Blessed with strong Irish genes, I am built for potato famine and pumping out children to repopulate our people. Picture a wide center of gravity, thick legs, and a slow metabolism. I have wasted years of my life wishing my earth suit was built differently. Sometimes winning, sometimes losing the battle against my genetics to get to a size and weight that felt acceptable to me.
And then I had my daughter, Grace, and along with her came a crystal clear “a-ha” moment that I needed to model for her what self-love and self-acceptance could look like. I looked at this package of perfection and I wanted to immediately protect her from years and years of wishing she looked differently. She was perfect. Every freckle, every birthmark, every line of her body was exactly right and it broke my heart to think that she could someday believe differently. And I knew then that I could not spend her life telling her she was perfect, while at the same time continuously complaining or criticizing myself. I needed to see my body with loving and forgiving eyes so that she would develop loving and forgiving eyes for her own body as she aged and matured.
Twelve years later, I look back on the “a-ha” moment with awe and regret. Awed by the clarity and wisdom that came forward in that moment. Regret for the many times since that I have lost contact with that wisdom. Oh, and a whole lot of fear. Fear that I will be seen as a total fraud for talking such a good game about this subject while injecting botulism into my forehead and crows feet every four months for the past two years. Fear that my recent thirty-pound weight loss was actually about me responding to an external ideal that my body was not ok rather than trying to adopt a healthier lifestyle.
Like I said, I talk such a good game. I believe that women are held to unfair standards of beauty while aging. The sheer volume of salves, balms, serums, masks, lotions and potions produced and sold demonstrates the constant battle between women and their aging process. Magazine covers announce ways to fight aging in bold letters and exclamation marks to encourage the reader to join the war. Apps on our phones provide filters to erase lines and smooth flaws as a way to alter the reality a camera lens is supposed to capture.
I truly believe, in the most centered and loving section of my heart, that all of this is bullshit – and awful – and should not be necessary or acceptable practice! But here I am, counting calories and freezing muscles with toxins. Something must be wrong with me because both of these things should not simultaneously reside within the same heart. Where are my loving and forgiving eyes? Am I letting my daughter down? Shit, am I letting the entire sisterhood of women down?
I am not 100% certain where my motivation for the recent weight loss came from. I do know that I feel a lot healthier where I am now and I’m proud of the discipline and follow through I’ve shown while losing the weight. I am also acutely aware that I am enjoying the external praise and compliments I receive. I am regularly checking in with myself to make sure that my internal motivation is not solely driven by external praise. And I have been extremely transparent with both of my children about the whole process. We talk about healthy eating habits and exercise in the context of extending my life and improving my ability to stay active. More often than not, I feel deeply honest about this process and that feels like a win.
My use of Botox has been a much more complex and difficult process for me to be transparent and self-reflective about. There is a whole lot to judge about voluntarily injecting a neurotoxin into your body. That is just a fact. We avoid dented cans at the grocery store for a reason. All I can offer myself, and anyone else, is that I am aware. I am aware that I feel better about myself by having fewer lines on my forehead. I am aware that I do not judge other people’s lines but severely judged mine. I am aware that my smile changed after I started doing this, not in a positive or negative way, but it has changed. I am aware that my husband is worried this is a slippery slope. I am aware that he could be right and I have to be careful and stay present.
I am aware that there has to be an endpoint. I will have to determine when I will be more accepting of my lines. Is it now? Is it 45? Because it cannot be never. I am also aware that I am not transparent with the world about my use of Botox. If someone asks, I am forthcoming, but I do not advertise it without prompting. I know that I am afraid of judgement from others, but obviously not enough to stop.
The person I was most embarrassed to find out was my daughter. We were watching TV one night and a Botox commercial came on and she was dismissive about the product, the commercial, and any woman who would “ever do that to her face!” And I immediately knew that it was my moment to be transparent with her. Despite my fear of her judgement and my fear of the message I may send to her, I knew the best thing I could do was to be truthful with her. I told her that I use Botox. That I didn’t like how deep my lines were and that I didn’t like looking older than I felt. I also told her that I wasn’t sure if I was making the right decision and that I was worried I needed to work more on my confidence and self-esteem.
I don’t know how my transparency will affect her, but I would rather be honest with her about the struggles I have internally than to protect her from that struggle. My hope for her, and for all of us, is to learn that our internal struggles are what make us human. Every single one of us fights these internal wars, and if we talk about them more and worry less about hiding them, perhaps we can feel more at peace.