On Loving Your Aging Body


I know some people who seem to learn things about life in a gradual, progressive way. Over time, they get ideas, gain insights from books they read and people they talk to, accumulate experiences – then they discover that they have changed. They feel they have achieved better understanding during this slow process and it’s made them a  better person.

I’m not like that, or at least not much. I tend to go along on a plateau, and then a transformational event happens –an “aha moment.” These kinds of epiphanies don’t happen often, but on a few occasions they have changed my thinking dramatically. For example, I was working away in my conventional academic career and feeling generally happy. Then one day I was standing in an airport bookstore. I saw the rack of advice books, and some were written by academics. And the thought hit me: “I can do that, and maybe better than some of them”). From that moment, I focused on writing a series of advice books based on social science research (and to my surprise, people seemed to like them).

So I have learned to stop and pay attention when an insight hits me between the eyes, so to speak. My most recent revelation was about, of all things, my own body.

Let me say, that I am not in the habit of thinking all that much about my body (although my family might disagree). And when I do, I’m like a lot of people my age (I’m 69). When forced to confront the effects of age on my body, an involuntary shudder goes down my spine. Most of us in this age range have the experience of catching a glimpse of ourselves before we’ve pulled on the morning outfit. And sadly, many people say to themselves some version of “ugh.”

A few months ago, after a shower, I found myself facing the mirror. And one of those epiphany moments occurred. I took more time to look in the mirror and reflect, and I suddenly had an overwhelming need to apologize to my body. After all, there it was, having faithfully carried me about the world for nearly 70 years, always doing its best despite some poor decisions I may have inflicted on it (Body plaintively to me: “Do we really still have to run half marathons?”).

I don’t want to get mystical, but looking at it/me, I was filled with what I can only describe as a sense of love for something that wonderful and perfect. One moment: I don’t mean my body is perfect in any way shape or form. But collectively, our bodies are perfect at any age. I looked at the healing patch on my knee (Body to me: “You did that on one of those runs, by the way”), and thought – amazing that it still does that. I saw beyond sagging skin and disappearing hair, to the actual miracle of experience our aging bodies provide.

Like all epiphanies, this one passed. But it changed my approach. I’m not apologizing any more for how I look, bemoaning youthful vigor, thick hair, or supple skin. Because why do we hate our aging bodies? We hate them because a lot of people tell us to. An endless barrage of anti-aging advertising and ageist “humor” (which is never very funny) overwhelms us. And there is also our own daily conversations, in which we older people demean ourselves and the way we look. (Note to older people: Think back over the past month and ask how often in conversations with your agemates you’ve said something negative about older people’s bodies. I bet it’s a lot.)

I’m done with that now. I look at my old body in the mirror, and give it thumbs up and a hearty “Well done!” It deserves it.

Have you reached out to an estranged family
member during this time of crisis?
We’d love to hear what motivated you and what was the outcome.
Share Story