Yesterday, I ate walnuts, cashews, and almonds for breakfast. I would have preferred a bagel, but I was trying to be good.
“Good” is an arbitrary term. I was “good” because I made the better choice of whole foods vs. refined carbohydrates. An 81-year-old Martha Stewart looked “good” in her recent photos for Sports Illustrated. I may or may not be a “good” feminist in filing this complaint.
Let me just say it: Martha Stewart has the right to present herself however she pleases. But as an older woman who has noted those choices, I have the right to be exhausted. Do we really need to be fed another unrealistic standard for beauty?
For me, it started more than 50 years ago. I wanted to look like Marcia Brady. Objectively, I wasn’t far off. We were about the same size. She had blue eyes. Mine were green. I carried my schoolbooks on my hip like she did. None of that mattered. I felt fat. I doubted I was pretty.
The bodysuits everyone was wearing in junior high didn’t help. Their clingy polyester material outlined our burgeoning breasts and the womanly pads of fat that were starting to develop on our tummies. Still, I could work toward the ideal. Getting there was a possibility. I loved thumbing through my Seventeen magazines, anxiously awaiting each new issue. I internalized what I was “supposed” to look like. I might have been a girl who lived on a farm, but I could see the worldly women just beyond. With the right effort, there was no reason I couldn’t become one.
The story goes on for another half century. If you are a woman reading this, you can fill in your own blanks. Eating scoops of ice cream or passing them up. Buying jeans a little tight, while promising yourself you’ll lose five pounds. For me, there were also the Weight Watchers meetings that dotted the decades, beginning with five servings of fish a week and ending with limitless choices — as long as I tracked the points on my phone. No matter how hard I tried, I was always fighting the same 15 pounds. They’d go away for a while, then find their way back.
We are now learning that it may not be our willpower at fault during our efforts to reach our bathing suit ideals. Pesky hormones like leptin and glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP-1) seem to be the culprits behind our woes. Meanwhile, the advertising arm of Novo Nordisk is selling Ozempic, a medication for diabetes that is also an off-label treatment for weight loss. In their commercials, attractive people are living great lives as a version of Pilot’s 1975 hit “It’s Magic” plays in the background. We all know who they’re marketing to.
We need aspirational goals. Striving to become better versions of ourselves is mostly a good thing. And I don’t have a problem with women trying to “look pretty.” But the charge has its limits. How much time, money and self-esteem do we want to spend in running away from ourselves?
Fifty will never be 20, and 80 will never be 50. Speak to your health care provider about blood lipids, insulin resistance, or osteoporosis and you won’t be able to deny the difference. When it comes to physical beauty, we must come to terms with reality. A wrinkle isn’t automatically a bad thing.
I never became Marcia Brady. I never looked like Christie Brinkley on the 1979 swimsuit cover of Sports Illustrated. I don’t want the life of Martha Stewart — although I still have a copy of her 1991 gardening book for inspiration. I do own a bathing suit.
In January, I had the pleasure of swimming in the Dead Sea in Israel. Before I waded into the salty lake, I stood tall and tightened my abdominal muscles out of habit. But as soon as the water touched my body, my focus shifted. I began to float. Any negativity evaporated. I could only feel the good sensations bathing my skin. It wasn’t until later that I realized I’d been wearing my swimsuit inside-out the entire time.
Most of my fellow travelers didn’t engage in the experience. They stood on the shore and watched. But for me, getting into that water was important. I seized the opportunity. So I do understand what Martha Stewart was thinking as she posed for those swimsuit photographs.
We all have our ways of feeling young.
Danielle R. Shapazian is a nurse and writer who lives in Fresno. She can be reached at Danielle.Shapazian@ sbcglobal.net, or followed on Facebook and Twitter.