Does your morning flaw-seeking, wrinkle checking ritual at the mirror make you a little crazy? We’re living in a youth-driven, beauty-obsessed culture that tells us “if you’re a woman who is showing visible signs of aging, you’re useless.” If you’ve been feeling a little dumpy, frumpy and freaking out about getting older, that’s probably why. Coming face to face with wrinkles, lines, dark spots, thinning hair and under eye bags is a truly humbling experience. If you’re not in a resourceful frame of mind, spending time in front of the mirror, scrutinizing your changing body can lead you down a slippery slope right into depression.
If you can relate to this mirror misery, you’re not alone. According to the Daily Mail, an online UK publication, back in 2011, a survey study was done on 1200 women to measure their level of body confidence. It reflected that 90% of the women in their 40’s and 50’s are so unhappy with the way they look that they suffer from ‘mid-life mirror angst syndrome’ Being so uncomfortable around looking in the mirror, most of the older women avoided it altogether. These findings were published in the Invisible Women Study, commissioned by online fashion retailer isme.com.
Reading the article made me feel so sad and I had to speak about this and make some noise, adding my voice to this discussion. I wanted to do this as a 56 year old woman who knows what it’s like to suffer from crippling body shame and insecurities. For years, no matter what weight or size I was, I remained at war with my big, fat, chunky thighs. Then one day it became crystal clear that my body was never the problem, but hating myself was.
My book, “Lovin’ the Skin You’re In” represents a 6 year journey of self-discovery that led me to recognize the power of self-love. During that time I interviewed many women and pioneers in the size-acceptance movement. Adapting their attitudes and beliefs transformed my relationship with my body. Their insights helped me to achieve a new level of confidence and they can help you too.
Maybe like me, you can relate to having some tough experiences in your past. Maybe you picked up the subtle hint that something about you was wrong, or could be better. Whether that message was delivered as a direct hit with straight up sarcasm and criticism or a more subtle type of hurt that’s been responsible for undermining your confidence, I have great news for you.
I’m proof positive that you can makeover a negative self-image. Coming from an abusive background, for years I had a very low self-image. I spoke to myself disrespectfully all the time. Whether I was putting myself down and calling myself “Stupid” or berating myself by saying, “I hate you, you fat pig.”I didn’t realize how much harm I was doing to myself. Do you do that?
As you notice evidence of your imperfections, do you call yourself names and put yourself down? You probably learned to be tough on yourself because someone else was hard on you. We tend to repeat the behaviors of the people in our lives who have been the most influential–for the good and the bad.
Maybe you noticed this trait in you, but you’ve been thinking that it’s harmless. Just a little tough love. Right? Wrong. It’s not love at all. The truth is talking down to yourself in a mean and disrespectful way will only make you feel worse. And if you’re okay with treating yourself like crap, other people will pick up on your energy and figure they can walk all over you too. It’s a bad scene.
You are nobody’s doormat. And I’m excited to teach you that by changing the way you see yourself and your experiences and looking at your life in a more compassionate light, you will recognize that you are lovable and deserving. As a kid, if you were the target of verbal abuse and criticism, you may have grown up to doubt your value. You may not have gotten the nurturing and the love or affection that you wanted as a child, but now you act as your own nurturer. Taking responsibility for caring for yourself with love and respect, you will gain confidence by setting boundaries in your life, letting go of people and relationships that don’t love and support you.
Here are 6 tips that will enable you to be more confident at any age so you can get out from under your mirror misery:
1. Grieve your losses. As we age, we spend more time thinking about our own mortality. We become aware of regrets and lost opportunities. By the time you hit your mid 40’s or early 50’s, it becomes daunting to realize that nearly half of your life is over.
But you can avoid that self-pity trap and move past the ‘feeling sorry’ for yourself thinking, by facing your feelings. Looking into the mirror and pointing out obvious truths like getting older, noticing that your appearance is changing, or any other negative thing is really just a smokescreen covering up what’s really upsetting you.
