Would we judge our caregivers’ bodies? By a grain of infinity
Photo by Mark Basarab on Unsplash
A few days ago, I was reminiscing about a few things I miss from childhood, which got me thinking about the women in my — or, anyone’s — family tree: treasured aunts and great-aunts, grandmothers and great-grandmothers, mothers, older cousins, big sisters.
As I approach my 60th birthday, I finally, finally, am beginning to come to terms with a human body that relentlessly follows science. It reflects the laws of physics (gravity — read into that what you will), biology and genetics (a programmed loss of pigment-producing hair cells), and biochemistry (age-related metabolic changes), to name a few.
The unsurprising result of all that inevitable, irreversible science is that, as we age, we look less and less like we did when we were young, and that is perfectly fine.
It’s actually okay to look your age.
Think back, for a moment, to when you were a small child. You grazed your knee when you fell off your bike, or you came home from school crying because of a bully. In whom did you confide? Who held you? Who kissed the boo-boo? Who made sure you were okay? Chances are, it was a woman.
When you needed her then, did it matter what she looked like? Did it make any difference if she was fat or thin? It’s likely that if she was older, your grandmother’s age, perhaps, she wasn’t thin anymore.
But didn’t her warm, soft embrace feel good?
When she pulled a pan of cookies out of the oven and gave you some, did you judge her for baking such “indulgent” or “sinful” or “fattening” food? Did you blame her if she ate one or two of her own treats — treats that tasted so great, that made you feel loved and cared for?
My favorite aunt was much older than her brother, my father, who was 15 years older than my mother. Aunt Jadwisia (yad-veesha) was old enough to be my great-aunt or grandmother. In fact, she was a mother to my adult cousin, a grandmother to four teenagers by the time I was born, and a great-grandmother when I was still a child, so I have no memory of her ever being a young woman. From seeing old photos, I do know that as a young woman she was conventionally pretty and conventionally thin. But, when I was a child, if you saw her on the street, you’d see a well-preserved but somewhat lumpy old woman.
Did any of us who loved her ever think twice that she was shaped like a mama bear? Did any of us ever think she should go on a diet, wear more make-up, color her hair? Did any of us judge her body and think to ourselves that she’d let herself go?
Not for a minute.
A body like a bear? Yes, please. Bear hugs are the best hugs. Bears are big and soft and fiercely protective of their young.
None of the women in my family — until yours truly — ever dieted. They all cared for themselves the same way they cared for us: generously and with grace. The older they got, the softer they got, and the warmer their loving embrace became. None of them were fat, but they sure weren’t thin.
All of this was, of course, before the “obesity epidemic” of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. This was before weight loss became a multibillion-dollar industry. This was before a world in which most of us have been on a least one diet, most of us have gained and lost tens or hundreds of pounds, and many of us have struggled with an eating disorder or three [raises hand].
Before we all got so anxious about how fat we all are, about how we’re eating ourselves to death, bodies were just bodies. Some were fat and some were thin, just like some people had blue eyes and others had brown eyes.
The mother of my childhood best friend was as thin as a stick of licorice. She didn’t diet. She was just one of those people who didn’t much like food so she ate very little of it. She was affectionate and fun to be around, and I enjoyed spending weekends in their home. She was a good mother, I have no doubt; she loved her children and wanted the best for them.
But, I sometimes thought when I was a kid that I’d be afraid to hug her too hard in case I broke her. She did not seem as physically strong as the other, bigger adult women I knew.
Before you start saying I’m advocating “letting yourself go,” that I’m encouraging you to eat a crappy, processed diet or all the cookies, or that I’m telling you that you shouldn’t move your body, I’m not. I am advocating self-love, self-respect, and self-care. Aunt Jadwisia was very active, working in her vegetable garden well into her 90s, and she ate a lot of her own vegetables. I’m certain that her diet and daily movement helped her live a good, long, healthy, productive life, even though she was not thin.
I guess what I’m just trying to say is that, as children, we didn’t think about our grandmothers’ waistlines or that they had doughy arms or cankles. All we saw were the smiles. All we felt was the love. We didn’t judge them, then. So why should we judge ourselves, now?
Love doesn’t come in size 2, size 10, or size 22; love is immeasurable.
So, let’s take care of ourselves as best we can, so we can be here for them as long as we can be. Let’s love ourselves and treat ourselves with kindness and compassion, no matter what we look like or what the years are doing to us.
Then let’s reflect that self-love, kindness, and compassion back to others, especially to those who count on us the most.