I am 63 years old! Have I ever told you that? I realized that I seldom reveal my actual age these days. Not because of the stereotypical female thing – we lie about our age and our weight. And I never was that way when I was younger. In fact, I threw myself a fortieth birthday party and proudly announced when I turned fifty. I think lately it’s been more about worrying that my younger clients and my students won’t think I’m “cool” or “hip” or have anything relevant to share with them. And I think it also has a lot to do with the aging process itself and that my body has changed, along with my energy level. There are lines on my face and bumps on my body where at one time there were none. And also that socio-culturally, women in their sixties and beyond seem invisible (unless you’re Hillary Clinton or Diane Keaton). So it dawned on me, as I’ve been writing recent articles about self-acceptance, that I’d better examine my own feelings.

In a recent article in Psychology Today, “The Path to Unconditional Self-Acceptance”, Leon F. Seltzer, PhD notes that often self-acceptance and self-esteem are used interchangeably and explains the important difference between them. He says, “ Whereas self-esteem refers specifically to how valuable, or worthwhile, we see ourselves, self-acceptance alludes to a far more global affirmation of self. When we’re self-accepting, we’re able to embrace all facets of ourselves – not just the “esteemable” parts. As such, self-acceptance is unconditional, free of any qualifications. We can recognize our weaknesses, limitations, and foibles, but this awareness in no way interferes with our ability to fully accept ourselves”.

Wow! What a concept! To be able to look at ourselves honestly, warts and all, while glorying in our gifts and talents. To be able to accept our bodies, our aging selves, our humanness, without making a full-time job of striving for unattainable perfection.

Dr. Seltzer goes on to say that our ability to be self-accepting stems from our parents’ ability (or inability) to communicate our okayness, beginning when we were newborns through age eight. No, this is not a blame the mother/ father indictment, but simply an acknowledgment that our ambivalent or negative feelings about ourselves often come from sources outside ourselves. What did we see reflected back to us when we gazed into the eyes of our parents when we were babies? What did they communicate about our being totally and unconditionally lovable? From my father, after eight years of trying to conceive me, I knew I was the “apple of his eye” and that of my “Bubbie”, his mother. And I knew I was smart and could do anything I set my mind to. From both of my parents, I learned that my size was unacceptable and that the way I ate, inappropriate. The verbal and nonverbal messages were clear – and both have become parts of my personal legacy.

According to Carol Muter and Jane Hirschmann, in When Women Stop Hating Their Bodies, “The power to create an environment of self-acceptance is within you” (us). We can do that by developing within ourselves the “good mommy” who loves us unconditionally, as we try and fail and try again, as we get older, as we bump up against our limitations. They also remind us that when we go on diets to become acceptable, we often gain approval for not being ourselves. What a price to pay! What a Catch-22! And what a set up for disappointment and failure!

So what’s the cure? Both Seltzer and Leshinsky would say that developing self-compassion goes a long way to growing the seeds of self-acceptance. One of the affirmations I still say is “I accept myself exactly as I am.” Notice I did not say I will only accept myself when I have lost weight, toned my inner thighs, developed patience, paid off my credit card debt. (You pick one or fill in the blank). And… self-acceptance does not mean our self- improvement journey is over. It’s actually the first step in the change process.

I love this quote from noted psychologist, Carl Rogers. “The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.” Accepting ourselves as we are is the first step in developing our full potential – and in finding self-love. So… I accept my 63-year-old self exactly as I am!

Author's Bio: 

Ilene Leshinsky is a licensed clinical social worker with over 16 years of counseling experience. In her Plattsburgh-based private practice, she works with women who desire more joy and fulfillment in their lives. Ilene’s BodySense program is open to women of all ages who want freedom from food and body obsessions and who want to develop a peaceful relationship with themselves. You can register for her Saturday Morning Master Classes on Boost Your Body Image and Mothers and Daughters and Eating by going to her website. Ilene can be reached at 518-570-6164, ilene@primelink1.net; or www.ileneleshinsky.com.