Representation matters

A couple of weeks ago SamB shared a link to a feature in the New Yorker. The article considered the impact of photographs taken by Elinor Carrucci, many of them self portraits of herself and her family. The photos examine what midlife looks like from a woman’s point of view and the contrast is surprising, given how often aging women are deemed invisible.

The images are beautiful and unsettling, their subject in turn often vulnerable, strong, or deeply, almost intrusively intimate. They aren’t images we see often, with society’s focus on youth and perfection.

I started thinking about what would happen if we saw all kinds of bodies doing all kinds of things. I wondered what we would learn if we documented the reality of aging and the beauty of self discovery on bodies instead of trying to fix, replace, repair, and reform them so they continued to look like our former selves before age took over.

In many ways, writing for this blog has shown me again all the ways representation matters. Our focus is on fitness, feminism, and our experience of where both intersect with all the other things women do. Here are some recent experiences of mine at finding myself at mid-life:

I get my hair cut. The stylist comments on all the silver strands, how they shine in the light, how the texture contrasts with the darker, silkier bits. She admires the silver and the white. She tells me I have great hair. The best part: she doesn’t ask me if I want to dye my hair to hide the grey. I tell her about Margaret Atwood’s photo shoot and her spectacular hair. How cool, she says. It is, I tell her.

I stopped by a store, drawn in by a spectacular green coat. If they had had my size, I would have bought it. For years I wore sensible black, navy or grey coats and jackets. I look in my closet now and I have red and purple, fuchsia and turquoise, coral and lime green. I asked the owner what women my age are wearing now. Whatever you like and makes you feel good, she replies. I like that. Wear what makes you feel good.

I went for a stress test. The nurse explains how they will measure my heart rate as they stick tabs on my back and chest. They will start at a regular pace and then ramp things up progressively. We start. Each phase is preceded by her asking me how I’m feeling. Good I say, and then the pace increases. How am I feeling now? Good again, and up we go. And now? I tell the nurse my husband and son are both tall so I have to walk fast to keep up. This time she increases the speed and raises the incline. It’s tougher but I still keep up. The test ends and they monitor my recovery. I still have work to do, but overall I’m in good shape. This makes me happy. My post-menopausal body has not let me down.

I go to the gym. My gym clothes are bright and bold with lovely patterns. I try new things. I re- do old things because they feel good and I can do them well. I don’t think about anybody else in the gym. I’ve stopped thinking about how I look in the gym. I’ve stopped thinking about what other people are doing in the gym. I focus on my work. I focus on me.

I realize I am centred on my self. And that is a good thing.

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