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Mirror mirror on the wall

Posted in Life & Love, and Uncategorized

CC on bedI stand naked in front of the mirror, like I have done countless times since I can remember, checking for signs of aging, of diminishing returns on investment. I can be merciless, a trait I never dispense on others but that I apply to myself with superhuman ability: the frown line between my eyebrows is becoming a burrow; the laugh lines around my eyes have multiplied overnight; my boobs, they are still small; the skin around my biceps is sagging; the skin on my décolleté is crepe-y; there are thin blue veins on my legs that will become more noticeable as time goes by; tiny brown spots are starting to appear on my hands.

In a few weeks I will turn 52 and here I am, still standing naked in front of a mirror, finding fault with my amazing body. I see the blemishes that I have been trained to see – a lifetime of experience in watching my refection in the eyes of others, in feeding my insecurities through images of unattainable beauty or a careless remark from my mother, a girlfriend, a man. Me. Strong, smart, fearless and unstoppable me. I can’t focus on the happiness in my beautiful eyes; my flat stomach; the small boobs too small to have sagged; my weight that hasn’t fluctuated in over 30 years; my athletic legs; the near absence of grey hair. No, the cellulite dimples take precedence over what is right. Not least of all, my health.

Voicing these thoughts out loud – or clicking them on my Mac as the case may be – makes me feel like a complete asshole, one unable to fully embrace my good fortune: I know so little about discrimination. Through no choice of my own I was born in the easiest race to belong to; in a lovely country, with little knowledge of poverty and none whatsoever of violence or abuse; there is nothing remarkably different about my appearance.

It’s commonplace to blame the media and the fashion industry for fueling women’s desires to attain what only a mixture of airbrushing, uncommon genes and a team of experts can concoct, but that is not my case. Not entirely at least – I came of age along my namesake Claudia Schiffer, and Cindy Crawford and Helena Christensen. I worked in an industry where beauty was prized by the multitude of men alongside me but never once would have I traded smarts for uncommon beauty. I was quite content with what the luck of the draw had bestowed me. Still, I couldn’t help looking for appreciation and acceptance and, I suppose, validation, in the eyes of the men I met, or just walked by in the street, thus gifting them with a power they don’t deserve, or maybe even want. Blame it on a culture, the Italian one, where sex is front and center from an early age; on a well-meaning mother who wanted her daughters to be smart, yes, but also pretty; on the general insecurities of any young girl looking for acceptance in a male dominated world. I became a contradictory product of my generation: I liked to be looked at but not remarked upon.

Just back from the beach - what am I looking at so intently? Me?
Just back from the beach – what am I looking at so intently? Me?

When was the last time I didn’t worry about how I looked? How old I was? Ten, eleven maybe? Who ever rejected me based on the way I looked? It’s often more subtle than that: walking hand in hand at 13 with your best girlfriend and noticing she gets asked out by boys more often than you; it’s the popular girl in class whose breasts draw all the attention; it’s that endearing (in hindsight) mixture of awkwardness and geeky-ness every teenager doesn’t walk away from unscathed.
It was my childhood friend Michele who, driving me home on his Vespa one night, when I was 17, said to me “You know you have a great ass, right?”, in that non judgmental way only someone who has known you since birth can deliver. “I do?” I replied , wide-eyed. I remember that moment very clearly because it’s when I started worrying in earnest about my appearance. What did people notice about me that I never gave a thought to? I began to wonder.

In retrospect, I wish I had the wisdom of 17 year old Savannah Brown, whose spoken poem about how we cannot let others define us is all the more wondrous because of her age. There is hope still, for stronger women than me to not let themselves be defined by the judgmental eyes of others.

Savannah Brown
Savannah Brown

At 52, I certainly cannot count on finding affirmation in the eyes of strangers anymore, which is liberating in more ways than one. It’s given me more confidence, in a strangely reverse effect. I always wanted to be the “what you see is what you get” type, and now, finally, I can. For the first time in my life, I dress truly for me, I cut my hair the way it pleases me, I wear or not wear make-up depending on the mood.

I can’t wind the clock back – I don’t do regrets anyway – but I can share who I was with younger generations to make the point of how pointless it all is, and that you get where you want to go on the strength of other attributes. Don’t ever play that angle because it will come back to bite you in the ass. As lovely as that ass might be.

