By Claudette Labriola
My 40s was a time of young children, lack of sleep, youth sports and constant renovations. It felt like I was on a perpetual sprint toward an infinitely out of reach finish line.
Then I entered peri-menopause with its hormonal fluctuations, heightened anxiety, irrational mood swings and rage.
But that wasn't all.
Every month or so I was treated to a fortnight of periods resembling murder scenes straight out of the Walking Dead. I literally and figuratively almost bled to death every couple of weeks.
At the risk of sounding like a drama queen I'll stop now. The point, however, is that I was less concerned about my so-called physical beauty during my 40s than I ever was before because of all these distractions.
My course of action at the time was to just ignore my body altogether. I needed it to function so I fed it nutritionally and tried to sleep when I could. To pamper myself with coiffed dos, flawless make-up and flattering clothes was beyond my capabilities; a ponytail was so much easier, and sunglasses hid my eyes anyway, so why bother with mascara? And yoga pants were much more comfortable to chase children in than pretty dresses. Besides, I didn't care what anyone thought if me.
One day in my late 40s I took a closer look at myself in the bathroom mirror while naked after a shower.
Typically, my instinct was to look away. I wasn't a fan of how I looked naked. I felt uncomfortable in my birthday suit and had, for this very reason, given up my love for swimming long ago. I didn't like how I looked and didn't want to subject others to my body. Covering up my self-perceived flaws was more important than participating in activities requiring a bathing suit, no matter how much I used to love them.
Acting this way bothered me. I knew it was wrong to be so dismissive about myself. I was raising a daughter who was inching closer to the tween, then teen years; what kind of role model was I becoming if I couldn't accept, and appreciate my own body?
As I approached my 50th birthday, I started to spend more time in the bathroom staring at my naked form.
I especially hated my side profile. The scar tissue from the two c-sections formed a slight bulge on my lower abdomen that I zoomed in on whenever I turned sideways. I was also hyper-aware of my weak abdominal muscles which made my stomach area look less than flat. My butt and upper thighs showed those little dimples called cellulite which were amplified in the brightly lit bathroom mirror. And my breasts, of average size and shape for my body type, certainly wouldn't be called perky anymore.
The longer I stared at my body the more elaborate my negative self-talk became. I was on a roll.
One day, I felt something flip in my brain. It was as if I woke up suddenly. I thought back to my own role models, I wondered if I picked up their discomforts with their own bodies over the years and projected those same negative vibes onto myself.
"It's ridiculous to desire perky breasts or a flat stomach in midlife," I scolded myself.
Besides, if I truly wanted to improve my body to appease primarily my own self-esteem, I could do something about my general lack of fitness.
My fitness routine during my 40s included chasing kids and pets, and picking up toys...
On my 50th birthday, I made a pivotal decision. My daughter was growing older, and I was sick of my doom and gloom attitude which I was afraid she would copy if I didn't stop right now.
I decided to change my mental perspective of my physical body and learn to project self-love to my reflection in the mirror and those around me.
If not now, when? This was my line of thinking and became my midlife mantra.
But how does one do this?
Elaborate self-talk wasn't effective since I had trouble listening to myself, and media all around me wasn't particularly helpful either what with the celebrity-induced artificial beauty standards most regular folk were unable to strive for anyway.
So, I made a list:
Become comfortable with my nudity.
Accept my body in its natural, nude state.
Love what I see and project it onto others.
Nudity in October was tricky given my geographical region of Toronto, Canada. We were in fall with winter weather just around the corner. I tended to be cold even when dressed during those long and dark winter months; how was I going to get comfortable with being naked?
The solution proved simple. I owned an electric blanket and a warm housecoat. Instead of wearing bulky pjs to bed, I would take a quick hot shower at night to warm up. While in the steamy bathroom, I applied lotion all over and cherished the touch of my hands on my body. Each curve, each dimple, and yes, even the bulgy bits deserved some attention. This was an act of self-love, which in turn fine-tuned my mind into accepting my body in its natural state.
After I was well moisturized, I donned my housecoat over top of my naked body. My bed looked inviting and warm with the electric blanket giving off heat and comfort. I dropped my housecoat onto the dog crate on the floor next to my side and entered the bed naked.
Over the months and years, I learned to feel comfortable in my skin because of this simple exercise of sleeping naked regularly. It wasn't always easy, and I still zoomed in on parts of me which I desired to look or feel different. But mostly, I learned to love sleeping naked.
Shortly after sleeping naked became the normal go-to, I joined a local mom-group's boot camp in a church basement, and later, after the pandemic began, I continued with a yoga-inspired exercise routine delivered from an app in my phone.
I knew that health was more than just excellent nutrition; it included a painless body, good posture, flexibility and strength. Never having been a fan of cardio, I applied a few gentle cardio exercises, but most of my attention went to my core, especially that tricky c-section part of my body.
It worked. As I became more comfortable with my physical self, I gained mental and emotional clarity which I hoped translated positively to my teens, especially my daughter.
It may be noteworthy to mention that the journey isn't finished, nor is it smooth sailing. I still have moments of insecurity or a drop in self-esteem... sure, a good haircut or some makeup might help, as will a short stint of retail therapy, but all in all, the overall effect has been progressive and beneficial. In addition, my posture improved which reduced the aches and pains in my neck, back and arms.
Do I still sleep nude today, three years later? The answer is not always. But that has more to do with room temperature than the desire to be naked in bed.
Claudette Labriola is a self-described "write of words, active blogger, self-published author, Beagle wrangler and hockey mom to two sporty teenagers." Her website is writerofwordsetc.ca.
The Real Peri Meno is devoted to all things perimenopause - the science, treatments, care, understanding, personal experiences, relationships, culture and more. The brain child of Keisha D. Edwards, The Real Peri Meno developed out of her own shock-and-awe experience with perimenopause and navigating the disjointed U.S. medical system in search of answers, support and relief.
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