On the morning of my fortieth birthday, I awoke, pulled the sheets from my body, took a deep breath, and made my way to the bathroom mirror. There, at that moment, I stood completely naked and looked myself in the eyes.

This isn’t something I often do. But on this day, I was determined to give myself a gift. Instead of my usual harsh and critical glance, I took in every muscle, wrinkle, roll, scar, and imperfection, with eyes of acceptance.

I didn’t wish for a return to my anorexic, angst-filled teenage years. I didn’t lament the ‘beauty’ that was wasted on my youth as though there was no value in the body before me. Nor did I want for the days when I sagged less, lost weight with ease, and had wrinkle-free flawless collagen-rich skin.

I thought about the years I’d struggled and fought for this little moment of freedom. My god, I’d fought hard. This body has known beauty and horror. It has hosted human life, birthed children, enjoyed ecstasy, and triumphed over cancer. But it has also endured sexual abuse, eating disorders, self-loathing, ass-grabs, cat-calls, and punishment for demanding desire on my terms.

I’ve spent the greater part of my life in this body wrestling demons, floating in and out of its presence, trying to sort through what was mine and what was “theirs,” and searching for meaning, purpose, and peace amidst the rubble. I lost years numbing myself, feeling dissatisfied, and bowing to the expectations and interests of others simply because the frame I inhabit is of a female form.

I learned early in life that the female form is something this world has deemed a commodity to control, a beauty to define, a weapon to fear, and a force to subdue. And I spent far too many years abdicating and shrinking out of deference to social norms. This was my moment, and I would be subdued no longer.

It’s amazing to think that it’s taken me forty years to stop, take a deep breath, and look in the mirror. Forty years to look myself in the eyes and contemplate the weight I have carried. Forty years to give myself permission to feel comfortable as I am.

It has been a hard-fought battle to this point, and in all honesty, I had given up hope that I would ever make peace with my body. But there, in that space, a small act of defiance mixed with grace allowed me to let go of years of wrestling, striving, and self-hatred. It became my turning point, a gift, and one of the best birthday presents I’ve ever received

Jen Kinney is a writer and anti-trafficking activist. Her twin sons and passion for social justice make her a prime candidate for therapy. Humor and sarcasm fuel her, along with copious amounts of coffee and wine. You can find her writings at The Mighty, HuffPost, and her blog www.jenkinney.com.


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  1. Love this post. I believe that turning 40 is a magical time in a woman’s life. You either know who you are or you do not. Being accepting of ourselves and the natural aging process is also a way of shedding the shackles of the patriarchal culture we are born into. Thank you for sharing your experience.

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