‘I never expected my body image to improve with age.’

If there’s one thing this recent heatwave inspires, it’s body envy. Everywhere I turned there are perfect bodies dressed in as little as possible. There are girls and women wearing short-shorts and floaty shirts, looking amazing. Don’t even get me started on some of the beach bodies I see at Bondi. Toned, tanned, fit, healthy, gorgeous.

Then there’s me.

The last time I had a beach body, I was a teenager. Then I put on heaps of weight. I eventually lost most of it but never really got to the “bikini body” stage again. I was always a one-piece kind of girl, preferably with reinforced mid-section and adequate padding to support my gravity-loving boobs.

Author, Jo Abi.

Like most twenty-somethings, I agonised over my body. Occasionally when cleaning my house I'll come across one of my lists. I find so many of them. These lists, written approximately twice a year, each year, for the past two decades. I list all the things about myself I'd like to fix.

Not much has changed between the ages of 25 and 40. The lists have no heading. They simply begin. They look something like this:

Whiten teeth

Proper hair colour

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Lose weight

Spray tans

Tummy tuck, boob lift

Spots removed

Laser underarms, top lip, eyebrows

Cellulite

Eyelash extensions

Botox?

Chemical peel

Pretty intense list, right? Also pretty unforgiving.

In the movie Death Becomes Her, one of the funniest and disturbing scenes shows actress Madeline Ashton struggling with ageing. Article continues after this video.

You can just imagine what it did to me psychologically to even make these lists. The strange thing is that I never got much of it done, even the affordable, less-invasive items. I whitened my teeth once and that's about it. I've had two spray tans in my life. The rest of it is all me. Yellowish teeth, a little extra weight in all the wrong places, not a tan in sight, loose skin on my tummy, boobs that are saggy and a little empty, spots all over my arms, in a constant state of hair removal, cellulite, wrinkles, uneven skin tone, old acne scars...

The funny thing is that I actually don't care enough about any of it to actually "correct" it. As I've gotten older I've found that I don't want to try and be the perfect version of myself. I know that perfect doesn't exist. I'm also wise enough to know that even if I complete each of these items on this list I would still feel the same inside most of the time.

It's how I feel that I want to work on these days, not how I look.

Nobody told me that getting older could be so freeing. I feel free of wanting to be physically different, the polar opposite of what I was like as a teenager when all I wanted was blue eyes and blonde hair and lanky limbs. I look at people and appreciate things about them - their toned stomachs, their blemish-free skin, their straight hair, their white teeth - but I'm no longer left feeling inadequate next to them.

I don't feel "less than" anyone anymore. I look at those women with enviable bodies and think, "She looks good", instead of, "I wish I looked like that".

Jo with her daughter.

Sure I still make these lists but the act of making them and looking them over is healing. It's like I confront all the things I don't like about myself and release them. I feel like I'm at peace with myself most of the time at an age when so many people I know are getting so much done. I'm surrounded by nose jobs and boob lifts and chemical peels and Botox injections. The people I know who are getting these things done look great. I just can't be bothered.

I keep wondering when I'll reach an age when I do want to do more to myself and for myself. I know the day may come when I am bothered enough to make a few appointments. Until I'm just going to keep putting on the bikini with the halter top for my boobs and the high-rise bottoms for my stomach and I'm going to jump into the water and have fun, regardless of how I look.

I read recently that it's normal to feel badly about yourself but it becomes unhealthy when those feelings stop you from doing things you want to do. You decide not to leave the house because you are a couple of kilos heavier than you'd like to be and you decide not to join your kids at the beach because you don't like how you look in a swimsuit.

By the time you get to my age you've had a couple of friends die, a couple of friend's get sick, and you are just happy to be here, reasonable-looking, reasonably healthy and as happy as is possible amidst the insanity of our teched-out, insanely busy, crazed, modern lives.

I can look at Michelle Bridges' post-baby body on Instagram and instead of seeing it as a reflection of everything I am not, see it simply as who she is.

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