see how many eyes were on me. Is he looking at me? Is he looking at me?

Yes, it showed lack of confidence and low self-esteem, but so it was. Even when I wasn't actively looking for romance, I needed to know that my face and/or body had everyone's attention. Am I pretty enough? Am I sexy enough? The disadvantage was that I constantly felt vulnerable to the attentions of men. Whenever someone gave me attention I didn't want, I felt helpless, scared, like I wanted to hide. I didn't feel powerful or comfortable in my sexuality, but I thought it was all I had that kept me from being invisible.

That was my life in my 20s and 30s. I'm 46 now and no longer carry that air of loneliness, desperation and longing for approval. My need for people to notice my physical beauty must have been as clear as a neon sign for decades, but I've turned that sign off. No more searching faces to see if my body is being appreciated, no more sucking in my gut when I walk by someone, no more straining to check my appearance in every reflective surface.

I am settling into my middle-age. My face no longer appears 30-years-old-or younger, so I no longer appeal to men who scope out 30-years-old-or younger women. Does this make me feel sad? No! It makes me feel relieved that I can be myself without trying to meet anyone's standards of beauty and sexiness. Also, to be physically admired feels good, but beauty can also be distracting. Beautiful young women aren't always taken seriously. People make assumptions about women and men who are extremely attractive and those assumptions aren't always positive. Being beautiful means having some degree of social caché, but it doesn't always lead in the direction you want to go and it's a very limited "skill." The bottom line is that young women don't hold a lot of power in American society, but when beauty and sexiness don't get them where they want to go, thank goodness middle age comes along and gives them a chance to develop real skills and power.

I am content to have moved out of the demographic of "pretty young women." It was fun while it lasted, but pretty young women are also a targeted population and I felt unease about that all the time. That fear is finally fading as I outgrow my youthful physical appearance. At age 46, I can now have an exchange with a man and know that our attention is on the conversation, not on sizing each other up for possible further contact. I love being able to talk to neighbors, co-workers and complete strangers without that mental buzzing concert of either "Does he think I'm pretty? Could this interaction go somewhere?" Or "Does he find me sexually attractive? Because I don't feel that way about him. How do I scrape him off?"

Yes, I burned a lot of valuable energy on that whole attractiveness thing, but without the narrow waist and young boobs to distract people (including me, since I felt self-conscious about my body), I can have free and relaxed interactions and it feels great. I'm learning that there is so much more to life than being pretty! There's stuff like:
  • Self-esteem that's based on who I am on the inside, not the outside.
  • Ability to take care of my emotional needs (includes friendships, support groups, knowing when to rest and when to get moving, and being in tune with my moods).
  • Valuable tools to get me through daily challenges and crises (includes Emotional Freedom Technique).
  • Being comfortable in my body.
  • Less concern about what others think of me.
  • Forty-six years of experience, wisdom and creativity to calmly face whatever might be ahead.
  • Knowing what's necessary, what isn't necessary and what I'm really better off without. 
  • Love and acceptance of myself. It's been a long time coming.
These gifts feel so much better to me than being pretty enough to catch everyone's eye at the gym! If this is the trade-off for youth, I call it a bargain.

The title of this post includes the word "fat" because my weight gain in the past couple of months has taught me that being 5 foot 2 inches and 155 pounds feels quite different from 5'2" and 130 pounds. Being overweight moves me even further from the kind of body that hungry American male eyes constantly seek. Being overweight has its drawbacks (limited movement, more odd aches and pains), but I've discovered a big advantage: it makes me feel even safer in a world where young women are vulnerable and preyed on.

Middle aged women are powerful. The Emotional Freedom Technique Meetup (tapping circle) I started last summer is coming into its own. A group of us meets each week to release fear, guilt and anger and to celebrate when we achieve goals and reach new levels of freedom from limitation. It's no coincidence that the majority of our core group is women over the age of 45. Unhampered by the frantic life-building that often characterizes the younger years, we're discovering strengths and tools to heal ourselves more deeply than ever. We're not afraid to dive into burning emotions and painful memories. As a group we are working through emotional blocks and individually we are improving our ability to take care of ourselves. The EFT Tapping Circle is a priceless resource for me and is just one example of how powerful women become when we're no longer using major brain power for attracting and mating. (NOTE: all are welcome to join us in our tapping circle any Saturday morning on the north side of Chicago!)

In my late 20s, filled with fear and insecurity, I said to myself, "I'll bet everything will be better by the time I'm 45. Yeah, I'm going to look forward to 45. Come on, 45!" It turns out, I was right. My 20s and 30s were filled with awful struggles with my own inner demons, but on the other side of those struggles were my 40s and they feel much happier and more comfortable. Being fat, middle-aged and confident feels a hundred times better than being young, thin and scared all the time. As a young woman, I knew one day my youthful physical appearance would go away, but no one told me that by the time I got there, I wouldn't care!

Be middle-aged with me. The best is right here.


Andria Anderson said...

In many ways, Regina, my life has followed the same trajectory. After passing age 40, I felt so much more empowered and released from society's expectations for young women. I remember telling a girlfriend, "Now I can TELL the plumber what to do!" And it's only gotten better every year since :)

EFT (Tapping) has been extremely positive in my life. I highly recommend the Saturday morning Tappig Circle.

Rayfield A. Waller said...

Yes, everything you say is what we all are going through--those of us in our late forties, early fifties. It's both better and worse for men. Men are not judged so harshly by society or employers for physically growing old and gaining weight (though we are often humilited for it by our closest friends and family). One odd thing lately though is that we are suddenly standing outside of the majority of mass media spin and popular male CULTURE, which is now feverishly focused on the 'metro sexual' man who is in his 20's and is a target market for the same makers of perfume, bath soap, skin and hair care products, and tight underwear that have stalked women for so long. You can hardly get through even a "Sports Illustrated" or "Golf" magazine without seeing some 'rock hard abs' ads these days. That's not to mention as women age they get smarter, but as men age we get stupider and stupider until finally we are not fit to have friendships beyond talking BBQ, jobs, sports, and The Food Channel. Most of my friends are middle aged women who have thoughts, are interesting, and who I can talk to; many of my male friends who don't gather at bars to drink and bemoan Mark McGuire being held out of the Hall of Fame are too busy trying to look 30, rubbing creams and lotions on their faces, trying to regrow hair they will never see again, and chasing after 30 year old women (which scenario is worse??) There's an irony there somewhere, but I don't want to look for it. I do think you are the prettiest middle aged woman I've seen in a long time, Regina, but then I always thought you were beautiful (inside and out) and always will.

Regina Rodriguez-Martin said...

Thank you, Ray baby, for that big compliment! And I appreciate you bringing the male perspective to this one. It hadn't occurred to me that a man might feel on the outside of "young men" culture that includes the rock hard ab photos and hair products for those with plenty of hair. And you raise a good point about women coming into our wisdom with age, but such a correlation not being as clear in men. It sounds like the correlation is there for YOU, though.

Cache said...

Hi Regina,You are right in some aspect however in my mind every person has a different level of age, and as per age they have different aproaches to handle the life issues etc.
However you have points to raise here.
Keep writing keep sharing :).