How I Made Peace With My Aging Body

When Julianna Baggott’s daughter decided to make a sculpture inspired by her mother’s breasts, the writer was forced to take a new look at her (older) body.

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Photo by WIN-Initiative/Getty Images

My daughter, who’s 20 and studying sculpture in art school, was worrying about what to do for her final project. We were talking on the phone when an idea struck her; she decided to create a piece on the deterioration of the body. I was encouraging, but I probably should have seen what was coming.

The next day she called again. “Hey, can you send me pictures of your boobs?” She needed a model, and turns out, college-age women aren’t really helpful when it comes to portraying deterioration.

Lovely.

“Thanks for thinking of me,” I said.

Sensing the sarcastic lack of enthusiasm in my tone, she said, “It’s for the sake of art. You can’t deny art!”

Still, I resisted: “Is there a way out of this? I really don’t want to do it.”

And yet the next morning I was in my bedroom, topless, and my husband, Dave, was taking pictures of me as I slowly turned a full 360 degrees while trying to maintain a dry professionalism.

I had practical concerns. “I want my face cropped out,” I told him.

“Absolutely,” he said.

I also didn’t want the pictures, taken on my husband’s iPhone, to be autofed into the queue of family pics that our TV reverts to, like a shifting screen saver, when in passive mode. I imagined a moment when one of my sons (?18 and 15?) might have friends over and would find a shocking surprise. “Let’s not scar anybody,” I tried to joke.

I’m 45 and have breastfed four kids. I was pretty sure I’d made peace with my breasts. They were always small—nothing to brag about—but relatively happy. Sure, they now require a spatula to be inserted into the mammography equipment, and I refer to them as my sad Walter Matthau eyes; they’re that soulful-looking these days. Yet, when my husband asked if I wanted to see the shots and pick which ones to send, I couldn’t look at them.

“Ship ‘em!” I said, having done my duty for the sake of art and parenting.

But I had doubts about more than my breasts. The night after the photo shoot, I complained. My stomach, after four full-term pregnancies, is doughy, with scars designed to be pleats. My butt isn’t where it used to be. My husband has been doing CrossFit for a few years. I’d consider joining him, but I refuse to voluntarily lift heavy things. As a result, he’s fit and I’m just cross. “I am deteriorating,” I said.

“Don’t insult the woman I love,” he told me. “You’re beautiful.”

I am stunned on a regular basis by my own aging. I look in the mirror and there’s an immediate disconnect. I see my grandmother’s mouth, my mother’s chin—my budding wattle, as I refer to it. I’m reminded of a certain aunt who took to wearing butterfly Band-Aids to keep her eyelid skin up high enough to actually, well, see. The gray hairs now outnumber the brown. I can’t watch certain actresses my age without obsessively guessing what work they’ve had done, which makes me insufferable, I know. I’ve abandoned high heels and sadly test insoles for arch support. I had a young dermatologist refer to my age spots as wisdom spots, and I nearly slapped him.

My sister, who’s nine years older than I am, recently texted me an exercise that is supposed to save our upper arms from melting. I texted back, “Wait. Does this mean we’ve accepted the fates of our necks? Is that battle over now? I need to know.”

She texted back that we had, officially, accepted our necks as beyond help and that I could feel free to scarf-it-up.

My eight-year-old recently looked at a picture of me and said, “You don’t look so old!” Before I could thank her, she added, “It’s probably an optical illusion from the red background.” I quietly loathed her precocious vocabulary.