Patricia Redlich

Friday, January 22, 2010

I Am No Longer Pretty

I have recently returned to work but find my confidence is not what it was. For a start, I am finding it difficult to adjust to my changed appearance and body shape and am very self-conscious. This is made worse by the fact that it's happening to me at a time when appearance seems to be everything. Although most of the younger people I work with are nice and friendly, I feel a bit like a fish out of water.

I have come to liken middle age to puberty. In my early and mid-teens I felt very self-conscious and awkward, and the same feelings are coming back to me now. Like in my teens, I don't know who I am anymore or what I'm supposed to be about. Except that I am now going down the other side of the hill which is depressing.

I look at other women my age and they seem to have adapted to the faster pace of life we are now all forced to live. I have no older sisters or mother to ask how to cope. How do I adjust to looking different than I did most of my adult life? When I look in the mirror now I don't see me, I see my mother. Don't get me wrong, I loved my mother but this is a very big change for me. I used to be slim, could eat what I liked, and never put on an inch. Now it seems I only have to think about eating and my stomach expands! This is really affecting my quality of life and how I perceive myself. And, of course, I have no way of knowing how others see me.
I was never a particularly gregarious person. I am the perfect candidate for becoming invisible in middle age. How can I cope with the 'new' me?

It's wonderful that you want to - meet the challenge of middle-age I mean. Going back to work was clearly a blessing in disguise. Certainly it's disconcerting to feel so uncomfortable. But look at what you're going to gain - or regain - namely a strong sense of self. We need that, because the real problems not being invisible to others. The problem is being a bit of a blur in our own eyes. How can you properly fight your own corner when you're not sure who you actually are? How can you even interact with others?

Your social isolation certainly doesn't help. The women you see around you have had to adjust just like you. The difference, if any, is that they probably talked to their friends, to the woman who runs the local boutique, to their beautician, their hairdresser, their next-door neighbour about weight-gain, suitable clothes, how to age with grace, or defy age with camouflage, or flaunt what they have.

Yes, I know that's all 'girlie' talk. Behind it lies a deeper vein. Identity - or the 'new' you - is not one great leap, one flash of lightening, one grand insight and there you are. It's a thousand steps, many of which you take tentatively. The thing is, we make such adjustments all the time. Think about how differently we have to mother a child, from total care as infants to cautious concern on the sidelines as they muddle through their marriages. What's knocked you sideways is not the necessity to change, but the suddenness with which you've had to face it.

You're intelligent with a great sense of humour. Tackle this stage of your life with excitement and joy. Flick through the magazines. Check the shops for the assistance of personal dressers. Join weight-watchers. Find a new hairdresser. Talk to your younger colleagues about the trendiest mobile, how to text, or most importantly of all - which cup of coffee to try out. You get my drift.

How do others see you? They already know you're nice, smart and good fun as well as professionally competent. They probably guess, too, that you're feeling vulnerable. Let them in on that vulnerability. There is nothing more attractive in this world than uncertainty openly admitted. I like your analogy with feeling like a teenager again. There is, however, a huge difference. You have the character and certainty of a life lived somewhat longer than that shy 17 year-old you once were. You'll be able to take help, without feeling threatened. Go talk. And enjoy.
Irish based professional therapist and journalist. Website By : Deise Design