We live in a society that shuns ageing and promotes what for most people is impossible thinness. We’re sold anti-ageing creams in our twenties and as soon as a grey hair shows up on our head we run to the salon for a colour treatment. We’re sold diet pills, supplements and other false promises to morph us into an impossible shape, and when they don’t work we go back and try the next one. Ageing isn’t acceptable, for being old means you’ve got nothing left to live for. If you don’t fit into a particular body type, you’re doomed.
When I think of how society is shaping our perception of body image and ageing it makes me sad. At one time in our life, before society muddled our perception, we saw people as people. Fat or thin, young or old, tall or short, it didn’t matter. People were just people and their differences were what made them unique and interesting.
Somewhere along the way, things changed. Maybe you wished you were thinner like your friend, or maybe you wished to be bigger and more filled out like the older girls. The irony is, when you want something different, there is always someone else who wants what you have. You might have straight hair and wish for curls, but the curly haired girl hates all the knots she has to deal with and would do anything for straight locks. You might be on the heavier side wishing to lose weight, but someone else is struggling to put on weight because of a health problem and would love to have your body.
Unfortunately over the years, media has made a huge impact on our perception of how we think we are “supposed” to look. It makes it seem like only one type of body is beautiful and acceptable, but this is far from the truth. No matter what your body shape and size, someone out there finds you attractive. You can see the truth in this by looking over the last few hundred years of art and see that all bodies have been the “perfect one” at some point in time. What media tells us is the perfect body changes over time but that doesn’t mean that what someone finds genuinely attractive changes along with it. From country to country the “ideal” body is different, and the same goes for person to person. Media changes our perception of ourselves and makes us our own worst critic, but we might be the most beautiful person in the world to someone else.
Our perception of age is also something that media greatly influences. People lie about their age and say they’re younger than they really are, they dread their 30th, 40th and 50th birthdays, and do everything they can to appear younger. Yet in some modern cultures such as Abkhazia, a state south of Russia, age is considered beautiful. It is a compliment to be told “you’re looking old today” because it means you look wise. The Abkhazians lie about how old they are to exaggerate their age because the older they are, the more respected they become. In our Western culture, we often dismiss the elderly and forget their years of experience and incredible wisdom. Physical youth is glorified, yet we are all getting older and our bodies changing as the years go on.
John Robbins quotes in his book Healthy at 100,
“Youth is not a time of life; it’s a state of mind.”
We are all destined to an ageing and changing body, but this is a blessing not a curse. Not everyone is granted a long and healthy life, but those who are can chose whether to dread it or to embrace it. I personally look forward to every year I am gifted for to me it means another year wiser and more experienced. Of course I do not wish my life away wishing I was older, I just embrace what each year gives me. Sometimes I look in the mirror and see teeny lines starting to appear by my eyes that weren’t there a few years ago and I just smile. To me they aren’t a sign of losing my youth, rather they are reminders of all the times in life when I get to laugh and smile.
Your perception of what is the perfect body or perfect age is only that, a perception. Embrace who you are now because you bring a uniqueness to the world that no one else can. Don’t put your life on hold because you perceive that you aren’t thin enough, young enough or pretty enough. It’s humbling yet empowering when you can be honest with yourself that no, you aren’t perfect (as in the way media promotes) but at the same time you are perfect just as you are and you have so much to offer to the world, your friends, your family and yourself. Live your life now, change your perception, re-imagine your body. After all, body image is simply what you imagine your body to look like, and usually that perception is a little off.