Young at heart: the challenge of getting older as a mum

Kinderling News & Features

Image credit: Daniel Guerra

Shevonne Hunt is the host of Kinderling Conversation.

It was sitting there when I got into the car. An unwelcome presence, slouched against the seat belt.

It followed me for weeks, day in day out. It was there in the morning when I dressed, when I was doing yoga or holding my children after a swim in the pool.

I am talking about my new spare tyre, my “muffin top”, my new improved love handles.

At first, I was alarmed; I didn’t remember seeing it before. When did it first appear? How did it come to be? Was it the sign of a mysterious illness?

I booked in to see my GP. While I waited for my appointment, I considered the possibility that the new podge beneath my belly button was in fact fat. That as part of my progression into middle age my curves were filling out.

If this was the case (and it wasn’t a tumour) then shouldn’t I embrace my new voluptuousness and accept that as an “older woman” this is just how it goes? I love to exercise, and I already do as much as I can fit in amongst the crazy balance of work and family life. I don’t have the energy to do any more, nor do I want to go on a diet.

The problem is, accepting ageing doesn’t come easy. If the number of cosmetic clinics around are anything to go by, I’m not alone.

We live in an era obsessed with youth. Perhaps humans have always been fantasised about being young, I mean, who doesn’t want to be smooth and perky with boundless energy? But today I think the problem is more insidious, more pervasive. We don’t get to close our eyes to the multitude of images showing flat stomachs, lush glossy hair and flawless skin.

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If media were a mirror to real life, we would all be beautiful and young until we drop off this mortal coil in our 80s and 90s.

Of course, it’s not a mirror. It’s contrived. Ageing is – at this point in time - irreversible. It’s part of the human experience. So why do we want to freeze it at the start?

It has taken me at least three years to accept that my breasts are no longer perky. They slip and slide in ways I find quite alarming. And don’t get me started on décolletage. I’ve left off having any plunging necklines for fear of frightening the general public (and myself).

But if I went back to when my boobs were my best physical asset, I would not be who I am today. Part of the reason I have a set of tea bags as mammeries is because these two little beauties fed my babies until they were big enough to eat solid food. It was painful and exhausting at times. But those lows were measured out in quiet moments watching their eyes flutter close in my arms as I fed them to sleep.

When beauty is defined by youth that is unchanged by time, we don’t celebrate that our experiences are what make us special, unique and beautiful.

My conundrum is that while I believe that, I still struggle to accept my ageing body.

When I was in my 30s, I let my greys grow out until I looked like a badger. It was not becoming. It made me feel older, and I looked more tired than I was. Then a friend told me to get over myself and just dye my hair. So I did. And I still do.

And even while I dye my hair, I am conscious there are places I will not go.

If I strive too hard to look young, if I alter my face (for example) or struggle to stay thin when my body wants to relax into softer curves, then my brain is going to get stuck being young too. I need my outer reality to reflect my inner reality. And that’s one that is evolving with life - through marriage, children, death, and the simple passage of time.

I don’t want to fight the ageing process. I want to dive in and celebrate it.

It frustrates me that our culture sees ageing as something that needs to be fixed. The elderly are fragile and irrelevant, instead of people with years of knowledge and experience.

As it turns out, I don’t appear to have a serious illness. I’ve put on four kilos since my annual check-up last year. Apparently, I’m still a normal weight for my height and age.

So now it’s time to make a choice: do I embrace my middle age muffin top, or start getting up at 5.30am every morning to crunch the shiz out of the extra tyre? Do I renege on the glass of beer at the end of a hard day and say no to the office chocolate bar going around?

I’m not saying it’s going to be easy, but I’m going with the first option.

Who’s with me?