Don’t paste a smile on your face when you’re not feeling the beam coming from your heart. No use pretending you feel fine, when you don’t. Positive thinking will not be strong enough to overturn those self-defeating thoughts, because the emotional load on your brain is too intense, triggering a ton of stress hormones to flood your body. This surge of stress chemicals is preventing you from thinking clearly because your internal alarm is going off. To neutralize that stress response, you need to dump that emotional load by acknowledging how sad, regretful, angry or betrayed you really feel.
2. Tap. Emotional Freedom Technique, also known as EFT or tapping is a powerful stress-relief technique that calms you down by activating your body’s natural relaxation response . Tapping has changed my life and made it possible for me to undo much of the damage of my abusive past.
I’ve spent nearly 15 years in traditional talk therapy attempting to put perspective on my very abusive past. It helped considerably, but there were still memories of mine that were much too traumatic to bear.
In 2004 I was attending a coaching training to become a Master Practitioner of Neuro Linguistic Programming. My class was doing presentations and our chairs were all arranged in a circle. Something a colleague of mine said triggered a memory of one of the worst and most traumatic events of my childhood. In seconds, I went into a full-blown panic attack. I felt a surge of emotion rushing through my body. I looked down at my hands that had been resting on my knees, and noticed they were trembling uncontrollably because the muscles in my legs were bouncing out of control, going up and down. Lucky for me, a colleague of mine sitting next to me, noticed my distress, tapped me on the shoulder to get my attention and whispered an invitation to help. As soon as we exited the room, I began to sob uncontrollably. I remember her telling me that she was an Emotional Freedom Technique practitioner and if I would give her permission to tap on my hands and face, she could help me feel better. She did. That day changed my life and I’ve since vowed to share EFT with other women also struggling with depression and self-doubt. EFT has done for me what nearly 15 years of therapy failed to achieve. It’s given me emotional freedom so I no longer identify myself as a victim. I don’t think of my abusive past as a curse or a reason to feel ashamed. It’s made me the strong, loving, compassionate person I’ve become. But I also get tripped up and fall down again, but I use EFT every time to get myself back up.
To this day when I get triggered to remember upsetting and traumatic events from my past, and my thoughts turn to paranoia and fear, I automatically use tapping to regain clarity. I work with clients who also have trauma in their past and I’ve learned to use EFT to help them transform those upsetting memories and turn them into self-pride and confidence. I am proof positive that you don’t have to live your life feeling like a victim. You can clean the slate and start over and feel more vibrant and alive than ever!
In the photo above, I’m teaching a group of women how to use tapping to get control of their emotions so they can start each day with plenty of energy, and feel ready to conquer the world. Tapping works to relieve your anxiety and other overwhelming emotions. By tapping on certain acupressure endpoints on your body, it sends a calming signal to your brain to stimulate a production of feel good chemicals like serotonin and dopamine to relax your muscles at the same time that they calm your thoughts.
3. Don’t tolerate criticism – We get our sense of value and lovableness from our environment. As children we don’t have any say in how people speak to us or how they treat us. But as adults, we can make those decisions for ourselves. We teach people how to treat us, and it’s never too late to change the rules. Always consider your safety first and avoid putting yourself in the line of fire of a physically abusive person.
Feelings of shame about your body or your age comes from the way you’ve learned to think about yourself and the history of how you have seen others being treated. Many times people are not even aware of the fact that they are saying hurtful things, because they have developed a tolerance to criticism and verbal abuse from their own experiences with their families.
Become aware of people in your life who treat you disrespectfully. Sarcasm and criticism is hurtful and you don’t deserve to be abused. Being spoken to in a sarcastic or critical tone is not okay. Give people the benefit of the doubt by taking them aside and speaking to them in a non-threatening and soft tone letting them know that you have decided that you want to be treated with kindness and respect. Ask them specifically for what you want and how you want them to speak to you.
4. You are in control. Your thoughts have power. Depending upon where you choose to point and focus your thoughts, it will either energize or suck the life out of you. If you focus on all the reasons and thoughts that make you feel bad, you will only attract more ‘feeling bad’ into your experience. The chemicals of emotion are all just energy to your system. It’s not good. It’s not bad. It’s just energy.
