Look in the mirror…

“You have the body of a goddess…”

For a moment, I allowed myself to bask in the glow. Vague visions of those marble-limbed deities beloved of sculptors and painters flickered across the screen of mind. The Judgement of Paris… the Venus de Milo… or, more realistically, something by Botticelli…

…and, meeting my friend’s eyes, the one that was really in both of our minds. The Venus of Willendorf.

“… not that you are that bad…” added my cautious friend, before the cheese-knife could be used to good effect.

Curiously enough, no insult was intended…or taken. It was actually a compliment. My friend clarified by adding that I have the body of a woman who has lived most of her life already, borne, fed and raised children, laughed, suffered and lived to some purpose. Although my body might look out of place on a lissome twenty-something, her body would be equally out of place were I to wear it. I have the body my life has shaped and I am fine with that… though a little less of it would be acceptable too.

The incident amused me, but the conversation and ensuing thoughts made me think a bit deeper about this whole body-image thing. We are, both men and women, bombarded by images of what we ‘should’ look like. From the cradle to the grave, and all across the globe, there are ideals of perfect beauty to which we are ‘encouraged’ to aspire. As most of us are doomed to failure, we leave ourselves wide open for becoming uncomfortable in our own skins.

It doesn’t stop there either. We judge others by their ability to conform to that ideal too. Not always consciously. I read a study a while ago about the deciding factors when going for job interviews. Oddly enough, their findings showed that a few extra pounds could sway a decision against an applicant… and we are talking literally just a few pounds. How reassuring is that when you are job-hunting?

Is that down to some kind of genetic programming that still makes us see each other in terms of ‘fittest mate’? I don’t think so, as our concept of the physical ideal changes so frequently. Within my own lifetime I have seen feminine ‘ideals’ cycle through every body shape from the voluptuous to the gamine. Over history, both men and women have been subject to even wider and often less realistic ideals and have gone to great lengths to conform. Yet we can be sure that at some point in history, somewhere on the globe, we would all have fit the ‘ideal’.

The women of the Italian Renaissance were curvaceous, round-bellied and prone to cellulite… and that was how many of the goddesses were painted. Whoever carved the Venus of Willendorf had yet another ideal, and that got me thinking even more.

She is called the ‘Venus’ even though she was carved around 25,000 years before that goddess was named. Venus is the Roman goddess of love, beauty and desire… not precisely the attributes that today’s culture would project onto the little figurine, but the name does conjure images in the mind, immediately associating the figure with sexuality. The choice of name reflects the supposition that the figurine represents a fertility symbol, because of its physical attributes. So the archaeologists who gave her that name when she was found in 1908 made an assumption and named her according to the lens through which society viewed women.

I looked at her again, asking her who she is. By our standards, she would need to see both a dietician and cosmetic surgeon before she could be considered beautiful. I tried, instead, to look at her through the lens of her time, not mine. The workmanship involved, carving such detail on stone with stone, means that she symbolises something important. She is well fed… and at a time in history when food was hard-won, that must indicate that her attributes were an indication of position in the tribe. The well-fed would be the best hunters, or be supplied by them… or cherished by the tribe.

I thought about the women I know and the changes my own body has seen over the decades. Perhaps she has nothing specifically to do with fertility… perhaps she is just Woman. The Mother who is also Maiden and Crone… for hers is a body that has matured, given and sustained life and yet still remembers youth. She comes from a time when the average lifespan would have been much less than our own. To me, the Willendorf figure has the body of an older woman. The old ones would be the keepers of wisdom for the tribe…the elders who had seen much and survived. They were living ancestors… and age, like the ancestors themselves may have been revered.

The confidence to wear one’s own skin, whether it be old, young or somewhere in between, should not come from a projected image that is no more than a passing fashion. Nor should perfecting it and erasing all signs of age be required of us before we can feel accepted by our ‘tribe’. It is one thing to seek a healthy body, quite another to chase or be cowed by a vision of airbrushed perfection. Why can we not celebrate who we are instead of how we compare or look?

To age is a gift not all will receive. To give life, a grace… to love life, a privilege we could all share. To look in the mirror and see the changes the years might bring, is to know we have lived.

About Sue Vincent

Sue Vincent is a Yorkshire-born writer and one of the Directors of The Silent Eye, a modern Mystery School. She has written a number of books, both alone and with Stuart France, exploring ancient myths, the mysterious landscape of Albion and the inner journey of the soul. She is owned by a small dog who also blogs. Follow her at scvincent.com and on Twitter @SCVincent Find her books on Goodreads and follow her on Amazon worldwide to find out about new releases and offers. Email: findme@scvincent.com
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43 Responses to Look in the mirror…

  1. Ritu says:

    Absolutely loved this Sue!!!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. jenanita01 says:

    Thanks for reminding me that I am lucky to be here at all, at the ‘golden’ age of 73!
    This is something I have forgotten about recently, and although I am grateful, better joints would be wonderful!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. KL Caley says:

    Loved this Sue, it is really inspiring to read! Last year I landed on the big 3 0. Not a huge age by any means but it was incredible the number of people around me so terrified by this number. The pressures they had put on themselves to have achieved certain milestones by this time. My personal milestone for this number was I wanted to see a real wild puffin (not from a zoo) XD – despite visiting the aptly named “puffin island” in Wales we found out that puffins aren’t around in Summer – haha – oh well! Still, I had a wonderful time with friends, we saw so many other beautiful sites and will fondly remember the trip despite it’s failed intentions. Life regularly doesn’t play ball or follows the perfect timeline people expect. KL ❤

    Liked by 2 people

    • Erik says:

      I love your puffin goal. And though as of yet unmet, it prompted you to seek it out and discover adventures you probably didn’t even know you might make the main goal before that time.

