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I hate my ageing body. Why do I look at myself with disgust? | Ask Philippa

I hate my ageing body. Why do I look at myself with disgust?

Observe your critical voice to put distance between it and you – and remember that the most attractive women are those who carry themselves with pride

The dilemma How can I be less self-conscious and less full of self-hatred about my untoned, middle-aged, sagging body when unclothed? This means I’m inhibited in many ways and avoid activities where I need to show my arms and, worse, my legs or my belly. I dread having to wear a swimming costume, even though I do enjoy swimming. It also means I don’t feel comfortable being naked with my partner during sex. It even affects which positions we take – I can’t bring myself to be on top as I feel so ashamed of my sagging belly and breasts.

I walk a lot, I go to yoga, I do Pilates and other classes several times a week, and love what my body can achieve in these classes. I’m almost 60 and have a good diet (no meat, plenty of fish, pulses, fruit and a wide range of vegetables). I am about 2st overweight and have struggled with this most of my life.

I know that we are all much more than our physical appearance and I feel ashamed of being ashamed. Maybe this is relevant – at an early age I developed large breasts that attracted unwanted male attention when I was still essentially a child and I remember choosing clothes to disguise my womanly body rather than celebrate it.

I don’t look at my friends with disgust, they’re gorgeous, despite not having perfect bodies, so why do I look at myself that way?

Philippa’s answer I love the way you do so much to look after yourself, you are caring for yourself, this is fantastic. However, you do have a problem with how you talk to yourself. It seems impossible to shut down this critical voice. I’m sure you’ve tried, but you can develop a different relationship to it. Instead of being that voice and saying, “I hate my belly”, just observe it. Notice the voice telling you these hateful things and cease to take it seriously. Watching it rather than being it, or engaging with it, will begin to create distance between you and this inner critic.

We are trained from an early age to believe youth is beauty and age is not. I remember my mother looking at herself and bemoaning her loss of youth and saying stuff to me like, “It’s all right for you…” but it wasn’t because she was passing down the habit of body-hatred from her to me. We are bombarded with images of very young women, we get the message that this is what we should all look like. You’d think because of this stereotype that these girls were the epitome of woman. But they are not. You are. Our skin stretches as it ages and we have been conditioned to think of it as not beautiful. We’ve been told what we are supposed to look like by people trying to sell us firming lotion and anti-ageing cream, and fashion. Their goal is to fill us with fear that we will be unlovable due to not looking like a 20-year-old and so they feed our self-disgust in order that we buy more stuff – and the tactic works. Well, in so far as we buy stuff it works, but the stuff, no, that doesn’t work, so our skin and fat distribution remains appropriate to our age. Yes, we can look at skin that appears like crêpe paper where there was once smooth flesh, and we can know we have been trained to believe one is good and the other bad, but we can also know we have a choice about how we think about this.

Who are the most attractive older women really? Not the slimmest, not the youngest, but the women who carry themselves with pride, who don’t hide away, who hold their heads up and laugh, never mind what might wobble, the ones who are breathing because they aren’t holding their breath as they try to hold in a stomach. Confidence is attractive. We must try to develop it. Confidence, not thinness or firmness, is the key to looking and feeling beautiful.

That critical voice of yours has been feeding you negative messages about your body for years, it’s time to sing a counter-message. Take your clothes off, look in the full-length mirror and say: “I am the epitome of woman. All women should look like me.”

When you say it, oh boy, your inner critic will try to shout you down. But that critical voice is not about truth, you are just used to it. It is easy to mistake familiarity for truth. Who is to declare what is beautiful and what is not? You are, that’s who, not someone trying to sell you snake oil. Hold your head up proudly. You are a wonderful sexy body, who is having lovely sex, practise being proud of it. I want you to do this every morning and night. Don’t waste another day of not relishing just how fabulous you are. You may not feel confident, but act it, get used to it. You can fake it to make it, and so can I – thanks for the reminder.

Men and boys, if you are still reading this, stop perving over young girls’ bodies, or, if it’s not you, then call your mates out for doing this. The gazing is scaring and scarring girls and the harm you cause them can last them a lifetime. I’m not kidding. I’m angry.

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Source: TheGuardian