Leaping the Generational Divide
Milt's Weather Report

Elder Body Image

Shortly after World War II, in the late 1940s, my family moved to Lake Oswego, Oregon, where my parents had built a new house on the GI Bill. I was seven or eight years old and my only nearby playmate was a girl who was three or four years older.

On age alone, leadership of our two-girl pack fell to Carol whose sole interest in life was movie stars. She had stacks of movie magazines – Photoplay, Modern Screen, Silver Screen, Hollywood – over which we pored picking out our favorite stars – the men who were handsome and the women we wanted to look like. I can't recall the criteria we applied.

It was common then for movie magazines to list women stars’ “vital statistics” as a series of numbers. 34-24-34 was considered a perfect figure – what every teenage girl aimed to match. The phrase “hour-glass figure” was in vogue.

If memory serves, by the time I was old enough to achieve my own set of numbers, the ideal had changed to 34-22-36 and although the kind of pressure young girls face today to be as thin as models who are shaped like 10-year-old boys had not yet emerged, an 18-inch waist was something to be admired.

From childhood on it was obvious that my body, left to its own devices, preferred pudgy over slim. But with will power and diligent dieting, I maintained a damned cute figure – if I do say so myself – until in my fifties, age, menopause and weariness with counting every forkful led me to change my eating habits. Henceforth, I determined, I would eat whatever suited my fancy – within reasonable health limits - and see what happened.

Anyone could have predicted the result. It wasn’t long before I was horrified to see, as I caught sight of myself in the mirror getting out of the shower one day, that my waist appeared to match the width of my hips. My shoulders had become beefy and that space between breasts and abdomen had filled out – not a beer belly, but a visible swelling where one had never been. At least my hips and butt didn’t change much.

Realizing there is no way to hide excess weight entirely, I determined to at least not show off the bulges. I became a master of camouflage. No more belts, of course, no dresses with sewn-in waistlines. Loose Oxford shirts, elastic-waist pants and skirts, men’s sweaters (they hang better) in winter became my friends, and so they remain.

Would I like to be thinner? Sure. But I eat well; aside from ice cream, junk food doesn't interest me. And with age, my appetite has decreased. I was never a gym rat and won't start now, so my daily walk and the t'ai chi class I've signed up for beginning next month is what will continue to pass for exercise. Determined to be comfortable in my own skin, however much it encases, I threw out the bathroom scale several years ago and tossed the full-length mirror when I moved. I have better things with which to occupy my mind.

But it is still not quite like that. I think about my size and shape too much. When I catch a glimpse of myself in a store window, I am dispirited. If, when shopping, a communal dressing room is the only choice, I don’t buy. There is no telling how much money I’ve saved and stores have lost to that humiliating set-up because there is no way I’m changing clothes next to a 19-year-old Kate Moss-type in a room with wraparound mirrors. I’d like to be more self-possessed than that, but I’m not. Not yet, anyway.

It is in the nature of human bodies to thicken as we get older and I should be, by now, past caring. I don’t want to spend my remaining years lamenting that I’m not as svelte as Katharine Hepburn – a poor choice for me to emulate in youth OR age since even at my best, Miss Hepburn was twice as tall and half as wide as I was.

Whether we like to think so or not, celebrities, pictured in magazines, movies and television shows, are our role models in regard to what is attractive and au courant. Even intelligent women who should know better look to these goddesses of beauty to learn how to dress, wear our hair and how to carry ourselves in general.

But where are the role models for women of my age whose bodies are not out of the ordinary? Someone to admire and respect for her achievements who also looks like a normal older woman and is considered attractive? They are hard to find in a youth-obsessed culture which values beauty and thinness and abhors showing older women at all except as objects of contempt or humor.

One evening recently, I was catching up with some episodes of As Time Goes By I had recorded. I’ve been intermittently watching this BBC series for a decade or more. It is the only program ever produced that presents elders as intelligent, active, thoughtful – and in this case, funny – people engaged in life while coping with the inevitable factors of aging.

Even the Golden Girls, on a show which made intelligent fun of later years, were still chasing after men with the relentlessness of hormone-addled teenagers. But I digress.

