Thursday, February 7, 2013

My 30s and Being Comfortable in my own Skin

Lots of people dread turning thirty - they see it as leaving their youth (aka: their 20s) behind. In my case, I also was pretty emotional on my thirtieth birthday, but for a far different, more personal reason. When I was 22, my cousin committed suicide on his thirtieth birthday. It hit the whole family pretty hard. So when I turned 30, it hit me - I am older now than my cousin will ever be. That thought haunted me throughout my 30th year, and I was, for lack of a better word, relieved to turn 31 and be able to leave that thought behind.

But something else happened during my 30th year that I was quite happy about.

Since my teenage years, I have had strong body hatred issues. I was a stick as a child, but when I hit puberty, my body turned into an hourglass shape seemingly overnight. Whether it was from the boys in school who would comment on my 13-year-old but quite curvaceous figure, a product of media exposure, or my new involvement with the theatre world and all the evaluation and appearance issues that come with it, I don't know - probably it was a combination of all three.

These issues continued into my 20s. In the summer of my 22nd year, I was dealing with not only the loss of a family member but the ending of a 7-year relationship and my plans to move to a new city where I knew no one. I stopped eating - my family had to practically force me to eat. Even after I moved to Chicago, I would come home from grad school, and cry in my apartment. I would skip meals and obsessively go to the gym, wondering why I felt so faint after even a brief workout. And one day I shouted at myself in my head, "It's because you're not eating!" That helped to pull me out of the worst of it, but I still struggled with those issues. I was down to a size 6 - the smallest I've worn since I was a teenager - and I still looked at myself in the mirror and thought, "I'm so fat. I'm so hideous. No one will ever love me."

I met my husband and we spent lots of time going out on dates (usually involving food) and enjoying each other's company. That, combined with a back injury from a car accident, made my weight creep back up. I was a wreck. I dreaded trying on clothes. I would spend hours trying to figure out what to wear that would hide my body. I loved that I had found someone who loved me for who I was, but I just couldn't understand how he could look at me and call me beautiful.

When I turned 30, those feelings subsided. I suddenly felt comfortable in my own skin. I started wearing clothes that showed off my figure more. As I write this, I'm rocking a pair of skinny jeans, something I never would have worn, even 20 pounds ago. And I can look in the mirror and think, "Hey, I look good. I have great eyes. I have fantastic hair." I still see the problems, but I don't fret over them like I used to. I'm sure that finishing my PhD, getting married, and buying a house, also helped, and I'm not downplaying my career, intellectual, and social accomplishments. I know that life is not all about what one looks like. But I think that's also something that came with my 30s - a realization about what is really important (to me) in life.

I read a column once about a woman who, in her 20s, asked an older woman her favorite age, the age at which she felt most beautiful. Her answer - 35. This columnist, in her 20s, just couldn't fathom how she  could pick any age in her 30s. But the columnist, now in her 30s, said she finally got it. There's something about a woman's 30s that helps her to leave some of that baggage behind.

Maybe it is the fact that we leave our youth, and all of its hang-ups behind. Maybe it is because of the major life changes that occur around that age and help us to realize what's really important. Maybe it is the changes to our brains and bodies that help us to "grow into" what nature has given us. Whatever it is, I'm glad.

And I do love these skinny jeans.

Trivially yours,

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