You can transform those negative thoughts and emotions to feel however you want. If you want to feel more confident and even tap into feeling sexy, you’ve got to grieve your losses and face the feelings you have about not feeling sexy and getting older. You have the power of choice. You can choose how you want to feel by changing the thoughts you think. You can choose to embrace this new older and more mature stage in your life and make it work for you or you can buy into the belief that you’re all washed up. It’s all up to you.
5. Seek out role models of women over 40 who exemplify confidence and body acceptance. My attitudes towards my body changed when I began finding role models of women whose bodies were shaped like mine.
If you’re struggling with feeling insecure around aging, look for role models of women who have embraced their ageless beauty.
As far as ageless examples of celebrities, Cher, Tina Turner and Oprah are my personal favorites. Notice women in your personal circle who exemplify agelessness.
Go online and expand your search to include great YouTube videos. One of my favorite YouTubers is Monique Parent. She is a Hollywood actress who teaches women over 40 how to go from drab to fab. By expanding your awareness of the possibilities and learning how to manage challenges, you’ll feel so much better.
6. Spend more time being happy and finding inspiration where you can. Do things that pull you out of thinking about yourself and your problems. Listen to music, volunteer your time, watch movies you love, spend time with close friends.
Every moment of every day is filled with fresh opportunities for you to do what you want. Obsessing about the image of yourself you see in the mirror will only make you feel worse. I get it. I know. I feel your pain. Let me tell you a little story about when I realized that trying to fight the signs of aging was just a waste of time.
About a year ago, I first noticed some wrinkles and dark circles under my eyes. They could have been there for 10 years, but I’ve never noticed it before. For several weeks after that, throughout the day I found myself nervously checking my mirror, spending far too long inspecting myself for signs of aging. Then I started looking for solutions to dark circles, watching videos and paying attention to conversations, looking for answers.
Until one day I stood in front of my magnifier mirror, tugging at my eyes, trying to make the dark circles go away. Suddenly a painfully sobering realization hit me and I started to cry. As I tasted my salty tears then rolling down my cheeks, I realized that I had been here before.
This place of self-hatred and shame was so familiar to me. Now instead of focusing my shame-filled thoughts on hating my fat thighs as I had done for decades, my new obsession was around feeling ashamed about aging The dark circles were just the first evidence I noticed. There would be more to follow.
Sure I could buy that cream, and follow every shiny ball solution out there, but in the end, I would just be chasing after a dream, wishing I was something I’m not. Younger. The truth is–I’m 56. I’m older now, and I’ll never have the younger version of me again. And neither will you.
Our answers are not in fixing our bodies and making external changes that often don’t last. Instead the true answers and our real freedom is in self-acceptance. To get over the feeling of wanting to hide yourself, we have to embrace our imperfections, face this aging thing head on by looking deeply into ourselves, and grieve our losses. For me, it felt like I was climbing a mountain, and it seemed there was no end to my list of regrets. But now after letting those tears fall, and crying myself a river, I now realize that life is far too short to waste worrying about nonsense. I still love to dress up, play with makeup, and glam myself up, but it’s not a deal breaker. I can still shine and be my best self with or without extras. Dark circles, fat thighs and all. My insecurities won’t ever rob me of anymore precious years.
How ’bout you? Can you relate? How do you face your wrinkles, rolls and the ravages of time? Ready to stop all the body shaming. Whether your challenges are with the size of your thighs, or the wrinkles around your eyes, reclaim your power from your mirror and take a stand. The problem is not your body. The problem is hating your body. Can you relate?
If you’re tired of picking on all your flaws and finding fault with everything you do and want to find some inner peace, join me in my Facebook group, “30 Days to Lovin’ the Skin You’re In.”
Andrea Amador is The Juicy Woman. Equal parts sweet and oh so sassy, Andrea’s a curvy and confident plus size body image coach/bestselling author who shows mid-life women how to transform their blues and body shame into self-compassion and kindness so they can build their confidence from the inside-out.