Judy_dench Although I’ve seen Judi Dench, who stars in As Time Goes By, in many films over many years, I had never given a moment’s thought to her appearance beyond the role she was playing – until that evening watching two or three episodes in a row. It struck me then for the first time that she and I have remarkably similar bodies.

Then I noticed that she is costumed on the show much the way I dress, in loose tops and sweaters or jackets over shell blouses and teeshirts – clothing chosen to hide the excess, mid-body flesh. You would think the show’s wardrobe people had been peeking in my closet.

So, since thanks to my childhood friend, Carol, I have always looked to movie stars for a reality check on what's attractive, I am now adopting Dame Judi as my exemplar. She carries herself as a poised and confident older woman who (although I have no way of knowing) appears to be comfortable in her 71-year-old body. And that is my goal.

Ideally, I’d like to ignore my size and shape (beyond health concerns) for the rest of my life and live like Popeye: “I yam what I yam.” I’ll let you know how it goes.

ADDENDUM: To the few of you out there who have never felt the pressure to aim for the stars (as it were) physically, please keep it to yourselves. I accept that you are more spiritually advanced and sensible than I, but I don't want to hear about it.

Comments

For whatever it's worth: Of all those pictures along the top of your blog -- I realize I can't see your body -- I honestly think the last one (oldest) is the best.

Ronni,
For me the timing of this post could not be more perfect. My models have been Diane Keaton, Annette Benning and Audrey Hepburn, and oh my goodness there is no way I could ever match up. For, not only do I have a body much like Judi Dench, I have wild curly, fuzzy hair to boot! Matching up has been completely impossible all my life. Which doesn't mean that I have done everything I can to try: dieting, straightening the hair, you name it!

Recently, I went into a store to buy clothes and came home as depressed as could be. AND I work out diligently (one and a half hours!)almost every day: 40 minutes on the treadmill, yoga and lifting free-weights!

Am sick and tired, nay, exhausted, from trying to look like how the latest beauty moguls think I should. So. Am working hard at just accepting me as I am ... and believe me, it is *hard* work and continuous ... it seems never ending ...

Thank goodness there are others out there who I can feel akin to. For there is nothing as good as support, empathy and understanding in matters as important and painful as these.

As for Dame Judi Dench. What a beauty she is. I loved her so much in "Ladies in Lavender." For her beauty, child-like charm, grace, intelligence, humor ... Hey! That sounds like a role model we could *all* follow.

Hi Ronni,

I am a relatively new reader having been sent her by my friend Joy from her blog. I should tell you that I have been a lot of different sizes (teeny tiny dancer to rubenesque 48 year old). It's tough when your body changes, but I'm finding that being plump can actually be fun. (Don't get me wrong, thin was easier to be happy about). But I've been struggling with accepting this new body and am glad to have a sister in the fight. Love your blog.

From a size 2 to a size 12, at age 58 I have finally decided that I am ok. Saggy, baggy, more of an apple shape than the pear that I used to be, I am ripe in my womanhood. Have even decided to let my gray hair stand on its own- slivers of silver, slivers of wisdom. Be healthy, be strong, be proud and be thankful for elastic!
Marti

Maya Angelou also comes to mind (with Judi Dench). There's a bit of self-acceptance-room between being a slave to the skinny-as-a-rail models and letting one's self "go." Whatever body shape we have doesn't matter so much. It's always what you do with it. Same with the other gifts we have. And "self" is a gift. Wrap it with care and loving attention and then go out do something interesting forgetting yourself the while.

My model was Audrey Hepburn, just as unlike me as anyone ever could be! Totally unreachable too! I have given up and WILL NEVER go on a diet again. I try to keep my eating reasonable but eat what I like. The only thing that irks me is not finding adequate clothes. Shop assistant in this country tend to tell you that there is nothing for my size before I open my mouth. :(

I intend to do quite a bit of shopping in the States :)

Agree, agree! Judi Dench is our role model. One other thing about her is the hair! The style is perfect for those of us who have less, whose texture has changed & who are gray, gray, gray. Dee

Several years ago I printed and framed a huge poster-like sign and hung it in my bathroom. It reads, "goddesses have hips."

Later I found a small plaster plaque of several distinctly Rubenesque women bathing with some swans. That went up in the bathroom, too. Right next to the mirror.

It's a daily affirmation.