      And mine is to hold a pangolin. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

      • KL Caley says:

        Hi Erik. Wow, I have never heard of one of those I had to google it (might have to add that to my list to now)! Often the surprise adventures and lessons learnt unintentionally are even more fun. XD Thanks for the comment. KL ❤

        Liked by 1 person

    • Sue Vincent says:

      This year, KL, I will be sixty…which sounded so very old when I was your age, not two minutes ago. 🙂
      I’ve never gone in or timed goals or ambitions. The day is enough, whatever it brings. As you found on your trip. Still, the puffins in Wales are gorgeous if you time it right. I was lucky enough to see them …about forty years ago 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

      • KL Caley says:

        The older I get it seems the more things I want to see, hear, experience, this world is full of so many interesting things, places and of course people. Not in any particular timeline but I do enjoy dreaming about the day. 🙂 Definitely Agree, often the surprise moments that happen unintentionally are even more fun. KL ❤

        Like

  4. buffalopound says:

    Inspirational, Sue. It is a strange feeling sometimes to look in the mirror and see what you are and not what you were. It can take you by surprise but it is also an interesting process observing one’s body and the changes it goes through as time passes. Well done and well written.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Sue Vincent says:

      Thanks, Lynn. I agree, very strange to catch a glimpse of your mother or grandmother when you pass your own reflection. But isn’t that a rather nice feeling, knowing that you are part of that chain of women who have all passed through the stages of life before, as we do now?

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Mary Smith says:

    Great post, Sue. I was going to say I wish I hadn’t had to wait until the age I am now to become comfortable with how my body looks – then I thought about the number of loose tops I have in the wardrobe, all designed to hide my large tummy and realised I’m not quite there yet. Wouldn’t it be lovely if fashion designers fell in love with the rounded belly look? 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • Sue Vincent says:

      Doubtless it will come back ‘in’ again at some point, Mary 🙂
      I don’t know that any of us are really comfortable with how we look as we grow older… the ingrained standards and self judgements remain. We just learn to accept things better…and learn that we, as individuals with so much life and exprience behind us, are more than ‘just a pretty face’. Even so, I have often wondered how many of us would jump at the chance for a full makeover if it came free, discrete and painless? And what that says about how we still view ourselves…

      Like

  6. quiall says:

    That last paragraph touched me!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Erik says:

    Oh, the pains people have taken across time to fit in with their contemporary notions of “beauty.”

    From adding belladonna (poison) to eyes to enlarge pupils, to injecting toxic bacteria (yes, that’s what Botox is) into our faces.

    Being stretched on racks in hopes of gaining height, to binding feet to keep them small (and I’ve yet to understand why feet stuffed into uncomfortable, pointy, hoof-like shoes is considered “attractive”).

    Adding painful hair extensions. Plucking every eyebrow hair and eyelash to “accentuate the forehead.” Piling up hair around bird cages and caking it in place with flour plaster, knowing that the price was everything from spiders to vermin living in that central cage.

    Corsets that pushed vital organs into unnatural places in the name of achieving a 17-inch waist.

    Pumping arms and pectoral muscles with oil and breasts with bags of silicone.

    Bleaching skin to the pallor of death, or tanning it to the color of tree bark.

    Removing veins, or drawing them on (yes, the latter was added to the vampire-white skin in days of yore, when the “translucent look” was in).

    It’s all completely subjective, and when viewed together even in a small glimpse such as above … rather silly.

    Beauty shouldn’t be in the eye of the beholder unless that beholder is yourself.

    Liked by 3 people

  8. This is such a positive and thought-provoking post, Sue. I am struggling with my weight as you know, and it is not just to be healthy. As I get older I feel that I have lost any attractiveness I might have had when I was younger. I realise now, through reading your post, that the younger me does not fit anymore and wouldn’t suit me! 🙂 xx

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Reblogged this on Lady Dyanna and commented:
    Thank you for saying this so beautifully.

    Like

  10. Pingback: Look in the mirror… | Campbells World

  11. dgkaye says:

    I loved this Sue. So true, we can be so critical of ourselves and even as we age, find it hard to let up doing so. I know I’m guilty of doing it – looking in the mirror and asking where my once tiny waist disappeared, along with some other not so fine new additions lol. Thanks for bringing us back to reality and gratitude for all we are and have 🙂 ❤

    Like

  12. KL Caley says:

    Reblogged this on New2Writing and commented:
    I loved this article from Sue! It really spoke to me and I am sure it will to many who are feeling pressured by the “New Year, New Me” Goals. Speaking of which did you know yesterday (10th of Jan) is the day most will fail their resolutions.

    Sue’s final words provide a poignant reminder to cherish the passing of time (It is one thing to seek a healthy body, quite another to chase or be cowed by a vision of airbrushed perfection. Why can we not celebrate who we are instead of how we compare or look?

    To age is a gift not all will receive. To give life, a grace… to love life, a privilege we could all share. To look in the mirror and see the changes the years might bring, is to know we have lived.

    KL ❤

    Like

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