#relationshipgoals Then you see a sultry black and white picture of a gorgeous young couple tied up together like snakes under blankets on the couch watching Netflix.
#bestfriendgoals And you wonder who you would invite to go hiking through Europe with you, if you and a best friend could actually take a trip like that.
#lifegoals But then you come back down to earth because you know you probably won’t ever really own a home off the coast of Greece, overflowing with a garage full of race cars.
#fitnessgoals Because let’s face it, this is real life and we are all just regular, normal, average people who don’t spend hours and hours of each day staying in shape, looking perfect and making millions.
What is ideal? and What is unrealistic? These are questions everyone asks themselves quietly, like I do, as I try to set goals for myself while at the same time being honest about who I am as a person and where I am in my life. They’re questions that trick me sometimes because (1) I’m an eternal optimist and (2) I don’t like to think of my behaviors, my habits, my future and my body as things that I can no longer control.
Milestones in aging come on the tens. Back when I was 20, oh I remember: my muscles were strong, my skin was flawless, my hair was thick and voluminous and every single thing about me was all natural. By 30, I’d had a baby. My hips were wider and nothing was firm and toned anymore. I was tired. A decade of working, going to school, wifing, mothering and being a grownup made me lethargic plus by then I had a fairly serious addiction to eating out. There was no room in my life for taking care of myself. Bad habits were established, firm patterns had developed. At 40, the age spots showed up for the first time. The skin damage from a lifetime on the beach was evident all over my face and on my hands, on my chest, my shoulders and my back. My hair was thinner, my muscles were weak and I could no longer even do a single pushup when I could still clearly remember doing center splits for cheerleading tryouts in the 1980s. Very recently I realized I have not been good to myself. I knew I needed to do better. I need to be better to myself.
Up until this summer my goals were as follows, in order of importance: 1. Get or stay thin, depending on the week. 2. Keep my hair long. 3. Maintain a tan. For the record, those are really stupid goals. Then, one day I couldn’t scale my fence to get into my back yard after I locked myself out of my house and I couldn’t cut my grass without stopping every ten minutes to keep from passing out. And how humbling it was not to be able to pull myself into a boat or out of a swimming pool without needing someone to help hoist me. Humiliating! Each time I found myself in the middle of these realities, I asked myself What is ideal for me? and What is unrealistic, though? And each time I start hating myself for being a weakling, for putting on weight again or for looking older than I wanted to, I fell right back to that one old bad habit I had: setting super unrealistic goals that I were certain to fail.
Like these, for instance:
- Starting tomorrow, I am only eating raw fruits and vegetables. (Watermelon and cucumbers, all day everyday. Doesn’t that sound yummy?)
- Starting tomorrow, I am only drinking water (I adore coffee in the morning and I live a mile from the Sonic and have to pass it everyday….hmmmm. ok.)
- Starting tomorrow, I am using sunscreen religiously (but only after I’ve had one whole hour in the straight sun, because… the tan)
- Starting tomorrow, I am going to work out every. single. day. Ok, maybe three times a week. (ok, but I can’t run, walk or lift weights, because of my knees, because of my hip, because, because, because…)
- Starting tomorrow…blah, blah, blah. Yes, you get the point.
You get the point because you do it too, don’t you? Those kinds of goals have never been ideal or realistic. So instead of EVER following through with any of the goals I set for myself and soon sucked at reaching, I predictably reverted back to my old habits in short order (big, heavy meals, sodas and tanning in beds) and then I complained and whined and beat up on myself about the results I got. You know what they say: The definition of an idiot is someone who does the same thing over and over again and expects a different result. Yes, that was me. It has always been me.
Then it got worse. In my position as a teacher, and even more so as the mother of a teenager, I performed this ritual of self-flagellation and whiney-bitching in front of a host of young teenaged girls. They once actually heard me say, “Don’t put that picture on Facebook, my elbows look scaly.” I am never at a loss for a petty, miniscule criticism to find about myself. Then one of their mothers called me one day and said that even on the heels of $7000.00 worth of braces, her daughter wanted to get a microscopic imperfection in her teeth fixed, one that would require surgery. I was appalled. I said “Absolutely not! She is perfect and beautiful and don’t you dare indulge that behavior! Doesn’t she know how pretty she is??” No she doesn’t, because she is only taught to pick out the imperfections. We all are.
I turned a corner. I set achievable goals for myself and I was finally honest about what is ideal and what is unrealistic. Ideally, I decided to be a person who can learn to be happy outside of the magazine and television fantasies I create in my own head. Ideally, I can become a person who stays active. It is unrealistic, however, to think I will suddenly start competing in the 5ks they host downtown. Ideally, a little color is okay but it is unrealistic to think that continued baking on the beach won’t come with harsh consequences. Ideally, I can stay slender. But if I’m honest I am never, ever, ever getting back into a size 6 and I will never again be under my magic number on the scale, that stupid number I was at ten years ago. Ideally, I can drink more water but realistically I want more than just water to live on. So I say to myself, let’s finally, permanently and enthusiastically agree to meet somewhere in the strange, unfamiliar middle ground I’ve never honestly explored for real in my whole life. And I asked people who were in that place already to help me…women who were older than me who are beautiful and women who are happy and fulfilled and seemed to be inhaling the very sunshine from the sky.
