AT the age of 57, Katherine Forsythe faced herself full-on in front of the mirror — and although she thought of herself as a “vibrant, zesty, sexy lady”, she hated what she saw.
“Staring back at me was someone I didn’t like,” she says. “There was regret, displeasure and resentment in my eyes and I thought ‘Look at that belly! And those drooping eyes!’. And I began to cry. I was ageing and I didn’t know what to do about it.”
What she did know was that she was not alone — that many mid-life women have that moment in shop fitting rooms, or when catching an unexpected glimpse of their ageing reflection in a glass window, or when undressing in front of their lover.
For her, it was compounded by the fact that she had just emerged from the break-up of her 34-year-marriage. Nevertheless, she resolved to find a way out of her “miserable despair and hopelessness”, over what she termed her “age gain” issues.
Forsythe was able to draw from the practice of her masters degree in social work — with a speciality in women’s sexuality – and on her background as a therapist, to develop a six-step guide to turn around her negative self-worth.
Friends began to notice the change: “They asked me if I had had some ‘work’ done — I told them I hadn’t, but that I had developed my own recipe for ‘anti-ageing’. It wasn’t about needles or knives, salves or supplements, food or fitness — it was about what was going on between my ears.”
Now 66, San Francisco-based Forsythe is sharing her self-help, six-step programme, in her book Exhale Midlife Body Blues: 6 Steps to Loving Your Body at Midlife and Beyond.
The ‘personal journey guide’ contains six chapters featuring ‘steps’, backed up by interactive worksheets, tips, humorous anecdotes and motivational quotations to help pull you out of your own midlife doldrums.
1. ACCEPT. Look at what you believe about what you like/dislike about your body.
2. ADJUST. Your brain believes everything you tell it. Adjust how you are talking to yourself.
3. APPRECIATE. Your body has been around all your life, through ups and downs. A little bit of applause is needed.
4. ADORN. Wear clothes that personally express you in a positive way and you will know what makes you comfortable, after following the first three steps.
5. ADMIRE. Admire your authentic self and accomplishments.
6. ALWAYS. How to keep the right thoughts for the rest of your life — choose a ‘courage key’, three words that describe you for an affirmative, direct, focused message to your brain. It must be repeated three times daily for 20 days and after that, once daily.
Forsythe provides a list of 110 words from which to choose, for the courage key. So what, are the five most common words that she has found women over 50 use? They are: confident, kind, strong, beautiful, zesty.
Having walked the walk, her tone is firm yet compassionate about facing what she terms our ‘body betrayal’. “We’re blaming our bodies for what in fact, nature is telling it to do. We don’t want to let go of the past, let alone face the frightening future of even more ‘age gain’. Exhaling means making peace with the frustrations and changes and allowing new beauty, confidence and joie d’vivre to bubble up from inside.”
New research from the Faculty of Arts at the University of Waterloo in Canada, seems to confirm her approach, finding that self-compassion is an important means towards increasing positive body image.
“There is something about a high level of acceptance and understanding of oneself that helps people not necessarily view their bodies more positively, but rather acknowledge their bodies’ imperfections and be okay with them,” said Professor Allison Kelly.
Attaining that self-acceptance can be difficult at any age, in a world obsessed with image, but Exhaling Midlife Body Blues is welcome in its humour and compassion and the author’s downright refusal to lie down and disappear
“Every woman — and man — I’ve met since publishing the book, has mentioned the same issue to me at some level: ‘I miss my younger body and I feel invisible.’ Being able to turn that around to: ‘I love my life, my whole life — the good, the bad and the ugly — right now, is critical for continued happiness.”
Exhale Midlife Body Blues: 6 Steps to Loving Your Body at Midlife and Beyond, €16.27 www.katherineforsythe.com
Are you going through the menopause and plagued by hot flushes? There are some preventative measures you can take to help ease their intensity.
1. Avoid spicy foods, hot drinks, caffeine and alcohol which all can trigger those flashes of heat.
2. Wear layers of clothes— which can be peeled off, as needed and only wear cotton, not synthetic nightclothes.
3. Continue using your lightweight summer quilt and top with light layers that can be flung off.
4. Carry a small spray bottle filled with water in your bag and give yourself a misting when the heat is on.
5. Anxiety and stress can act as triggers so take those deep breaths and if possible put aside 20 minutes daily for relaxing techniques.