"A champ who would rather show you her scars than her medals."
This was the comment left on the untouched photo above when I posted it on my Instagram. It's borrowed from a line by Bono, when he was eulogizing Frank Sinatra. The person who made the comment was clearly referring to the scar on my right breast, a remnant from the surgery I had a few years ago to remove two benign tumors.
I had hesitated posting the photo, not just because of the scar, but because of the obvious signs of age: slackened skin under my jawline and decolletage that is no longer creamy smooth, but broken up by sun spots and creases. As I deliberated, I caught myself thinking in pejoratives informed by conventional narratives: "I miss my young skin;" "what's going on with my neck?;" "should I see a cosmetic surgeon about that scar?"
And then I noticed different thoughts running alongside those of the critic: "that scar is sexy;" "those wrinkles are soft and beautiful."
I credit those thoughts to a new narrative I've chosen to tell myself, one which is tenaciously jockeying for position in the front of my brain. It's a positive reframe of the tired "younger is better" variety, and it goes something like this:
Young beauty is easy; mature beauty is earned.
My skin, face, and body tells the story of a woman who built a career, raised two children, and mustered the courage to leave a dysfunctional marriage before she drowned. The story of a woman who has finally cast off the heavy cloak of "shoulds" that weighed her down for decades and is now writing her own narrative.
Something about the easy smile and the tilt of my head suggests a comfort in my own skin that I never had when I was younger -- a comfort, I think, not despite of my physical and psychological scars, but because of the belief that I have in myself for weathering them. The man who left the comment above validated the new shift in my thinking: that my scars and marks are my medals.
An Invitation To Mature Women
I'd love to know what other mature women see when they look at photos of the way they are now. If you have a photo you'd like for me to share on my blog, A Sexy Woman Of A Certain Age, please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org with a brief narrative about the story it tells, and how this story informs the way you think about yourself.
Words and stories have power. They can box us into a corner or lift us up. What I know now, at 52, is that we can change the way we think about ourselves by the words we choose, and the stories we tell.
Photo by Nick Holmes