Fabulous Fifties

Fabulous Fifties

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Say Hello to a Better Body!

Fabulous Fifties

The sound of bagpipes carried me along as I weaved and bobbed my way through the crowds lining Fifth Avenue. St. Patrick’s Day can be blustery cold in Manhattan but that year the Irish and nearly Irish of New York were blessed with sunshine and crystalline blue skies. It was a glorious day as I raced to meet friends for drinks. Suddenly I was stopped by an attractive, well-dressed woman.

“Excuse me. Would you be interested in going to an open casting call for L’Occitane?”

Oh sure, like I’m gullible enough to fall for that line. What’s she selling?

“A casting call? For what?” I asked.

“L’Occitane,” she said proudly, as if I should know the name.

“Sorry, never heard of it. I’m sort of in a hurry.”

“L’Occitane,” she repeated. “We’re having an open casting call today and you have a great look. Do you have an agent?”

A great look? Who, me?

“Never heard of it but you’re so sweet to ask,” I said. “I really have to go. I’m only in New York for a few days and fly home tomorrow. But please tell me the name of the company one more time so that I can tell my daughters when I get home. They’ll be so impressed.”

As I continued my race to meet my friends, I wondered if she could possibly have been serious. Had I really just been “discovered,” like in the movies? Wait until everyone back home in Colorado heard. Had I really come that far in ten short weeks?

It was early January when I had hit bottom, thoroughly disgusted by how much weight I had gained over the past decade. The weight had crept on slowly, steadily, a pound or two at a time, until nothing in my closet fit. Dressing to go out that Saturday night had turned into a demoralizing series of wardrobe changes, flinging clothes in all directions, trying to find an outfit to hide the dumpy, frumpy fifty-six-year-old woman I had become.

How had this happened? I was of the generation that had pledged to stay forever young. I had spent a good deal of the 1970s braless in halter tops. Now I was wondering where I might buy a girdle. The woman in my mirror was not even close to the woman in my head. One of those images needed to change and I much preferred the one in my head. That night, as I pulled on baggy pants with an elastic waist, topping it off with a shapeless sweater to hide the back fat, I resolved to make some changes. Big changes. Finally. No excuses.

The first step was Weight Watchers. I had used Weight Watchers years ago to lose my post-baby fat. Unfortunately, menopause and the stress of raising teenagers had taken its toll and I had slip-slided my way back to my old, self-destructive eating habits. I found a friend who also wanted to lose weight and we became weight-loss buddies, cheering each other’s successes at our weekly weigh-ins.

I wanted to lose at least twenty-five pounds but that seemed overwhelming. Instead, I focused on just one pound at a time. As long as I lost even half a pound each week, I felt like a success. Nothing succeeds like success. As I lost one or two pounds each week, it became easier to make good choices. I learned that it didn’t matter how much I ate but what I ate. Radishes — crisp, spicy and filling — became my favorite snack food. I couldn’t live without bread but if I chose whole grain bread with sunflower seeds rather than the white bread I was raised on, I used fewer points and felt full longer. I could choose when and how to splurge, so no food became permanently off limits. I could skip the candy bar on Tuesday, choosing instead to save my bonus points for popcorn and Pepsi at the movies on Saturday. After a week of healthy eating, I felt entitled to lick butter and salt off my fingers in a darkened theater on a Saturday afternoon. After a few weeks of healthy eating, I noticed that I felt better when making good choices and that sugary snacks were not worth the sugar crash that always followed.

The other piece of the puzzle was exercise. Over the years, I had tried them all. Jazzercise hurt my knees. Pilates hurt my shoulder. Zumba left me wishing I could trade some of my German/Irish heritage for even a drop of Latin blood. Cycling made me sweat. I hate to sweat.

I decided to try aqua fitness. You don’t sweat when you’re in the pool. The buoyancy of the water allows you to jump without any injury to your joints. My local rec center offered aqua fitness classes two mornings a week. I could tolerate anything two mornings a week.

My first encounter with the aqua fitness class won me over. At fifty-six, I was the youngest in the class. Not one Lycra-clad firm body to be seen. The class consisted of women in their sixties, seventies, and eighties. Some had arthritis. Others were recovering from joint replacements. I felt young in their company and couldn’t imagine how the class could be very challenging. I was in for a surprise.

Our instructor really knew her stuff, pushing us through exercises that worked every muscle group, every body part. We worked at our own pace, some faster than others. But when I checked my pulse and found it to be 160, I knew I was burning calories. When I returned home an hour later and was too tired to get out of the car, I knew that I had found my ideal workout. I could hop, skip and jump without hurting my knees. I could push myself to my peak endurance without breaking a sweat. And I was surrounded by women twenty years my senior, showing me that age is no excuse to sit on the couch and watch the world go by. I saw my future and it looked to be darn fun.

Between the changes to my diet and regular exercise, the pounds started coming off and I lost thirty-five pounds. I re-discovered my cheekbones and wrists. Friends, and even their husbands, started to comment on the change in me. I decided to take a chance and see if the woman from L’Occitane was right about my “look.” I signed with an agent in Denver for the occasional modeling job calling for a white-haired woman.

That’s how I came to be standing here, backstage at a fashion show at a local department store. They needed an assortment of models and I was selected as their mature model. Had I ever done anything like this before? Gosh no. I had to do an Internet search to find clips of runway walks and turns. I practiced walking and turning in heels all week. Was I scared beyond words? You betcha. But there’s a first time for everything. And you never know what you can do until you try.

~ Carol Britt Bryant ~

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