My uterus started falling out of my body the day I flew across the country to spend twenty-four hours alone in Boston before meeting up with a friend. My back ached on the airplane the entire way, my thighs hurt and I felt a constant need to stretch and twist and rub my swollen abdomen. I thought it was just my newly intense period cramps starting, as officially entering perimenopause and getting off all medications, including birth control pills, has made my experience with menstruating a different one. I put a tampon in and luckily also had a pad on and when I bled heavily through both, and, along with the more intense pain, I knew something was unusual for me. I pulled out the tampon and with it came part of my internal organ. I panicked, grabbed a small mirror from my make-up travel bag, and didn’t really know what I was looking at so turned to Google like all smart people do. I sat on the toilet trying not to cry and calmly used my finger to push my uterus back up inside me as far as I could. I laid down on the hotel bed for a while and recalled I had walked past both a CVS pharmacy and an urgent care clinic near the hotel in Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood. I called Dr. Brown who also Googled it and we both read that if I wasn’t in extraordinary pain or bleeding extensively that this was a relatively normal occurrence, especially for middle-aged women who’d had three natural childbirths with large babies with gigantic heads, and not particularly worrisome.
I first wrote about my whirlwind, confusing and painful experience with starting menopause nearly three and a half years ago when I was 39 and Arlo was just one year old. I thought my post-partum hormones were just taking a long time to regulate (or maybe I was dying of some unusual disease because my anxious mind always goes there) as my symptoms seemed to me so random and disconnected – gingivitis for the first time in my life, my hair falling out, intense bouts of crying, a higher than my normally high libido, waking up one morning in February to large dark spots on the skin above my lip called melasma. This is all a natural part of aging, really, and includes my body getting softer and my skin a bit more crinkly. For me this also included my first bout with ovarian cysts earlier this summer, which began with a sharp shooting pain down my thigh followed by weeks of severe bloating, cramping and nausea. My gynecologist did an ultrasound to check and make sure nothing looked off because I was CERTAIN I had ovarian cancer (I don’t) and I also made her check and see how my uterus was fairing (it’s hanging in there, but maybe not for long).
I write and speak often about how motherhood and aging, along with my work as a death historian, have affected and informed my work in positive body image. For me, they are crucial, ordinary and extraordinary parts of my life and being a woman. So I was thrilled when Amy Keller Laird, former Beauty Director for Allure and Editor of Women’s Health magazines, contacted me for an interview for a long piece she was writing for TIME (yes, as in TIME fucking magazine - read the really good article featuring ME!!!! called Can Gen X Women Love Their Bodies? here) this summer on Gen X women, aging, and body positivity. We talked about a lot of things, some of which didn’t make it into the piece but many of them did.
She talked to me about how she’s found that most brands that claim body positivity as their message usually feature only models in their 20s and maybe early 30s and although a few are using much older women (like in their 80s) it’s a veritable wasteland for those of us ages 38-53. As a body image activist pretty steeped in the movement, I have noticed the same thing - most of the others are really young (in their 20s), not middle-aged mothers who are doing important things to change the world in big and small ways while changing diapers at the same time. There aren't a lot of "everyday women" represented in this area and I think that brand campaigns are really missing out on an important demographic, as unphotoshopped campaigns from Target, Swimsuits For All, and Aerie have proven. Women (and men!) in my age demographic are working their asses off in both professional and domestic ways and are smart and have LOTS of money to spend on products and services that feel relatable and worthy. Representation matters - in life, activism and consumer culture.
She brought up the fact that some celebs in this age group seem to be talking a bit more about their aging bodies, in references to wrinkles and such, but that’s about it. I agreed. So many people my age have been brought up in a looks and youth obsessed society and this radical notion that losing weight and looking young is NOT our life's purpose is first shocking, then sad, then angering and finally a revelation (and a revolution). Diet culture, which has recently been rebranded as "health" culture, was born from consumerism fed by our desire to cheat death, if we think about it. We don't like to see our body changing and "breaking down" or "looking our age" because that's a sign of a life well lived and nature taking its course. (Our bodies are supposed to change over time - that's what they do - from birth to puberty, pregnancy, post-partum, illness, accidents, menopause, aging, to ultimately death.) It's also a fear of becoming irrelevant, which is a very real problem for women. My age demographic has learned from watching our mothers and grandmothers (and media, to be honest) that the older we get the more invisible and disposable we become, and none of us want that, right? Body positivity and age positivity are changing that narrative, though, by saying that we are more than how we look, our body size, our perky breasts, or our sexual desirability. I find it an honor to age and realize daily how lucky I am to still be alive and hope to be around for a very long time. We only get one body and one life and I'm keenly aware of that every day.
I definitely think women in this Gen X age demographic would benefit from seeing other women in this age group and I know this from personal and professional experience. As a body image activist for the past nine years most of my followers and fans are women (and men!) between the ages of 35-60 and have been since the beginning. They continue to reach out to me with heartbreaking and heart-filling stories about their own middle-aged struggles with body image, which often started as children or teens and has continued to adulthood. They often tell me about how they're done waging a war with their bodies in a battle they are exhausted from fighting. They find my work and my life such an inspiration for living their best lives in their bodies and are so ready for the message that there may be a new way, a better way to live and embrace their aging bodies.
I think we are also a demographic that people (and the media) don't really know what to do with. We're often moms or dads, who are supposed to be frumpy, non-sexual beings striving to get our "bodies back" after children and doing all sorts of treatments to eradicate our wrinkles, muffin tops or beer bellies. We're no longer young but we're not really old yet and so many of us are at this sort of "tipping point" and terrified of hearing the words whispered, "wow, she's really let herself go." To which I say: Let yourself go - from the bondage of body shame, the shackles of unrealistic beauty standards, and the ridiculous notion that your only value lay in the way you look.