Spry editor Lisa Delaney is one of the rare souls who know what it’s like to be an “after.” This journalist and author of Secrets of a Former Fat Girl shed 70 pounds—and six dress sizes—and has kept it off for 20 years. She answers your questions here.
DEAR FORMER FAT GIRL: I hate to admit this, but I have major body image issues. When I look in the mirror, all I see is my belly, my cellulite and my bat wings. I’m 56, and you’d think I’d be over it, but as I get older I seem to focus even more on my flaws. Any advice for switching off those negative thoughts?—Monica
DEAR MONICA: I think women over 50 should stop looking at themselves in the mirror while naked. I mean, why do it to yourself? (I can only say that because I’m 52 myself). Seriously, though—I know what you mean. Even the fittest 50 something can see the effect of gravity on her body, not to mention thinning skin that makes cellulite more noticeable and creates the dreaded “elephant knee” effect. Here’s my thinking on how to switch off that inner body critic.
Invest in some cool clothing—and a session with a stylist. Maybe you shouldn’t completely swear off full-frontals at the mirror (after all, how would you do your monthly skin cancer check?), but the fact is that what most people see is your fully clothed body. And your clothing can have a great deal to do with how youthful you look, as well as downplay some of the areas you feel are most problematic. If you haven’t reassessed your wardrobe in a while, it might be worth the investment to do so now—maybe with a stylist’s help. If you can afford it, image consultants can come in and “shop” your current clothing collection, putting together outfits in combinations you might not come up with on your own. They’ll also identify key pieces that will elevate your wardrobe, concentrating on how well they fit you and flatter your shape. If you can’t afford to bankroll a session with a personal stylist (they can run up to $1,000, depending on your location), some department stores like Nordstrom can at least set you up with a personal shopper who can give you an outsider’s perspective on looks that work for you.
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Embrace a sport or other physical challenge. I’ll give you the same advice I shared with an auditorium full of high school girls at a talk I did on body image and the media last spring: Getting involved in sports can move you toward appreciating your body for what it can DO, not just how it looks. I can attest to that—at age 50, I started rowing, a sport that relies mostly on lower-body strength. And I have to tell you: I’ve come to see my ample thighs as a source of power, which makes it easier to look past those elephant knees. If you’re a swimmer, join a masters’ swim team. Sign up for a long distance cycling event, or shape up for a long backpacking trip. Switch your focus from skinny to strong, and you can’t go wrong.
Eat for the health of it. Get off the dieting bandwagon and feed your body with foods that will keep you healthy and vibrant as you age. Just as you focus less on skinny than strong, think about all the delicious, healthy foods you can eat and less about what you CAN’T have.
Find new ways to cope with stress. Spikes in your stress level may encourage you to be come more self-critical—in fact, a study that came out last summer suggests that women who’d experienced eating disorders as teens suffered a recurrence in midlife, often triggered by stressful events in their lives. Try yoga, Tai Chi, meditation—get involved in a prayer group at your church. Recognize that, while you may feel you didn’t need these strategies in the past, your needs are constantly evolving. Try several methods to find the one that’s right for you.
Get involved. I can get all wrapped up in my body woes, too. Getting outside of myself by volunteering—focusing, I hate to say it, on people with REAL problems—gives me perspective. It helps me remember that my body is healthy, and be thankful for that.
Make a gratitude habit. At the end of each day, write down (in a journal for this purpose, or whatever) 10 things you’re grateful for. Force yourself to list 10, every time—even if you repeat yourself, night after night. Train your brain to focus more on the positive than the negative thoughts that are pulling you down. Now, you’ll have to excuse me—I’ve got a list to make myself!