The Body Beautiful Manifesto

I am not a number — not poundage on a scale, not a dress size, not an age

Photograph by Getty Images

Here’s an impertinent request. All those women who suck in their stomachs while making love, please raise your hand, nod in the affirmative, or click on that comment button and fess up!

My contention is this: If you’re a woman of a certain age in the midst of seduction, you’re at least as worried about how you look as you are about your sexual performance.

If you’ve had the benefit of a few cocktails, you might engage your partner with little self-consciousness. But for any woman with body image issues — are your hands still up? — the story is quite different. Even with a stiff drink, you’re fretting over flabby thighs, dreading the reveal of your derrière, or agonizing over extra pounds — real or imagined.

Come on, let’s just say it: When we feel fat, self-esteem tumbles. We don’t feel worthy and we don’t feel sexy. Our partners can tell us otherwise until the cows come home — “You’re beautiful just as you are” — and we won’t believe them. So we suck in our gut and switch off the lights. Maybe we “enhance” with our finest lingerie, and opt for the dimmer switch. Then we let ourselves go … and enjoy.

It’s not like any of this is particularly new. Some of us bought into the rules of fat hatred and skinny worship in early adolescence, and we’ve never been entirely whole since. We struggled with body image at 15 and 25, and we were still struggling 10 and 20 years later. A few of us may have had a hiatus while pregnant, but didn’t the conflict return soon after babies and surgeries? Don’t some of us go to bed hungry, surrounded by plenty? Don’t we attempt to focus on making love, but find ourselves preoccupied by thoughts of a burger and fries?

RELATED: The Midlife Eating Disorder Crisis

My own battles with body image date to childhood — no number on the scale was small enough, no reflection in the mirror thin enough, no abs tight enough and, consequently, no sense of self “big” enough. Surely I’m not the only female willing to declare that I wasted years of my life consumed by what I was eating and what I wasn’t.

Still, I’m fortunate. As I’ve grown older, the calorie crazies have turned tail, the dress size police have taken a hike and I’ve arrived at the conclusion that any man who can’t deal with my body isn’t a man I’m likely to love.

I’m thankful for all parts that remain intact; I’m fiercely protective of my health (most of the time); I feel free in my physical self in a way that I never did when I was younger.

RELATED: Embracing the Inevitable

I am not a number — not poundage on a scale, not a dress size, not an age.

Incidentally, eating disorders and body image challenges don’t evaporate as we grow older. In fact, a recent Psych Central article highlights the issues that mature women face when it comes to food, explaining:

“… an increasing number of middle-aged and older women are suffering from eating disorders … the desire to be thin never fades.”

The desire to be thin? Yes, I still feel it.

Sucking in my gut when I make love? Guilty as charged (but not nearly as often).

Sure, there are days when I don’t feel comfortable in my own skin, but they’re relatively few. I finally get it — the notion of a whole package that includes attitude and accomplishments, competence and vulnerability, humor and wishful thinking, compassion and a taste for mischief. Isn't that preferable to an assemblage of parts where we blast a bulge here and rage at a ripple there? What if we were confident enough to say screw the unattainable standards? As we add a few rings around the trunk, couldn’t we proclaim our bodies beautiful as they are?

When we feel fat, self-esteem tumbles. We don’t feel worthy and we don’t feel sexy.

Does this sound like a manifesto? Maybe it is, though I don’t fool myself when it comes to what we’re up against. Older men chase younger women. Media reinforces dismissive messages. Hormonal changes complicate matters. We think we're less sexy with our imperfect bodies, especially when we face an impressive tally of anniversaries, birthdays and digits on a scale.

Old habits and hurts die hard, but I’m going to keep at it — feeling bigger and more beautiful, whatever my size, by saying no to berating our bellies, no to belittling our boobs, no to comparisons, no to starvation, and yes to making love — with the lights on.

Are you with me?

Tags: body image