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I Wish I’d Realized I Was Kind of a Babe

All my life I’ve heard women speak harshly about their physical appearances. Why is it so hard to wake up every morning, look in the mirror, and love what we see?

This persistent question arose last week when a friend, who’s only in her 30s, wrote a self-deprecating Facebook post that contained the words sad, tired, and fat. It drew a large number of “yeah, I hear you” comments. But others, speaking from the perspective of midlife, ruefully remembered being critical of themselves at exactly the same age — a time when they should have been celebrating their youth and good health. But we seldom know this, at a gut level, when we are young and in good health.

The thing is, time changes everything. It definitely changes our bodies, no matter how hard we work at staying fit — but thankfully, time also changes our perspective. At 58, I am my body’s cheerleader. Look at you, you took a shower today, and you’re not noticeably limping! Who cares if you have a couple of chin hairs. No one’s going to be looking under there. Go get ’em, Tiger! But it’s taken a lot of decades to reach this point.


I don’t have a great many deep regrets at this point in life, but, looking back, I do wish that I had treated myself better.


In the process of going through half a lifetime of photographic evidence, I came to a startling realization: I was a kind of a babe! But I never once felt confident about my looks, and I did not love my body — in fact, I scarcely looked at it. I don’t have a great many deep regrets at this point in life, but, looking back, I do wish that I had treated myself better, or, as is often advised, like a person I loved and cared about.

I wish that I had dressed a bit more elegantly. I wish that I had spent the extra money on a good haircut, avoided “mom” clothes like the plague, and paid to have my eyebrows shaped regularly. I suspect that I missed my chance to shine — and I’m never going to be that thin or youthfully lovely again.

All of my life, I’ve made it a habit to buy most of my clothes, except bras and panties, at thrift shops. I wore sneakers most of the time, usually paired with sweats or nursing scrubs. And though our family spent a lot of time outdoors, hiking, camping, backpacking, and cycling, I never splurged on top-of-the-line gear that made me look hip and cute. Now I’d give anything to have an entire wardrobe of Title IX, but I’m squarely in the age category of Coldwater Creek. There’s nothing wrong with this except that I feel like I leap-frogged from economical thrift shopper to older woman with a slightly conservative style.

Today I live in a popular outdoor town where female fashionistas tend to dress exactly like the Pinterest board Outdoorsy Style Women. But, if you look closely, you’ll find that outdoor clothing is slowly changing to reflect the very thrift-store clothing I wore in my youth, with frayed edges, blown-out knees, muted colors, and sagging sweatshirts. If I wore sparkling new Title IX, I’d probably look like I was trying too hard — like a 58-year-old woman’s desperate attempt to look a few decades younger.


It seems like I just can never keep up. So I just try to wear what makes me comfortable.


It seems like I just can never keep up. So I just try to wear what makes me comfortable, with a turquoise scarf or lapis lazuli earrings to bring out my eye color. I still fill out a pair of jeans nicely, if I can find them in a 36-inch inseam. And stylish tunics are great for covering the worst-kept secret of turning 50: stubborn belly fat. Which, coincidentally, is also the name of a local all-girl band in Missoula.

Mostly, I’ve made it a habit to look in the mirror each morning without judgment: I woke up. I got out of bed. The day has given me two gifts already, and I haven’t even had my coffee.

Wendy Cohan is a fresh new voice for women over 50. She has written for The Fine Line, Goalcast, Prime Women, and Purple Clover. Follow her on Facebook

Photo: Courtesy of Wendy Cohen

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