I want to start this post with the Truth.
The promise of midlife is this: Your experience is ready to come together and renew you in a way you cannot imagine. Your brilliance is already created for you, all you have to do is claim it if you haven't already.
But it doesn't always feel that way, does it?
Have you noticed lately? Everyone in stores and restaurants looks about 24 years old.
We have to speak up to order at the bar whereas before we attracted attention just by standing there.
The man who smiles across the room is looking behind you at a younger woman.
We show up to situations feeling the same inside and people begin to react differently based on our changing looks.
These moments can ruin your day, or your week, or your life, if you let them.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. You may be jolted with the realization your family hasn’t seen you for years.
Did you see the movie Bridges of Madison County? Francesca, Meryl Streeps character, is a WWII Italian bride, living on a farm in Iowa years later with her husband.
He and her children have a very specific mirror they hold up to her, the only problem is the reflection is a simplistic line drawing that only reflects her domestic role in the family.
She has an complex, passionate colorful dimension hidden inside that is unleashed by a handsome stranger during a visit one week when her family is out of town. With him, she feels “seen” for perhaps the first time in her life.
If you saw that movie, I imagine many of us were holding our breath as Francesca sat at a red light in the pickup truck with her husband, debating jumping out and rushing through the rain into the waiting arms of her lover, who was in his truck just in front of her about to make a left turn on his way out of town.
How did you feel when the light turned green, and the truck in front didn’t move, and still she stayed put? When her lover finally turned left and drove out of of her life. When her husband switched on the radio as she started to cry?
That scene still gives me chills to this day. And to think the book was written by a man! Wow.
But we are not in a movie.
Feeling invisible is something we need to tackle head-on, because its the biggest threat to you living the most amazing 20 - 30 years of your life.
Its the biggest threat to you staying with or finding a passionate relationship.
Its the biggest threat to our responsibility to be strong, positive mentors for our young people.
Its a big threat to society because it weakens our collective contribution, from a generation of women that is quite frankly the best equipped to be leaders in this moment. It’s not the Boomers and its not the Millennials. Its Gen X.
I do not feel invisible. My outline is crystal clear now, I know who I am now and don’t care too much what others see or don’t see in me.
However, it is pretty rare for an American woman to come to that place of confidence without a fight. Losing my edges was the core of my midlife crisis, and something in me that refused to become invisible rose up and fought back.
Redefining my edges again is the outcome of my midlife transformation.
Before we go on, I want to put “feeling invisible” in perspective.
I saw a poignant response in a FB group for midlife women where the “I feel invisible” thread was on fire. The comment was from a woman in a wheelchair who had never felt conventionally attractive. She pointed out that there are many of us who have been “invisible” our whole lives.
Minority women have also grappled with feeling invisible for decades.
We can learn from and admire women who craft inspirational lives even though they were never celebrated in our mainstream cultural messaging to begin with.
Can you imagine a teen girl who may be realizing she has no interest in attracting boys, trying to sort out her emotions while navigating the hypersexualized ads targetted at young people? Where does she “see” herself in all of that?
This at the same time when her straight friend is suffering a lack of self-esteem from over-identifying with advertising, beginning to believe that she has to be thin and sexual to be noticed.
And that, of course, is where it all started for most of us. Our looks = attention = approval = being seen.
Here is another truth: whatever our situation, once we get clear on our edges and our gifts, we will attract people and attention that is authentic, not just based on what we look like - which is mostly about their ego noticing ours.
We feel invisible because we don’t know what we look like without someone else’s mirror reflecting back to us. We look to others to define our edges.
Feeling seen is about self-acceptance and self-confidence. Its about recovering your feminine brilliance no matter what society says. Then we can be strong mentors and help the young people in our lives navigate toxic media, too.
The inner critic starts out there
If you are in midlife - your 40s and early 50s - you probably already know you are sandwiched between 2 huge, very different demographic groups - the Baby Boomers and the Millenials.
Marketers have tripped over themselves for years in a frenzy to be relevant to one or both of those demographics. Women do 85% of the buying in the U.S. - so you can imagine the amount of ads targeted at women over the years.
For better or worse, in the U.S., marketing defines the collective ego of our culture. Marketing messages are woven into storylines of popular shows; product placement in shows, movies and videos accelerate this affect. Marketing has become our social narrative.
Midlife women today, who are by default members of Gen X, are not very well represented in this narrative. A study of midlife women by SuperHuman marketing agency found that 91% of midlife women don’t believe advertisers get them.
So in a society where marketing is so influential and pervasive, it is easy to confuse being invisible to marketers with being invisible in general.
Let’s turn that around and consider it a gift that we have not been as heavily marketed to as women in their 60s and 70s.
I have interviewed many women over 65, retired from successful careers, lives filled with contribution to family and community. For too many, you would never guess that from talking with them.
Their language is peppered with self-doubt. Second guessing has become a reflexive habit. I have a theory that life long exposure to advertising is one reason for a lack of generational confidence among many (not all) baby boomer women - which is crazy considering what they have accomplished.
For decades, on a daily basis, society’s messages have told them that they are lacking and need to buy product x to be whole, beautiful, loved and accepted.
Fast forward to today, where the marketing landscape for women is all about the millennials. In the same SuperHuman survey, 84% of the (midlife) women surveyed used products and services they felt were aimed at younger women. This is why we raid our daughters’ closet.
This is potentially toxic for us as we spend time immersed in advertising and media that is aimed at younger women. That is not going to help us feel better, much less celebrate, our middle age changes.
Internal vanishing point
When we are young, we see ourselves through our parents. Later, through our peers and still later through our lovers and partners. Some women see themselves through their children.
This is natural, I think 99% of women do this to some extent without knowing it.
In our 40s and 50’s, we start to look for ourselves again. Who am I without my roles - if my parents pass on, I split from my partner, and my kids leave the nest?
We feel invisible because we have lost track of our definition. After so many years of seeing ourselves through others, we can’t even feel our edges anymore.
Here is the problem: If you feel invisible, you are looking for validation in an unreliable place - other people.
Can you see yourself in any of the following?
If you feel invisible, try this:
Think of Francesca in the rain - will you turn left into the unknown with a new muse to rediscover yourself, or stay comfortable and rarely seen on the straight and narrow?
Choose to fight for your visibility and brilliance - it is one of the turning points in midlife.
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This is #4 of our special free daily Boss of Me series for 10 days to help you take action around some common midlife challenges.
Today we got us a doozy. My hormones are driving me crazy. How about you?
I can remember a few years ago, sitting in the doctor’s office of Kaiser’s OBGYN dept, waiting on my yearly checkup. The walls were posted with flyers for pregnancy and STD prevention. Nothing at all about menopause.
I made a mental note to ask my doctor. She arrived about 20 minutes late, looking frazzled and exhausted. I didn’t ask her about menopause education. I made mental note #2 to look at Kaiser's website for patient education classes when I got home. When I went on line, there was NOTHING about menopause.
Now, it could have just been my timing, and maybe now Kaiser has a flood of classes for patients about menopause. And I’m not singling Kaiser out - I haven't done a survey of other providers. I would point out that if the healthcare juggernaut that is Kaiser isn't making it a priority, its a sad proxy for society in general.
I’m not a medical professional and nothing I say is meant to be medical advice.
I am a woman going through menopause with a brain in her head and a bias toward action.
Common sense tells us that eating well and making stress management a priority can help. We don't go through menopause in a vacuum. Your life situation has a lot of influence on how you experience menopause.
What to DO
These tips have worked for me and others:
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Recently on a trip to see my daughter, she took some candid shots of me. Honesty time - as I cruise through midlife, I'm beginning to at times think, "is that me?"
I look a little bit like Mimi, my grandmother on my mom's side, when she was in midlife. I've also noticed my "look" is changing more rapidly as I move through menopause.
At first I thought, "that's weird".
Then I thought, "Well, OK it makes sense, I didn't hatch from an egg".
(Do you talk to yourself like this? lol)
Of course I'm going to resemble the women I grew up around - I totally have my mom's smile and have been told I favor an aunt on my dad's side who passed away when I was young.
My earliest memories, which I had forgotten, of my female relatives now emerge with a jolt when I see myself in photos or a side glance in a mirror.
And I kind of like it, actually. My grandmother, slim with an acerbic sense of humor that could draw blood, was not your stereotypical rotund cheery lady baking cookies. She was, however, beautiful and witty when she was relaxed and happy.
One thing Mimi did not do was spend much time at was sitting at a desk. If you spend a lot of time at your desk, or even standing around in one place (like in a retail job), check your look in the mirror.
I notice in some pictures (see this from a recent trip to London, where we stayed in a cool loft) that I'm starting to develop bad posture around the shoulders and upper back area - this used to be known as the "dowagers hump" - a sign of aging in the past. I'm not an expert but I think it really is simply lack of tone in those areas that gets worse over time. I have seen a rounded back and shoulders in younger women who are out of shape many times.
This is not a fitness blog and like I said, I'm not an expert, but I don't think its inevitable that we get a hunchback over time.
Another point about good posture is this - it definitely affects our confidence. Alegre Ramos, a public speaking coach I worked with, says, "Do some Wonder Woman poses before you speak. Or anytime, really, that you want a confidence boost".
The below photo is a great example. I noticed a few years ago what beautiful posture Samantha Bond from Downton Abbey has. I googled it and didn't find anything about her workout routine, my guess is she has some classical dance training.
Power poses are rooted in our animal brains, and send a powerful signal to our psyche. Notice the difference between me and my grandmother in the above photos. I didn't plan my pose, but it shows the real me coming out after I had finally come to end of a grueling separation, divorce, and downsizing the majority of our shared possessions to only what would fit in my car. I had given up my lease on the house in Santa Rosa, and was literally leaving the driveway that day to take off on the next phase of my life. I was READY.
Now, however, I realize my potential for adopting a permanent turtle profile is a natural result of spending a lot of time hunched over my computer and looking down at my damn phone.
Given that my time on the computer is not likely to decrease anytime soon, I use exercise and this tip from Kathryn Anne Flynn's IntelligentEdge.Yoga blog to start making small improvements over time. Its an inexpensive way to remind yourself to sit up straight. I now keep a strap at my desk to use for a few hours a day as part of my 2018 routine upgrade:
Bonus - if you have upper back tension and pain at the shoulder blade, its like a miracle cure.
I use a karate belt Sergio had laying around in a drawer. He loves this new use for an old belt - it makes me sit up very, ahem, straight. It's like an instant boob lift. lol.
A yoga strap with the folding buckle, like Kathryn's, the pretty lady above, is probably the best for holding tension.
We are so fortunate to live in a time when we have more than enough knowledge about keeping physically whole as we age, and no serious social disapproval for moving and using our bodies as we age. I'm pretty sure the authorities would have been called if my grandmother had worked out in a public park the way I do - burpees, downward dog, and partner yoga with Sergio. Even today at times we get raised eyebrows from some señoras walking their cute little dogs.
How about you? Are you beginning to see the shadows of your beautiful grandma or other female relatives in the mirror? How does it make you feel?
Can you hear her lovingly saying, "Stand up straight, honey, inside and out"?
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It multitasks, its preventative, and it plays well with all other sports.
I'm not an accomplished athlete. I'm actually kind of clumsy and have never had great balance or flexibilty. I've been moderatly active, most of my life, and I eat pretty well, so I feel good most of the time.
But I've never done a Triathalon, a marathon, played adult league sports, or stuck with any kind of set fitness routine for several weeks at a time. I've tried a lot of different stuff. YouTube fitness videos are like nirvana for me, you can literally do a different workout every day, probably for 100 years, given how many videos are out there now!
Not that I recommend hopping around that much. I have found that through years of fitness infidelity, I do return home to my 2 steadies - yoga and body weight routines.
They are the baseline that allows me to do the other things - run once in awhile, bike, pump iron sort of, climb pyramids, schlep my bags through airports and crowded metro stops with lots of stairs and no elevators. They also keep a very grouchy right hip happy. The weeks I do my yoga, I'm pain free. The other weeks, not so much.
One of the best things about it is probably a bit ironic, given that the whole point of it is to be in the moment and breathe - Yoga is an awesome mind-body multitasker. You benefit your body, mind, and prevent future injury, all in one hour a couple of times a week.
When I separated from my now ex-husband, a hot yoga studio opened, walking distance from my house. I still believe it opened just for me; thanks Universe!
Hot yoga saved my sanity when I was going through the divorce. All my sadness (some days) anger and resentment (other days) burned and sweated out of me in those classes at Vibe Yoga in Santa Rosa, CA.
The day the divorce was final I cried slowly through almost a whole class, no one noticed because I was sweating too. It was cathartic. It helped that the teachers were really exceptional.
So if you haven't tried yoga, I'm hoping to convert you. No, not into a yogi fanatic who practices 5x per week in a 101 degree room. (not that I was that faithful, I think I made it 3X per week).
Unless that is what makes you happy.
I have also met some of the best people I know through Yoga. Check out Treina Alexander's yogaloveoakland.com/ studio in Oakland the next time you are in that area. (She is one of our fabulous COLLABS advisors, too!)
I met her when I attended a class there, and later went on a yoga retreat to Mexico that she organized, it was awesome. (The next one in Mexico is in May 2018, check it out if you are interested! http://yogaloveoakland.com/2018-summer-camp/)
Treina teaches traditional and an Egyptian style of yoga that is very different and beautiful. The poses are just like the pictures of people in the murals in the pyramids. She looks like an Egyptian Queen when she teaches, its amazing!
If you have ever wanted to pose like a hieroglyphic, Egyptian Yoga is for you. : )
Dog is my co-pilot <3
Places to start
I did not know it before I wrote this post but September is also National Yoga Month!
While looking for some visuals to share with you, I waded through some surprisingly lame graphics. Who knew that yoga would not help people with their information design skills?
One that was actually published in the Huffington Post was especially odd. It was a decision tree graphic - with questions like, "Do you like to take your clothes off"? Well then, nude yoga is for you! Another question - "are you old"? - yes, that was the wording. Yes? Off to Senior Yoga you go, if you still want to after being called old.
At that point I'm wanting to ask the creators of the graphic, "Are you clueless?"
This one is nice, though:
And this one gives a lovely overview of the different styles of yoga. I'm currently obsessed with Iyengar, its great for healing injuries due to muscle or tension imbalance. They let you use lots of props and take time with each pose to get it right. My right side has always been touchy, I learned in Iyengar that its actually my left side that is the problem - I'm tighter on that side. And here I have been blaming my poor right side for years. I have tried all of these types. Having said all that, if you like a yoga flow, Iyengar is not a great choice. Try Vinyasa or Hatha (which is oddly missing from this graph - Hatha is probably what most of us associate with yoga). Which one do you think you would enjoy?
The graphic above is from https://thetruthaboutyoga.wordpress.com/2015/03/22/different-types-of-yoga/ - the blog seems to be abandoned but I'm putting the reference here anyway.
So let us know if you yoga now, or if you have any tips for beginners.
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I spent most of the late 70s and 80s on diets obsessing about my weight and my workouts. I was tired all the time and never felt satisfied with how I looked. Does that sound familiar?
I picked up a book about a year ago called Sugar Blues, it is an eye-opening account of the history of sugar's influence on human health. I also watched a movie called Fed Up, produced by Katie Couric that details the effect of sugar on our kids in graphic, heart-breaking detail.
The short version is that food companies started adding lots more sugar to food in the go-go 80s during the low-fat craze. I'm talking about what I call sneaky sugar - sugar in foods that you don't think of as "sweets" - like soups, pasta sauce, corn chips, salad dressings, even vinegar!
Our food supply has a massive infection of sugar, courtesy of the Big Food and sugar lobbies and ag subsidies.
Sneaky sugar pisses me off because it is a subsidized minefield in the grocery aisle that blows up brave people who are making sincere efforts to lose weight and adopt a healthy lifestyle.
My biggest dietary a-ha moment in the last 20 years took place a couple years ago when I started reading labels for sneaky sugar. Sneaky sugar turns up where you don't really expect to find it.
Bottom line is I made a simple change to cut out sneaky sugar and lost about 8 lbs over 6 weeks, without changing anything else.
You know that "last 5 pounds" we don't seem to be able to lose? And should quit worrying about anyway? Bingo. I lost it, and I still ate a little dark chocolate every day.
Now, I didn’t lay on the couch for 6 weeks and watch my middle shrink. I also didn't adopt the workout regimen of a CrossFit babe, either. (I did think about it, though, mostly while laying on the couch).
This was also about the time I started eating healthy fats again, yes, including animal fat. The changes helped me to gain normal energy back after a lifetime of chronic fatigue that I had blamed on a low thyroid condition. Now I'm wondering if the steady intake of sugar over the years actually contributed to hormone imbalance and thyroid issues.
I am fairly active and eat well otherwise. When I finally removed the sugar that was a drag on my system, it was like a smooth shift into a higher gear.
A big recurring thread in this site is remembering that nothing happens in a vacuum, right? Your physical condition is the result of your genetic dance with eating, drinking, moving, reflecting and resting. I'm neither a couch potato nor a CrossFit babe. I could improve my fitness but I feel great most days. The Middle Path is a good one to walk when setting expectations for ourselves. <3
Stepping off the Middle Path, I feel very badly that I didn’t start this sooner, when my kids were young. Regret is a waste of time but I can't help it. #motherguilt. : (
The thing is, my son was a really fat little boy, and it distressed all of us. We could not figure out why.
We never had sodas around the house, or baked goods, or junk food. We taught he and his sister about nutrition and the effect of different foods on our bodies. I had flirted with bulimia in my 20's; the grace from that experience was that I had moved to a much healthier relationship with food. I knew not to focus on control, but on healthy choices and habits.
My son liked to help cook, we ate a wide variety of healthy foods. His dad packed his lunch, we limited sweets. He took Karate and tried swim team and rec soccer.
Still, he gained a little more weight every year.
At his check-ups, the pediatrician would look at me with obvious doubt as I described his diet. Later, the nurse handed me scary pamphlets about childhood diabetes and printouts of the FDA food pyramid (recommendations that are, as I learned later, heavily influenced by the corporations of Big Ag and Big Food).
What the doctor and I missed is that our family diet had a chronic low level infection of sugar and carbs. Here is insidious side of sneaky sugar - as I was figuring out the "sugar budget" for a moderate diet that left room for a treat now and then, I wasn't factoring in the constant hit of hidden sugar with almost every meal. It doesn't take much for our bodies to react.
Sugar in mayo, peanut butter, fruit cups, some chips, crackers, ketchup, BBQ sauce, pasta sauce, soups, salad dressing, yogurt. Sugar in most low-fat snacks, even salty ones. Couple that with carbs sprinkled throughout the week - bagels, pretzels, pasta, french bread - what I thought was a healthy, moderate approach was a recipe for disaster for my poor son.
I thought that not having sodas and cake around meant we didn't really eat much sugar. Wrong. Cutting out the obvious culprits had made me complacent.
Now I'm SO done with that. Let's rattle the cage a bit. I encourage you to be sure to read the fine print ingredients on food at the store.
Start to cut out the hidden sugar and see what happens for you. I'm not a doctor or health professional. Its simply my opinion and experience that this is one of the kindest things we can do for our body, especially in our 40s and 50s.
And my son? Happy ending there. He grew over a foot and lost at least 20 lbs during puberty. He kept it off. He bikes to work most days, loves to cook and is a total foodie. He eats very little sugar. Here is his picture before prom a few years ago.
Don't tell him I posted it. <3
Lastly, I had started calling these Monday posts "M Word Mondays:". After trying that on, I'm not crazy about it. We're changing the project name to Full Circle Menopause. We'll still be posting on Mondays, hence the hashtags #FCMM.
How have you had a run-in with sugar in your life?
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This week I'm jumping into something I was originally planning to wait on. But the time is now, so here we go. Check out this video and follow me along on Mondays, as I go from pretty much being in denial about Menopause to learning how to maximize this change to live my fullest life. 'Cause thats how I roll! I would love to have you join me, especially if you don't have a community around this topic. I don't know much about this yet, but I do know this is a process women were never meant to go through in isolation.
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