I remember sitting at our neighborhood pool in my late thirties, early forties thinking this is “the BEST” age to be a woman. As I looked around at all the women at the pool, my eyes were drawn first to young teenagers with perfect bodies. They were busy fixing their swimsuits just so wondering if they were too fat, too skinny, too pale, or whatever else teens think their bodies are “too ________”. I knew they would one day look back at their teen pictures and be amazed at how beautiful they were even if they couldn’t see it now. Then I noticed the women my age. They walked confidently in their swimsuits chasing after kids aware that they had stretch marks, cellulite, and bits of chubbiness here and there. Somehow they seemed confident in their bodies knowing that they had changed physically, mentally, and emotionally due to childbirth, jobs, and the aging process. As I lounged on my chair, I too felt confident in my body. It wasn’t perfect, but it held up well despite rheumatoid arthritis taking a stab at it each and every day. I was eating well, exercising when I could and it had paid off. I was satisfied, maybe even a little proud of the body I had.
Then came new medications and the beginning stages of menopause. Almost immediately after starting Enbrel, I got my physical life back in addition to 15 extra pounds. Feeling good, I added on hours to my work schedule which also increased my time sitting. Over the last five years or so, I have put on another 10 pounds. I wish I could say I am okay with it, but I am not. I have become that person that cringes when I see photos of myself. When I look at myself in the mirror, I see a strong woman who has raised two beautiful children, been a good wife of 28 years, a patient/loving teacher, and struggled with rheumatoid arthritis for 12 years. I don’t see the fat until I see a photo of myself or a pair of “big” pants become too tight.
From what I have read, I am not alone in body image issues when transitioning into menopause. Many women experience extra fat, especially in the stomach, as they make the change. I wish knowing that I wasn’t alone made me feel better, but it doesn’t. Some days I feel six months pregnant with engorged breasts (yes, those have grown too). When I was thirty years old, that was exciting. At 48, it isn’t. I don’t know what the answer is. Some days I work really hard to focus on everything that is beautiful about my physical body and find some success. Other days, I feel hopeless. Why even try? It doesn’t seem to matter what I eat or how much I move. But, I don’t want to look at photos with my family and see only my size, I have too many of those where I can see the pain I felt from RA that day. I want our photos to represent the fun, pride, excitement of the day. I wish I knew the answer.
Help! How do you deal with body image?