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Midlife and Menopause

Personal Stories of Menopause and Midlife


"Take Another Look"

Margaret Morganroth Gullette

In my youth there was scarcely a part of my body I could look at without critique. But over time I made peace with parts I had disliked for decades. My "broad peasant feet," for instance, began to look shapely. The toes were charming. 

Like many women touched by feminism, I was overcoming the self-hatred learned while having had a younger female body in patriarchal, capitalist America. Thank the goddess for no longer being young.

And so in the shower one morning I made a discovery. As I was twisting to look back down my side, the curves of hip, buttock, thigh, calf, and ankle came into view -- startlingly elegant, powerful, and voluptuous. It was a view a painter might love. But had I ever seen an image created from the point of view of a woman looking at her body from above? Never. Certainly no ad had captured those satisfying curves. The assumption of our culture is not just ageist but middle ageist -- that decline starts not in old age but even as early as thirty. 

Now, every time I look down at that arrangement of hip and leg I am rewarded. Since I am in my sixties in a culture increasingly obsessed with adolescent bodies, this jolt of pleasure is rare. 

The real discovery may be why I can admire these parts of the "aging" corpus: precisely BECAUSE no ad focuses on them. I hadn't learned to hate them. Fortunately for my graceful lower extremities, the frowning eye of the perfection industries has devised no product to improve that view.

Rescued from advertising's mean scrutiny, I offer you the same pleasure. Take another look. Nothing wrong with some healthy narcissism once a day, in a steamy bathroom filled with soothing aromas. Women aging-past-youth can enjoy such a sight for decades. Suppose that every day, just for a minute, every single woman in America loved that much of her body. What a different attitude toward ourselves and others we would carry out into the world. 

When friends complain about their bodily "aging," offering a sorry list of what they don't like about their skin, their weight, their hair color, or their muscle tone, my new insight suggests not falling into masochistic empathy. Rather than say, "Yes, I hate mine too," we need to ask, "Isn't that product placement speaking?" or "If the perfection industries didn't make billions on constructing our misery, would we be worrying so much about our hair, our abs, our waists?" Why reinforce women's supposed ugliness in the guise of friendship? Why provide personalized commercials for the commerce in aging? 

Focusing instead on what we learn to find lovely, in time we could praise the whole body-mind -- its spirit, character, charm, responsiveness. What a taunt to the relentless American cult of youth. It feels good.*

* An earlier version of this commentary appeared in Women's eNews. The current version is published with permission of the author.

Excerpted from Our Bodies, Ourselves: Menopause, © 2006, Boston Women's Health Book Collective.

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