5 Things I Learned in Eating Disorder Recovery That Helped Me Accept My Aging Body
I’m 43 years old. This means I’m seeing more and more signs of aging every day. Here’s the kicker: even though I consider myself fully recovered from an eating disorder — and work as an advocate for eating disorder recovery, spreading messages of body acceptance daily — I don’t like aging, not one little bit.
I’ve been recovered from my eating disorder for 14 years. During this time, I have pledged to remain at peace with my body. So, I believed (and hoped) that when I started noticeably aging, I would embrace it fearlessly.
I was wrong.
I’m surprised by this newfound body dissatisfaction. So, I’ve spent the last six months trying to figure out what’s going on.
Why am I so freaked out by aging?
The truth is, I feel sideswiped by aging. Age suddenly crept up on me, tearing away the cloak of youth — and it’s threatening to expose my vulnerabilities: my icky feelings and anxieties. I feel like I am being stripped of my armor and I can’t stop the process.
For years, I stashed my vulnerabilities in my youthful appearance. No one could see my fears, and I liked it that way.
But, lately, I’ve had some clarity. I think I’m in the early processes of accepting aging — and it’s reminding me of the early days in eating disorder recovery!
Aging isn’t only about the body — just like eating disorders aren’t only about food. For me, the real issues relate to control and the need to be seen.
Aging is pulling me even deeper into my recovery journey, and the very tools I used to overcome the eating disorder are helping me make peace with aging.
Below are five tools I learned in eating disorder recovery that are helping me embrace the aging process:
1. Recognize your value.
Yes, women, you have value — beyond a thigh gap, beyond a flat stomach and beyond a perfect booty. The fact that we struggle so much with aging shows you how twisted and maddening our cultural fixation on bodies can be. Aging does not rob any of us of our value. We are so much more than our bodies, whatever age we are. Take a moment today to review all the things you offer the world and celebrate those qualities.
2. Use your voice to make a difference.
Women over 40, this one’s for you: even though women over 40 make up 62 percent of the female U.S. population, we are wildly underrepresented in the media. This can make us feel undervalued and invisible. Guess what? It doesn’t have to be that way. Use your voice to talk about the power of being a woman over 40. Share your wisdom. Share your strength. Speak out on social media; share your adventures and your passions. We must remind each other of the collective power of womanhood; we must redefine what it means to be a woman over 40. We’re badasses. We know what we want and we know how to get it. Demand to be seen by sharing your voice!
3. Expose cultural body lies.
I haven’t shared this before, but I think it’s worth sharing here. Recently, I posted two pictures on my social media page. I shared a picture of myself wearing Spanx and a picture of me with no Spanx. I thought I had the courage to do this, but I kind of freaked out. I took the pictures down after only five minutes. My intention was to share a message of confidence and body positivity, normalizing the imperfections on an aging body – a real woman’s body over 40! The many bloggers and celebrities who do this inspire me so much. But, I couldn’t stand the thought of people analyzing and judging me — because I was analyzing and judging me. Clearly, I still have work to do on refusing the cultural fixation on having a certain body type. Women, we must not buy into negative cultural messages about aging. We must accept and love ourselves, exactly as we are. Refuse to be defined by your body… and celebrate your age.
Just as we learned about the power of surrendering in eating disorder recovery, we now must surrender and make peace with aging. In recovery, I had to deal with the fear in my belly that said that I had to be in control at all times — in order to be happy. I had to embrace the difficult feelings that came with living a full life. In recovery, I learned to lean into the uncertainty of life and find the magic within – no matter how messy life gets. Surrendering to aging means letting go of all the things you think you should look like, have and be. Surrendering is making room for your potential on this planet — the person you are meant to be.
5. Pay it forward.
Sadly, our culture lacks rites of passage to celebrate our elders and our aging. So, we can create new traditions ourselves. Think about your values, your purpose and your roles. What lessons do you want to pass on to the next generation? What dreams do you still want to achieve? Let’s not dread aging. We must acknowledge our value as we teach and provide examples to the next generations on how to find their value and reach for their dreams, too.
Leaning into the powerlessness to stop aging can actually help us feel empowered. Let’s use aging to redefine ourselves, to own our power and to graciously accept all the lessons we have learned from life and our recovery experiences. You may not know it now, but you are just getting started and you are a powerful force to be reckoned with.
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Thinkstock photo via Jupiterimages