I read this grim piece about body image today and thought how wretchedly sad and wasteful it was, whilst at the same time thinking that, I realised that when I was the author's age (27) I could have written something almost identical. Except, of course, when I was 27 I had just had a baby too, so I was violently focussed on my gigantic breastfeeding tits and pendulously sagging post-partum stomach, whilst also consuming every piece of cake within a 2 mile radius of Goodge Street daily, then regretting it bitterly. But the basic state, the basic malaise, was the same: permanent dissatisfaction with my body. I am not dissatisfied with my body any more. There it is, at last; something truly great about being nearly forty. I know my body isn't the enemy. I mean, sure, I knew that intellectually decades ago, but now I actually live like I mean it.
Clearly - self-evidently - that doesn't mean that I live a life of perfect, irreproachable balance and moderation or treat my body with the tender solicitude I might give an adorable baby otter. I peel the skin off my itchy left foot until it weeps and pick at my dry lips until they bleed. I have been wearing the same minimiser bra for two weeks (what, it's the only one that fits). Some evenings I sit hunched on the sofa picking at my cuticles in a tortured pretzel shape trying to fulfil my self-imposed blogging requirements. Some evenings I eat only small puff pastry things and baguette and pâté and drink cheap, rather strange fortified red wine from the butcher's that the butcher actually tried to discourage me from buying. I think, perhaps, I sometimes lose sight of where the appropriate boundary between happy non-neurosis and giving up entirely lies. I suspect that this is the challenge for the next ten years for me - not going entirely feral, living on gin and biscuits and brushing my teeth twice a week with twigs.
But oh how glorious, how life-altering it is that I no longer waste time hating the way I look. My body is not better than it was when I fretted about calories and fat and vitamins, that would be too much to hope for. It is fatter, older, saggier and greyer. I have burst veins in my nose and pink irritated eyelids and my stomach is a strange, undulating, papery textured thing full of cheap fortified butcher's wine and puff pastry. My back is constantly threatening me with mutiny. But my brain is so much better with all this space in it, all this time to think! More even than that, I recognise my body for what it is: a magnificent delivery system for all sorts of happiness, big and small. The happiness of cup of tea in bed, a Sadaharu Aoki Bamboo, a gin and tonic, a heart pumping, calf aching stomp over a bleakly beautiful Yorkshire moor or a stretch out in front of the fire with a book and a sleepy dog. Sun and frost and mist and fat snowflakes starting to whirl in earnest for the first time in the year as you look out of the window of a warm house. Elemis Aching Muscle Supersoak. Sex. The breathless, goosebump delight of listening to an incredible musician. Walkers Cheese and Onion crisps. All of it, all the good stuff. All the things. Letting the soft animal of your body love what it loves. I think, too, that by this age you have seen enough of the ways in which bodies are fragile that the indecent waste of not appreciating a functional one becomes very plain to you. It's plain to me, finally.
I've said all this before, I think, and it's soppy and ridiculous and obvious. Also, I'm deeply wary of giving the impression that I have anything sorted in my head or think I have any wisdom to impart, because (i) ha ha, what do I know, I am an idiot (ii) things change (and I could easily loathe my body again when they do) and (iii) why temp fate. But it's Saturday night of my forty day penance and I was thinking about it today and it is amazing all the pleasure that this idiosyncratic, lumpy, wonderful sausage skin I live in gives me, repeated eye infections and bad teeth and baldness and all. I wish I had recognised it twenty years ago, but I appreciate it all the more now. I confess I am hoping for other similarly life simplifying revelations in the next decade. Ideally, I would like definitively to stop comparing myself unfavourably to other people. That would save me a shitload of brain space. I would also very much like to shut that unmanageable bastard, anxiety, in a box and only take it out when there is a rational reason to. There are other things, plenty of them. But this one small epiphany has been wonderful, and it makes me optimistic there could be others.
Unrelated photograph of the hairdresser's window display since someone was asking after the Crap Uccle Pumpkins: