My birthday is coming up on July 5th, and birthday’s have typically been a source of stress for me. I have always felt this pressure to look younger/skinner/better than I did the year before, in some kind of rebellion against the space-time continuum. As if any sign of aging is an indication that I have failed in some way. After all, our culture tells us aging is bad. Half of the commercials on television serve to remind us of this, and there’s a billboard on every corner in Los Angeles telling us we should get a new gym membership, freeze the fat, or go on a juice fast. We are bombarded with these messages constantly, so it’s no wonder we start to believe them. Even for someone like myself, who has come out the other side of eating disorder recovery, and is highly aware of how the media machine manipulates us, I’m not completely immune to this incessant conditioning.
So despite all the self-love work, and recovery I have under my belt, I started to fret over the notion that my birthday this year might not be as glamorous as it was last year. I cringed at the thought of having more fine lines or more cellulite. I groaned thinking about how I used to get bent out of shape about my body when I was 22, and how wonderful it would be to have that body now. And then a question hit me: what if it doesn’t matter what I look like on my birthday?
This might seem like a frivolous question to some, but for me, this was a paradigm shifter. I was coming from the standpoint of “Of course it matters how I look on my birthday. If it doesn’t matter what I look like, how do I know if I’m winning the Aging Game?” And then I also had to ask myself: what if it doesn’t matter if I’m winning the Aging Game? These questions stopped my sneaky self-criticism mechanism in its tracks.
So whether or not it actually matters how I look, I stopped to consider some things. If it doesn’t matter how I look, how might my experience of my birthday change? How might I be freed up to be fully present, and joyful in my interactions with the people I love? How much more FUN would I have?
The answer was clear–if it doesn’t matter how I look, my birthday would be so. much. more. fun. I wouldn’t be caught up in self judgement, or in comparing myself to all of the models surrounding me (because let’s face it, in LA you can’t go anywhere without being surrounded by the most beautiful people on the planet), I would be happy to have lived another year in a healthy body. I wouldn’t be concerned with how my legs look in shorts, I would be fixated on how amazing the people in my life are, and how lucky I am to celebrate with them. All of the mental space that self-evaluation and self-consciousness takes up would be free to devote to love, gratitude and happiness.
So this year, it’s clear to me. It doesn’t matter how I look on my birthday. It matters how I’m being with other people, and how I feel. And if I’m being present, loving and connected, I will feel fantastic. That’s all there is to it.