How Shopping for Lingerie Helped Me Accept My Mid-life Body


A real dressing down at Victoria Secret

You might learn about my health searching my medicine cabinet, but to unlock the secrets of my self-esteem, try looking in my lingerie drawer.   We all have a time-line when it comes to panties and bras—they say volumes about how we love our bodies.  Or not. I wore cotton Spanky pants when I was in high school and, I hate to admit, college.  They cover everything.  No Frederick’s of Hollywood for me.

When my two daughters reached the teen years, their lingerie time-line was far advanced.  Babysitting money bought them underwear at Victoria Secret.  I found the Mom-approved briefs unopened in their drawers, the bare silky things hanging in the bathroom and scattered on their beds.

The Victoria Secret catalogue came to me—I have a lover, their father.  I had already advanced on the time-line, driven by my proximity to “over-the-hill.”  I confess I bought the fantasy, purchased naughty things.  The bras then had English garden, French ballroom feminine names–Amy, Emily, Niccole, Michelle.  Flowery and lacy they were still able to uplift, hold firmly and reveal your assets.  But in the lingerie world, time rushes like crazy.  Emily and Amy and their wimpy flowers vaporized.  Overnight it was silk and shine, plunge and plump.

How can I accept my ageing self when the world around me has set unattainable heights?

Don’t even try being innocent in these bras—immediately you’re a tigress.  To push the fantasy, the models’ photos were air-brushed into perfection revealing completely bared buttocks in thongs and facial expressions that looked pre-, post- or in medias res orgasm.  Now that’s some lingerie!  The time-line had crashed over the edge of the flow chart.
Where do we go from here?  A scary question that makes me acutely aware of the attributes I have or more accurately, don’t have.  The women peering out from catalogs and magazines, television and the internet have perfect skin, defined arms and legs, breathtaking décolletage, slim stomachs, firm breasts and buttocks, incredible flowing hair, just sexy everything.  How can I be happy with my aging self when the world around me has raised the bar to unattainable heights?  So unfair.

In my attractive twenties, the bar just wasn’t that high.  I wore ordinary bras.  Everyone did.  I can’t even remember the nondescript panties.  If you did shop Fredericks of Hollywood, you were close to being a slut, though there was the trousseau lingerie you received at wedding showers—considered totally acceptable by your girlfriends.  But Grandma Harriet?  She’d have a seizure now.  I mean why do we have to look like we all work in a bordello?  Give me a break.  I’m aging and becoming obsessed with how to encase my sagging anatomy.  What’s a girl to do?
Get it over with.  Take the sad trip to VS or some other lingerie department.   You’ve been there: standing in the dressing room totally naked, looking at your sagging breasts, and for some, baby-making tummies, and for others, I-like-desserts-too-much tummies.  You check out the fine wrinkles in your knees and the occasional spider-vein and either cry or just keep sighing as the fluorescent light transforms your skin into a lovely grey and the tilt of the light reveals every flaw in your face.  (Advice: don’t ever bend your face over your mirror—gravity will allow you to see where you’ll be at 90, sans Botox. HELP!!! )
So you stifle the urge to break the full-length mirror, telling yourself: stay cool.  You suck everything in and try on THE BRA.  At VS it’s called the “I feel sexy bra,” though you don’t.  Because this is the sad trip, the one you take when your lover drops you despite the surprise party you threw him complete with stripper.  Or your longtime boyfriend was relieved to get transferred to Australia, or your husband has revealed he’s doing it with the dog trainer.  You’re familiar with the drill.

Time will always win

Why was I there?  Getting a head start—warding off the sad trip, fighting with the devilish mirror.  My man had to be noticing negative changes.  But I’m a survivor, I said aloud, my body reflecting back at me in its lost glory.  I can get back the fantasy, recuperate the ailing sexy self, hang on tight to youthful dreams.  Well maybe and maybe not.
The bras ended up in a pile on the floor.  The panties were worse.  They accentuated my lower body problems whether there was spandex present or not.  The young salesgirl outside the door had not a clue.  In a lilting voice: “Another size?”  “Is there anything I can do for you?”  Yes, finance an extreme body makeover.  But no.  Maybe another store.  A different brand?  Who am I kidding.  What I really needed was a paradigm shift; forget the lingerie time-line, throw off the cultural images that were trying to do me in and make me want to join a survival group where I’d dig up potatoes and learn to shoot wild bore.
I took a breath, assessed the situation.  As a woman over-the-hill I had made healthy life choices and had lots of fun besides, enjoying two different careers, raising three amazing children, and being loved by an incredible soul mate for forty years.
Then despite the mirror, I saw it.  I didn’t need a paradigm shift, just a reemphasis of my life philosophy.  It had worked so far.  I had to reclaim it, believe in who I was—the total person—body, soul, mind, personality.  In the past I didn’t scold my daughters for their secret underwear.  I just quietly pressed harder on the issues that I knew would truly affect their lives—the type of men they would choose to love, the image of themselves they would honor, the choices in life that they would eventually make.  I hoped that their father and I would be better than a television-show example.
The mirror again.  I patted my cheeks.  Color emerged.  My eyes shone.  I pushed my fingers through my too thin hair, but it’s still there!  I held my breasts in my hands.  A gift, I still had them.  So what if the pile of lacy things on the floor didn’t work.  Then I actually smiled at the mirror, everything revealed. I got dressed.  I would make a purchase, had found a gift to carry home–I bought my body back.  It was something to honor and cherish—not brag about, certainly, (except I did pass my bone density exam) but not denigrate either.   It had withstood a lot, carried me through the vicissitudes of life that we all have with our partners.  If I am sagging, my husband is too.  (Actually he still looks damn good.)  But we are tangoing with time.  And time will always win.  Maybe in the Victoria dressing room I just saw that truth more clearly—no secret there.

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