The principles of body positivity - like “all bodies are good bodies” and “everyone deserves to feel safe in the body they have” - have no age limit. These very same principles can be applied to aging. After all, aging is a process that deeply involves the body.
Body positivity is about letting go of harmful and unrealistic societal expectations that are put upon our bodies, and fighting for a culture where everyone has access to that freedom. Our culture treats aging the way it treats fatness, disability and racialized bodies: with judgment, fear, and pathologization.
When we refuse to see fatness, disability, melanation or - yes - aging as unnatural, we create room to reclaim our existence unapologetically at every age. Hello, we’re all aging right now as we read this. This doesn’t have to be a scary fact. It can just be… a fact (maybe even a fun fact?).
I occasionally poll friends on their feelings about aging. I’ve received a range of answers: from, “I don’t really think about it” to “I feel like I’m losing romantic and sexual viability by the second.” The latter response is probably the one I see reflected most in the culture.
What’s your response to that question?
Back in December, I made a new friend named Leslie who told me a story about his feelings about being 62. Someone had asked him, “What was the best time of your life?” expecting him to look backwards, to the days when he was younger. He paused, contemplated and then replied, “Right now is the best time of my life. I’ve never been a better version of myself.”
I loved Leslie’s answer (scroll down to see a selfie I took with Leslie).
So what stands in the way of us all feeling like Leslie? What stops us from reclaiming the very natural process of growing older?
A big one is denial. The United States is a uniquely deathphobic culture. We are a culture that does not speak openly about death, and this consequently makes the discussion around aging taboo.
We also live in a culture that only shows us one beauty ideal - perhaps even more ubiquitous than the thin ideal is the young ideal. As we’ve discussed before at BPU, even though almost 70% of the U.S. population is plus-size, we still believe that the slender body is the norm. Likewise, people over 65 represent almost 17% of the population, but we don’t see that proportion of representation in media.
In addition to that, almost half of the shows that did have an older adult in them contained ageist dialogue. So, even if the representation is there, if the representation is undignified and dehumanizing, it doesn’t lead to more positive or neutral feelings about aging.
How can we change this and bring a little bit of positivity to this conversation?
Here are 4 ways to apply body positive thinking to the process of aging:
Acknowledge that culture’s bigotry around aging bodies. We can apply our understanding of bigotry against fat/BIPOC/disabled bodies to aging bodies. Having any type of body - yes, this includes an aging body - should be treated with dignity and (IMHO) celebration. Even if the culture isn’t doing it, that doesn’t mean that we can’t create space for that dignity and celebration within our communities and for ourselves.
Normalize aging. Remember: we’re all aging right now at this very moment! This fact unites us with every living thing on the planet. Plants age. Animals age. Trees age. Bumble bees age. And, yes, people age. Even though there may be challenges that come with aging, we can normalize them. Having a body of any age can come with changes and challenges and also beauty, fun and amazingness.
Change how you talk about aging. When we stop using ageist language - like, for instance, using “old” as an epithet - we make more room for our bodies to change as they age.
Include older bodies in your feed and your media. We can apply the intentionality of diversifying our feeds to aging. (This is a reminder for me and the representation of images I use for BPU!)
+ Take a look at my books: You Have the Right to Remain Fat (I narrated the audiobook), The Self-Love Revolution: Radical Body Positivity for Girls of Color, Hot & Heavy: Fierce Fat Girls on Life, Love and Fashion