Aging: The Good, The Bad And The Pudgy

By Jen Holman

The first prong of my two-pronged plan—join the gym.

The first prong of my two-pronged plan—join the gym.

 

It was a dumb thing to do. I see that now. But in my defense, it was turquoise and chevron—two qualities I find nearly impossible to resist. The pressure was simply too great and I caved in a moment of weakness. 

Over the past several weeks, each time I entered my favorite retail chain, the first things I saw were women’s swimsuits. You know the ones. The trendy, tiny suits are displayed front and center the moment youwalk through the sliding doors. They’re stationed near the aisle for all to see, while the tummy-control mom suits are hidden in the back, against the wall. 

I was just minding my own business, making a quick run for shampoo and dog food, when, wham!, a flounce crocheted two-piece caught my eye. It made me think of carefree days on the beach or at the lake. The days when I didn’t have to leave the fun to make lunch for little people and put them down for naps.

“That’s adorable,” I thought. “I could totally pull that off.” And then, those six words dreaded by women since the dawn of lycra escaped my lips. “I need to try that on.”

I practically skipped to the dressing room. I was shopping alone, my bigs at elementary school and the two littles at pre-K for a couple of hours. 

I’ll be 39 this year. Did I mention that? I should have. 

I slipped on the adorable swimsuit, noting that clothes manufacturers are making women’s sizes smaller and smaller every year. Medium is the new small, apparently. I fastened the clasp at the back of my neck and lifted my head, glancing into the mirror for the first time. My horrified howl probably sent the poor dressing room attendant on alert for a  Code Red. 

“That’s not my butt,” I told the mirror. “That’s my mother’s butt. Where’s my butt?” I looked behind me—like I’d find my 25-year-old butt. Like the store’s dressing room had been installed with a funhouse mirror. Nope. That was it, all right. Worse: It was accessorized with a brand-new set of love handles. 

I stripped the scrap of a suit off in record time and went home with my tail between my (thick) legs. It had happened. I’d lost my girlish figure. Certainly, things had changed after the birth of my children, and that was to be expected. I had found a way to love my post-baby bod because it was all a part of motherhood. But this—my body’s changes as a result of aging? Try as I might, I couldn’t find any affection for that. 

What was I to do? I eat healthfully and am fairly active. We’re already constantly on the run with several growing kiddos and their extracurriculars. And I patently refuse to starve myself to meet the ridiculous standard women are held to in magazines and on television. You’ll find no thigh gap or bikini bridge on this mom’s body. But I did want to be healthy, and I wanted to take my kiddos to the pool this summer and actually remove my cover-up. 

I developed a two-pronged approach, joining the gym and resolving to (try to) lovingly embrace aging. 

For most healthy adults, the Department of Health and Human Services recommends at least 150 minutes a week of moderate or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity. It also recommends strength training at least twice a week to counteract the muscle loss associated with aging. Did you know people who aren’t physically active can lose from 3 to 5 percent of muscle mass per decade after age 30? 

I didn’t, either, but at least I’ve isolated what happened to my butt.

The second prong to my plan was less tangible. It was a mental workout. How do you learn to love a body that requires more work and will probably still never look as good as it once did? For me, the key was embracing “health” rather than “perfection,” and letting beauty radiate from a happy and content heart. 

A wise woman once told me to “look deeper” when I complained of the imminence of aging. I took her advice, and have never been happier. I isolated and exercised the muscles that built character and kindness. I toned the areas that made me feel more fulfilled and accomplished as a woman, as a human being, as a mother. 

Will my plan work? Can I balance health and happiness? I think so. I may never have abs of steel, but they’ll get plenty of exercise from laughter. 

 

Jen Holman is often irreverent and frequently imperfect. But she’s happy, by God, and that’s what matters. She lives in Little Rock with her husband, three children and a nephew, striking that delicate balance between inspiration and frustration. Jen has published two novels under the pseudonym Jen Crane, the second of which was selected by iTunes/iBooks as “Our Pick” in fantasy sci-fi.