Loved this morning's blog. Yes, Judi Dench is classy, not pencil-thin and comfortable there. But I will never be that poised and confident - so my role model is more Kathy Bates. My body shape is much like hers - like Marti said, I'm also more apple than the pear I used to be. As to the grey hair - mine is and I read somewhere a long time ago a woman who lived her life "naturally" - not a direct quote but here's close enough..."my hair is grey. I have traveled a lot of roads in my lifetime and some of them were not paved." I would like to drop a few pounds, but am active and eat mostly right (there are days when the salad just doesn't look as inviting as the Fettucini Alfredo) and am enjoying my grandchildren and were they not far away in Georgia, my great-grandchildren. Thanks for this lovely blog and your guiding light.

Yea, Ronnie. Short and curvy through the Twiggy years, short and really round after menopause...that's me. I've increased by 50%. I love Judi Dench. I'm taking a closer look at her. Plus, last night I had a blueberry-peach crisp with ice cream. Had to do something with those fresh peaches. Enjoyment and acceptance.

Good essay and I agree with it all. I am working on accepting myself as I am with just concentrating on eating healthier-- something I haven't always done either. I don't want to give up an enjoyable part of life to look like some of those slender women and it's what I'd have to do with my metabolism. Maybe some can eat anything they want and stay slim, but I can't.

It's hard to get older women role models given they do the movies with some girl in her 20s opposite the male star in his late 50s and think they did good if they give a 60 year old male a 40 year old female love interest.

I think looking to writers and artists as role models probably works better but I grew up with the movie star as the ultimate example of beauty. That might have worked back then but today when they get my age, very few stay natural and most look like plastic dolls. Generally I feel sorry for them to be so desperate and it's not anything I even admire.

Blogging has helped me to see and read more about mature, creative, beautiful, as well as real women and see they are out there and can be encouragements to the next generation coming up. I like seeing these women, of all sizes and ages, who put their pictures up (like the age line on this blog) which says it's okay to be who we are.

I've been out of the states now for almost seven months. Here in India, you buy a hunk of cloth, take it to a tailor, who measures you without a flicker of weirdness about your shape, and a week later you have clothes that flatter that elder shape. I bought a bunch of salwar kameez. I will lose the backward scarf, which is elegant here but would be somewhat weird there, but these outfits are GREAT. The pants are completely loose and comfortable and the tops are...well...:
here's the photo album of me in my new togs

And the orange that my landlady gave me is to die for.

Gosh, did you ever bring back memories of those "vital statistics." I'd forgotten all about those and they certainly seemed more reasonable than what we have today.
Strange enough...I do my blog entries a few days ahead of time and mine for tomorrow has to do with "exercise." God, I HATE that "E" word. Having had a weight problem my entire life, (since age 7 and diagnosed with hypothyroidism) I can SO relate to this post. WELL done, Ronni!

Oh, trish, I want a whole bunch of those...

well, maybe there is an opportunity here... since it is the images of what we are exposed to that tend to be what we compare against, we should create a "new elder image" set. It will be a better comparison.

A sort of "calendar girls(and guys)" for elder bloggers!

Who's game for this?

Steve...

I discovered only this year that "elder girls" calendars are fairly common. I wrote about one here, and have it haning by my desk.

I don't know if there's an "elder boys" version. Maybe you could take that on...

But Ronni Is there an Elder Women Bloggers Calendar?

If not I want to be December so I can wear a Santa hat....


Not!!!!!

I have never been sylph-like, either, but menopause and a hysterectomy have taken their toll. I don't worry about it very much, until I try on clothes or go to see my doctor (he never lectures, but I can read his mind). But, have you noticed that a size 12 just isn't the same today as a size 12 in the 60s? It must be much larger than it used to be, because all the women's magazines tell you that if you are a size 12 or larger, you're fat.

Ronnie,
On a practical note, if you look at yourself in a full length mirror every day, you won't be surprised and upset when you catch sight of yourself in a shop window. Scales grade you and tell you what you should be, good to get rid of them, but mirrors only tell you what is, good to use them.

