I’ve thoroughly enjoyed catching up with many of my friends this summer, but I have to say that I’ve noticed a disturbing trend in our conversations, now that most of us are about to turn the corner into middle age or are already there.
Too many of these chats are taking a sinister turn into “not enough” territory.
Specifically, the late 30s and 40s seem to be a very threatening time for many women. Instead of acceptance, there seems to be a growing obsession among many ladies in this age group with defying the ageing process, lest we be viewed as “not young enough” – and, by extension, no longer attractive, no longer relevant, “not enough”, period.
To this end, we middle-aged women become obsessed with finding the perfect boot camp or personal trainer who will rid us of that stubborn extra 5 pounds that won’t go away no matter how much we exercise. We adopt ridiculous dietary restrictions, we “cleanse”, we castigate ourselves for not having perfect bodies, despite the fact that the lingering effects of gravity, past pregnancies, and breastfeeding are irreversible and beyond our control, unless we opt to go under the knife – which some do. Many mistakenly imagine that breast augmentation, botox, hair extensions, and other artificial enhancements are crucial to the task of looking and feeling beautiful.
There’s nothing wrong with doing what you feel you need to do to look your best, and we all get caught up in this to some degree. But there are too many women out there who are never happy with themselves, no matter what they do. We have all seen celebrities (not to mention acquaintances) who have had so many procedures done that their own mothers probably wouldn’t recognize them if they hadn’t seen them in a few years and happened to bump into them on the street.
What could possibly be motivating such extreme “self-improvement” regimes? Simple. The “not enough” mindset, in these cases, has become so exaggerated that it has migrated into self-loathing territory, causing severe psychological turmoil, and behavior that reflects it.
When women spend so much time and energy obsessing over their appearances and compulsively trying to “fix” themselves, two things happen. One, they are feeding a vicious cycle of self-scrutiny which can border on narcissism. To imagine that your extra 5 pounds are of such significance that everyone is staring at you is to be so self-centered that you have lost touch with reality. The second thing that happens is an extension of the first – all that time and energy that is going into your appearance is time and energy that is not going to your relationships, your work, or other endeavors that really matter.
Most women I have spoken with occasionally fall prey to a lower-level “not enough” mindset that they are constantly trying to remain aware of, and actively fight against. Many are in really good relationships with partners who truly believe that they are great just the way they are, and often tell them so. But still, advertisers’ messages of “not enough” threaten and conspire to drown out the voices of those who love them – their partners, their children, their friends, and others who feel that they are not only “more than enough”, but often downright beautiful and amazing.
If only more women could listen more to the voices of their loved ones and less to the destructive messages of advertisers, perhaps they could harness the energy that they expend worrying that they are “not enough” and redirect it into loving and appreciating themselves a little bit more.
If only women could stop comparing themselves to other women who are younger, skinnier, richer, or who they think are “more successful”, or “more beautiful”, and focus instead on being their best selves – a concept that may include, but certainly should not be limited to, their appearances.
If only women would stop lamenting the onset of middle age and appreciate instead the gifts of life, health, love, and the wisdom that comes with life experience! After all, should we lament the fact that we can’t turn back the clock, or should we instead be grateful that it’s still ticking?
And can we please stop idealizing (or worse, trying to emulate) fake, narcissistic, vacuous celebrities? Can we reject the advances of plastic surgeons who are trying so hard to make us hate ourselves for their own financial gain? When we get together with friends, can we talk about something a little more compelling than how old we look or how badly we need to lose 5 pounds? It’s getting boring, and it’s really, really bad role modeling for our kids, who are listening to our every word and noticing our every move.
I’ve had enough of “not enough”. It’s been said that you have to love yourself before you can expect to be loved by anyone else. But on the flip side, why is it so hard for many of us who are already deeply loved to believe that we’re “enough”? Why do so many women act, instead, as though they have committed a crime against humanity simply by virtue of reaching middle age?
Enough is enough. Let’s toss “not enough” to the curb, and in its place, give ourselves more of the love and respect that we’ve earned, and that we deserve. Our lives, and our relationships, will be so much better for it.