Essay written by Sarah Ann Noel.
I mean, when I declared that I was going to “age gracefully,” (you know, on that trip abroad where I was going au naturale in every way and was like 21 with the ability to roll out of bed and leave the house with no make-up, no bra, and no cares?), I hadn’t taken into account that, for a woman, the strain on an aging body isn’t just from aging….
The other day, I was sitting at the kitchen table, drinking a glass of wine, watching my husband chop veggies for dinner, and listening to our two children playing out back. “This feels like adulthood,” I thought to myself in a blissful way, and I was struck by the slightest touch of silver in my husband’s hair around the temples. He’ll kill me for writing that (I’m sorry, I love you); but as I noticed it, I watched him more closely, and I was in split-second in love with him all over again.
“This is what it means to grow old with someone,” I thought. I have the privilege of watching the love of my life change and transform and grow and live, right before my eyes, every day. I will watch him age with abundant grace, thankful for the chance to be the one to do it with him.
Later that evening, I couldn’t help examining my body in front of the mirror while I waited for the shower to heat up. I tried pushing my boobs up to where they used to be. I traced the stretch marks spidered across my stomach—or rather the pouch that will never be flat stomach again. My hips are wider, my thighs and arms are thicker. Normally these observations draw disgust, sometimes even tears.
But I couldn’t get that moment in the kitchen out of my head—those few seconds where I realized how much I loved my husband, me as a grown woman, not just as a silly college girl. I loved him as a woman who has walked through life with him, who has worked through complications with him, who has born him daughters and entered into the glorious and difficult task of raising them with him.
So I watched myself in the mirror and thought of how he sees me. Just like he has demonstrated disdain for the gray dotting his head, but I have loved it immensely, he loves my body that way. Maybe he loves the way I have stretched to grow and produce and sustain and care for the physical evidence of our loving each other. He has watched me contain and give life to our own little legacy. He has been amazed at my physical feats, which he’ll never understand but will certainly hold reverently.
And if this is the way he sees me, why shouldn’t I see myself in this way?
Why shouldn’t I feel proud of breasts that hang heavy with the weight of having nourished? Why shouldn’t I feel proud of the stomach that has flexed to hold and grow life? Why shouldn’t I love the hips and thighs that have given way to our children, once just a thought, now running around in the backyard while we sip wine and make dinner?
When my husband and I were married, we pledged our love in sickness and in health, until death do us part. And I think, to age gracefully, is really to love your body in this same way: I will love you when you are young and healthy and beautiful, body. I will love you when you fail me, body, and then marvel at your healing ability. I will get to love my body in every phase of life—from the carefree joys of childhood, to the fleeting years of seeming “perfection” in my youth, and on into adulthood—through motherhood, through older age. I will love you, body, and respect what you have made possible, until death does us part.
You can read from Sarah right here. Me, shot of film by Peter when I was about 15 months pregnant with Oak. 😉