My #goals have finally become ideal and realistic. I am reflective, always. To do it all again, yes there would be a bunch of things I would’ve done differently back in my twenties when I should have established better habits but I share something with these ladies that all younger people need to know: age does bring wisdom. Many of the young girls reading this won’t hear me now any more than I took this advice when I was their age. They will travel through college in their twenties and marriage in their thirties and forties and make my exact same mistakes. Then they will wake up one day, look in the mirror and see their first wrinkles and they will remember that sometime way back when they were younger, someone told them how bad the sun really was for your skin.
Still, these are the things that really, truly, honestly, and sincerely keep us older ladies feeling young, healthy and happy. This is a shout-out to every woman who is finding a way to love yourself and take better care of what God gave you. If you are doing these things, you are doing just fine.
- Do NOT tan yourself in a tanning bed. Swear them off forever. Nothing good comes from literally cooking your own skin in a microwave. It’s dangerous no matter how much you like it. See for yourself.
- Take off your makeup and wash your face every single night of your life no matter what and don’t ever sleep in mascara. (I use a cotton ball and baby oil to take off eye makeup and this also helps with wrinkles) But be gentle.
- 70% of your fluids each day should come from WATER. Most people don’t drink enough water, period. Establish a habit of carrying water with you everywhere. A little coffee never hurt anyone. Try this!
- Eat clean. Eat fresh. Break your addiction to processed food, fast food and heavy food NOW. We are a nation that is addicted to junk food and garbage. Stop that cycle. Break those bad habits while your body can still bounce back from them. Don’t Eat This.
- Moisturize, moisturize, moisturize. Put lotion on absolutely everything, every day. Your feet too! (two heartfelt recommendations: Coconut oil and sugar/salt scrubs after shaving!)
- Achieve a dream. Travel somewhere you’ve always wanted to go. Be adventurous! Make a bucket list and check the items off one by one. Don’t let the days you have on Earth pass you by without LIVING. Do nice things for yourself often. Travel with your family.
- Never. Smoke. Anything. (this goes along with ‘don’t use straws.’ Both of these cause mouth wrinkles!) Premature aging of YO FACE
- Always use sunscreen on your face, if nowhere else, but everywhere else is best. Find your own realistic goal. I know, I know…we live in Florida but work it into your life somehow and use a LOT. Getting burned is so 1960s.
- When the time is right, find someone you love inside of a mature, adult relationship and then together, master how to have a lot of really good sex that you can enjoy for a long, long lifetime. Sex, done the right way with the right person, is the best thing ever emotionally, physically and psychologically and it burns tons of calories. Look at #5!
- Do something that makes you sweat, even a little bit, on a weekly basis. ( if you don’t like running or yoga, see #9) Everyone has ten minutes.
Bonus: Thank your parents for whatever great genes you inherited. There’s always something to be grateful for. (To my mom, thank you for our good teeth!)
My arms don’t type well at the moment because I drug myself to yoga class last night and the downward-dog-to-plank-to-cobra rotations we did were brutal. I’m not sure that I could even fold laundry right now, to be honest. But when I crawled into bed last night, I had two guilt-free Oreo cookies and a glass of fat free milk with me. Had it not been for the yoga, the cookies would’ve taken place anyway, but I would’ve beat myself up for it the rest of the night. My stomach is still squishy and no 6-pack appeared as a result of my one hour of exercise this week, and I know it never will if I’m honest, but it feels good to be sore today. My arms are still flabby, sigh, but I’ll be able to push my lawnmower this afternoon because I know I am getting stronger. To go to yoga on a regular basis is an ideal goal and to feel the tightness of my muscles after I do is a realistic reward and now I have learned to let that be enough. I will eat a small, healthy meal for dinner tonight and it won’t make me hate myself later. That is both ideal and realistic, too.
I feel alright in this 44-year old body that has been damn good to me my whole life. It has been reliable and trustworthy. This body I was born with has never let me down and instead of constantly complaining about what it is that isn’t perfect about it, I need to start showing it some love so that it can continue doing its job well for a long, long time to come. I now want to exercise for what it does to my mind instead of what it will (or usually won’t) do for my body. At my age, yoga, walking, boating, or swimming are easy on my old knees and hips and the activity helps me sleep well at night. That’s…finally…enough. It’s the kind of exercise that will keep me from falling or shuffling my feet when I’m old just like reading books keeps my mind sharp. Quality not quantity. Being proud of yourself needs to be a new #goal, too. (I have more to say on that HERE). I have accepted that exercise no longer equates to being skinny with rock-hard biceps. Nope, I’ve never had those before and I know I shouldn’t try to have them now. It’s not realistic. Instead, I find gratitude in being alive, for living in a beautiful area of the country where I can stay active and busy outdoors and in doing kind things for myself like getting a massage, just because I should.
And you should too, because it’s the only body you’re ever going to get. Show it some love for a change.