I fought the fat for 46 years, doing the classic yo-yo from slim to ever fatter. I finally gave up five years ago and said, I yam what I yam. My weight has, for only the second time in my adult life, become stable (the first time was when I gave up dieting for eight years). I would love to be much, much thinner. But -- it wasn't happening and I just got tired of always fighting it. I got tired of considering myself bad if I ate a piece of my own birthday cake. And, I like myself a lot more now than I did then.

I've always loved Rubens art and been "Rubenesque". With my hips, I've never been less than an 8 and now am a 14. As my dad said when I complained as a teen, I "come by it honestly", getting the big hips from both sides of the family!

My favorite comment on my figure though was from from one of my early boyfriends, telling me I was built for comfort, not speed and bemoaning that skinny girls were all bony and uncomfortable. ;^)

Bring on Janet Reno and Madelaine Albright as our calendar women. They (and Dame Judith) are wonderful!

Betty--You are correct that clothing sizes have changed over the years. In the 1950s, as I recall, a size 8 corresponded to a 32-22-33 or -34 figure and was considered the perfect size for a clothing model. A size 10 was 34-24-36, and a size 12 (which some thought huge at the time!) was a 36-26-38 figure, more-or-less. (It certainly wasn't outlandish that Marilyn Monroe should have worn a size 12 of the day!)

Today, we who are 14s and overs, are wearing the equivalent of 1950s sizes 18 or 20 and up, I think. (Who knew that I should try to remember the metrics for a size 20, in the 1950s? Our sewing class stood aghast at the dress form of a woman with a 44-inch waist. It no longer seems outrageous!)

Well, you've certainly hit a topic that has been of varying degrees of significance throughout my life.

Yes, I noticed some time ago that Judi Dench was being dressed to cover some pretty wide hips, and I thought, fantastic! Definitely agree she's a great role model, but darn, another one of those short petites that have peopled my life.:-)

Agree with the selection of Maya
Angelou who I was fortunate enough to hear speak some years ago; also Kathy Bates is a good choice, too.

While there have been a lot of years when I was pleased with my body, I knew, on some level that 36-26-36 wasn't good enough at 5'6 1/4" because it was the short petites that were the ideal in my circles. Of course, they were usually my best friends, too, so the contrast between us was always present.

I remember as a teenager asking my mother about my figure. She told me about always being the biggest girl in her school at 5'9". She wore size 10 1/2 AA shoes and the only ones available in her day were what she described as "old woman's shoes." She said we were "large boned," seemed never particularly bothered by her size, but was quite adept with clothes.

Neither of us carried excess weight, except by movie star standards, and we had shapely figures.

I added a few pounds, too many, somewhere in my mid-fifties with the promises to myself to remove them unfulfilled. In the past several months I have lost some of those pounds I can tell by my loose-fitting clothes, but will wait until a regular check-up with my physician for the numbers, as I long ago stopped using the scale at home.

I will be resuming a regular exercise class, but strictly for health reasons, with any weight loss an expected but secondary benefit from my point of view. I want to build up my strength, endurance, cardio-vascular function, respiratory system.

I am most bothered by the downward creases at each corner of my lips when my face is at rest. When I smile and laugh, which I do a lot, they disappear. More than once I have gently moved the skin at each side of my face upward, as with a facelift, and longed for a quick and easy way to permanently tighten the skin without surgery.

I truly lament the loss of my red hair which I viewed, as did many others, as my crowning glory. It was a special beautiful shade of red, if I repeat what I believed and what others said. I never seriously considered dying it as the grey began to appear. From what I could see of those who did, I would never be able to re-capture my color.

So I have been greying all over for some years, fortunately with streaks appearing strategically. Most recently I've begun to notice more and more white hair.

Yes, at times I look in the full length body mirror. I think Maya's Granny is correct about doing so, if for no other reason than it is desensitizing.

I truly look at the changes in my body, and especially my hair, as an adventure, wondering how my appearance will continue to change. That is not to say that at times I don't feel a tug and twinge to once again see the body I use to see.

Dame Judi has been my exemplar for years. I love everything about her.

This is a great post, Ronni. I opted for elastic waists a long time ago. Jumpers are handy too.

