Women Over 40 On How They Feel About Their Bodies

Illustrated by Joe Cruz.
I still harbour an idea that I move with grace, despite the quite obvious fact that time is not being kind to my silhouette. I see that my proportions are radically outgrowing my ability to camouflage; shirt dresses are really only working front-on.
Creating body security in others shouldn't be tough and yet girls as young as 5 are considering the contents of their lunch boxes, food already the enemy; boys are consuming steroids to achieve a bull-like frame; and we've got women of my age – 40 plus – feeling that life is going downhill because our bodies are, shock horror, ageing. The clothes we see in magazines and on catwalks are worn by teenagers who are still in the process of growing. Clothes which are actually aimed at women, like me, who in society's eyes are 'mutton-esque' in their desire to keep looking sharp.
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Over the age of 40, it's tough. Tough being single and looking for love especially when, like me, your childhood was shaped by parents not in love, constantly moving towards separation.
I was talking with a girlfriend over coffee recently about how she saw and experienced her body. Like me, she is over the invisible line of 45, when you walk out the door feeling fabulous and beautiful, and the world's reaction is... silence.
She rather wonderfully described her body as "graceful and elegant". I asked where this came from and she replied that, to her, beauty and sexiness had always been linked to sport and her fitness. Ageing, she felt, was taking this away from her. We laughed about the new pains and aches you get as you move through life. She is in a fairly long-term committed relationship and I wondered if she was confident when being intimate with him? "Not always," she replied, "sometimes I'd rather keep covered up, especially those bits that are obviously changing, ageing, like my thighs and bum."
If you saw my friend you would see an incredibly beautiful, vibrant woman, so the thought of her covering up her "bad bits" fills me with dread, should I ever hook a mate on Tinder. But her ability to see attractiveness connected to fitness and bodily strength is refreshing, and seems like it could be a good place to start with girls at school. Especially young girls, who often avoid PE because they feel it makes them sweaty and unattractive. Being attractive, she said, was being able to run for a bus without collapsing into a breathless heap.
I think I understood her. I spend so much time comparing my body and my shape to models in magazines that I rarely give my lung capacity a second thought. Isn't that ridiculous?
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I had a sneaking suspicion that her level of rational thinking must come from a fairly secure childhood. In one sentence she confirmed that her parents were indeed incredibly affectionate towards each other, and still are now, even in their 90s.

Over 45, you walk out the door feeling fabulous and beautiful, and the world's reaction is... silence

Same table, same day, another friend who, quite frankly, has the only relationship I know that I would describe as being sculpted from love and a picture-book-perfect family life. She has been married for thirty years and only ever been with the love of her life, sexually, through choice. She is attractive and incredibly comfortable with her life, her body and relationship.
She tells me that her husband always tells her how lovely she looks, how much he loves her boobs still. How much that must mean. Thirty years of marriage and still boob compliments. As I sip my latte I realise that I treat my boobs as things to hide within padded, wired and corseted cages which leave painful lines and ache. Recently I've taken to wearing camisoles over bras to hide the lines and bulges which gradually, like folded laundry, are increasing as the years fall in soft piles.
I ask her – my lovely friend full of love – if she was born into a happy family. Yes, yes, and yes, she replies. She grew up seeing her parents hold hands and cuddle. Although she lost her father at quite an early age, her experience of her parents' open and content love shaped her vision that it was entirely possible to have bodily confidence even through the process of ageing.
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As we finished our coffees, she said that actually, she was much more confident and content with her body now, at 50, than she'd ever been. I feel resigned to my body and its changes – I'm not sure I should interpret this as confidence. But I wondered, would I feel differently now if I had been raised by parents who were in love?
Would growing older be a kinder space if I had been shown that I was good enough and that imperfections were just that – imperfect bits of perfection? I cannot blame my parents. I know for an absolute fact that their own parents were raised in unloving, tough environments. So I forgive them, and love them for the skills they gave me.

A 14-year-old model has a body that I can never compete with. I will always fail in relation to the pictures in magazines.

But the fact remains that I must be like millions of people born into anything but love and so society at large surely has a role to play here. Magazine editors and designers whose overpriced goods are largely aimed at women over 40 who have a disposable income should really fix up. A 14-year-old model has a body that I can never compete with. I will always fail in relation to the pictures in magazines.
Both of my friends said they'd never consider having any work done: no Botox, no lifts, no tucks. I spend at least 15 minutes a day in front of a mirror, pulling and pushing wads of skin and wondering what surgery I could and should afford. What a waste to buy into impossibility rather than luxuriating in my imperfections.
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Any magazine editor, designer, advertising executive or production company who uses a model who is still technically a child or teenager should consider themselves akin to a very unkind partner. Cruel. You create an impossible dynamic and you know it.
You expect us to buy your shiny magazines packed full of advertisements, then you slap us in the face with size zero models, knowing full well that when I end up in a heap of size 14-through-to-18 clothes on the changing room floor, I will feel nothing but unattractive. Creating bodily contentment is as simple as aiming to be a loving partner. Hold our hands, hug us and – just very occasionally – wish us good morning with an image of women wearing clothes that might just fit.
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