The Art of Aging

For many people, the change in seasons is highlighted by the shift in the closet that also brings self-consciousness to the forefront. Into storage goes the snug top or pants that never saw the light of day this summer—along with the hope that they’ll fit next year. As the long sleeves, chunky sweaters and puffy vests come out into the crisp air, they also act as a security blanket, covering the body’s flaws.

A patient, Margaret, shared that she just finished switching her closet over from a summer to a fall wardrobe. “I always dread this task,” she lamented. “At the end of each season, I keep too-tight, uncomfortable clothes that I haven’t worn for years. I tell myself that when the season comes around again they will fit because I am determined to lose weight or change my shape.”

It can be difficult to accept the inevitable changes aging brings, as reflected by the thriving diet, exercise and plastic surgery industries. Having options that challenge the aging process is great. But to feel truly satisfied, it is essential to find a balance between looking young and having emotionally healthy expectations for this next stage of life. Keeping clothes that make you feel like a failure is the antithesis to emotional health.

Women need to let go of ideals that are impossible to reach and set goals that are achievable; ones that affirm self-love, not self-rejection. Lenore, 58, proudly told me that over the past 5 months, she lost 10 pounds—not because she wants to fit into specific clothes, but because at this weight she feels more alert and energetic. She is happy that her clothing no longer feels tight, but she has no desire to compete with other women to look perfect. “My weight loss is not a miracle—it hasn’t changed my life in any fundamental way. It’s not that I adore the slightly larger waist than I had when I was 38, but I have realistic expectations for myself and my body.”

Instead of focusing on negative aspects of your body, now is the time to consider how strong it is, from enduring a round of golf to whipping up a dinner for friends or exploring a new city. During the course of 50 years of life, a body has usually lived through many remarkable experiences, with more still to come. It deserves to be treated with respect. Resist the urge to be self-critical. Instead, consider that your arms were strong enough to help win a tennis game.

Challenge your body with new experiences and test out different styles of clothing, hair or accessories—a reminder that an imperfect body can still experience a full life. It is also important to choose not to spend time with those who criticize what others look like.

Of course, it is healthy to make the most of a body and for some that means losing weight or having plastic surgery. However, in order to feel truly content, everyone must first love and accept themselves as a normally flawed human being. Ultimately, happiness always emanates from the inside, no matter how a person looks on the outside.

dr. susan bartell

dr. susan bartell

Dr. Susan Bartell is a nationally-recognized psychologist and author practicing in Port Washington. She also speaks throughout the country on a wide range of topics to help individuals and groups improve emotional and physical health and life balance.