Delurking here in NYC...been reading you for a long time. Whenever you mentioned being from Portland, Oregon, I perked up, but Lake Oswego? That's where I grew up! I would love to know your memories and impressions of good 'ol L.O.
Last night my cranky, older neighbor stopped me to tell me that I'm getting fat...nice, huh? I'm 50, but went through early menopause at 45. Your post resonates with me, as I'm concerned with my feelings of being larger than I'm used to, or want to be. Love your blog Ronni. Annie Hall

Judi Dench has been my role model for YEARS! She's attractive, vibrant funny and interesting....if she were slim it would be over the top. No one should be perfect.

What a great topic! But something no one has mentioned is the plight of those of us who are single/divorced and still hold out hope of finding a reasonably suitable partner...seems the men out there our age are looking for (quote) "fit" "athletic" and always ask "is she attractive?". Of course there aren't many 50+ guys who are themselves any of the above!

At 52 I found myself almost 40 pounds overweight. It saddened me every day and had the effect of keeping me from any kind of life except for work. So one day I signed up for an online program (WW) and lost 35 pounds in a period of 4-5 months and have kept it off for almost 5 years now. The difference is the best anti-depressant known to man. I now enjoy shopping for clothes, and actually involve myself in social activities I once avoided. Still no man on the horizon, but I feel I'll be much more confident if and when he does ever appear. And if not, then I have a pretty nice life anyway now that I'm not hiding out for lack of "something to wear".

I wish I could "not care" about my weight/figure, but I do. I dream of the day when I cease caring, but I cannot imagine such a time actually coming anytime soon.

On a more complicated level, I believe studies have demonstrated that humans are hard-wired to respond more favorably to attractive people, and I often wonder if attempts at fighting this innate preference are useless...perhaps therein lies the source of the never-ending body-image angst.

Anyway Ronni, thanks for a topic we can ALL relate to in some way!

Class reunion.
Need I say more?

When I first heard it was coming up (about 6 months ago) I casually assumed I could walk a little more and drop a few pounds. It is now 5 weeks away and... oh well.

Ronni - you certainly were pretty "damn cute" as I recall (I'm familiar with the pix at about #5 or #6).
My 32" waste disappeared at fifty-something. The 34" lasted until about sixty-nine. Today I find the 36" a little loose, but a hell of a lot more comfortable. To avoid any guilt, I simply gave away anything and everything with less than a 36 stamped on an inside label.

I eat moderately and avoid nothing. I cycle about the neighborhood and play golf - walking if it's at all reasonable.

No long runs, no weight lifting, no karate, no dieting. At 71 my chest has slipped a bit, but I'm about the same weight I've been for the past 50 years. The creator has been good to me.

Bill

I found that sex was not too good after having kids in general...my body really changed. And you could see it in the eyes of the partners I had. Without the manifestation of attraction on their part, and the willingness to caress and gaze at your body that goes along with the attraction, there wasn't much spark. I married someone I thought was different though bizarrely he was not too interested in sex and then too late I found my husband had an archive of teen lingerie shots and porn (you know, not like... young-young... but...) and enjoyed staring at younger women in public (he hid it while we were dating), and you know, sure, it's my problem for feeling insecure, I guess, sure, but boy, when your body ages due to children or simple maturity, it's one thing to try and feel comfortable in your own skin when you are by yourself. I think I could manage it OK then.
Having the opposite sex and in particular your partner treat you like a mother or a piece of furniture instead of a pretty woman was really the "psychological adjustment", for me.
I wish you luck, Ronni, physical self-acceptance with age is something we all have to go through.

I've always thought Dame Judy was fairly attractive.

I remember having 34 inch hips and needing a size 3. I thought I was size 7 or 5. I complained about a 5 being too big. The sales lady said, "Do you want a size zero?"

Last I checked, 36-24-34 doesn't fit a damned thing! I'm a size 12 on top, through the chest and a size 4 on bottom? No wonder none of my clothes fit.

My daughter jumped from 34B to 36C and has a j-lo booty. I have a 36 e and no butt. It's not fun.

I want a breast reduction. When you have to wear a sports bra to sleep and endure boob sweat, yech! I thought 36C and pointy was a pain in the neck, in my 20's.

I feel sorry for my daughter. She had 34B's until 2 years ago. The older I get, the bigger the boobs get. The bigger they get, the more they sag.

I don't understand women who get enhancements. They haven't lived with the real "thing".

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