Savannah Brown got there in much less time than me, although I suspect every single woman has always known but between conceptually knowing and avoiding playing the game altogether there is often a gulf with a very rocky bridge.
I wonder if, 30 years from now, pretty Savannah Brown will look back on her words and feel she stood by them, always.

I won’t deny I still battle with the mirror, but less than I used to. And when I do, I tend to walk away with more positive thoughts. Because, no matter what others might think a) I don’t care anymore and b) I feel fabulous. Inside and out.

 

Watch Savannah Brown’s slam poem here

 

All images copyright of C&S – Savannah Brown’s still taken from her video

 

 

 

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13 Comments

  1. I’m 34, almost 35, and I find your post truly inspriational. I only hope that younger women will begin to look at themselves as beautiful and confident and not only see their flaws, but the beautiful woman they are becoming.

    June 26, 2014
    |Reply
    • Thank you Lindsay. You couldn’t have left a nicer comment. Just never forget how beautiful you are.

      June 26, 2014
      |Reply
  2. “When was the last time I didn’t worry about how I looked? How old I was? Ten, eleven maybe?” indeed. As someone who is objectively fit at 45 AND, at the same time, dealing with an unexpected revisit of eating disorder from 20 years ago, the issue of self-value and self-perception is high up on my daily “thinking and learning” agenda. In hindsight my “I look fat” worries were totally unjustified in my 20s or 30s, especially during periods when I was totally unweight. Unlike you, I do regrets (way less these days!!) and I do wish I had taken more pictures in my younger days, “feeling” fat or otherwise!

    June 26, 2014
    |Reply
    • Damn, if only I had had the wisdom I have now 30 years ago…would have been the happiest person alive! yes, right, and I wouldn’t be alone. As long as we are aware, I suppose we are on the right track. Thanks for sharing.

      June 26, 2014
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  3. Whether it matters or not, you look amazing. But you are right, its the person you are inside that matters.
    Jane x

    June 26, 2014
    |Reply
    • I am beginning to believe what we see in the mirror it’s not what is really there. Women can be masters at distorting reality! But I will accept your compliment gracefully (something else it took me a long time to do – deflect attention, familiar with that trick?)

      June 26, 2014
      |Reply
      • Oh completely! Its something it took me a long time to learn too.
        Jane x

        June 26, 2014
        |Reply
  4. Camparigirl,
    Three things:
    1) Damn, you’re skinny! I need to feed you some Greek food! 🙂
    2) I could totally relate to this. For the last few years I have been trying to focus on how I feel, not what I look like.
    3) Your blog reminds me of a passage from my novel: this is what the protagonist says after almost a month in Greece: “Since I have no scale and only half a mirror, my view has been mostly waist up and though I feel trim and tan, I didn’t necessarily feel like I lost weight till I put on this dress and it was loose. I hop on the bed and look at my derrière. Hmm? Looks the same. I read somewhere that women have between seven and seventy negative body-image thoughts per day; I hear my thoughts: Wow! Lots of dimples, ooh sagging skin, but then I instantly cut myself off. No! Not a lot of cellulite for a woman who eats a dessert every night and is enjoying life. So instead I say: “You look good baby!” then laugh. My face has a healthy color with pink cheeks and red lips. Even my tan toes look pretty with a cherry nail polish. But better than looking good, I feel good!” http://Www.redgreektomatoes.com

    I learned a lot by creating her.

    To health and not cellulite!
    Greek girl 🙂

    June 26, 2014
    |Reply
    • Am as skinny as ever. The black leggings might make me look smaller. Is your mom still in town? Will she cook some Greek goodies for me?

      June 26, 2014
      |Reply
  5. I love you so much for that raw honesty. I’m with you at 56.

    June 26, 2014
    |Reply
  6. An older friend told me years ago two secrets about aging. 1. You never stand naked in front of a mirror without a wine glass in your hand and 2. If you go to a beach, find the biggest woman there and lay beside her, because it makes you look good 🙂

    June 25, 2014
    |Reply
    • Excellent advice. In my case, though, I will have to make it a Campari!

      June 26, 2014
      |Reply

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