Despite all the criticism I got, which was plenty, I’m still proud of that shoot. At 42, I was older than the typical Playboy fantasy woman, but the photos showed that my own years-long fantasy had become a reality. And I had made that happen.
WORKING out has remained a priority for me. It’s as natural as washing my face or brushing my teeth. My body is the house I live in, and I’ve never stopped trying to make it better. I don’t understand the common attitude that after 40, you might as well just accept that your body is going to sag and fold and expand in unflattering ways. Really? Our muscles are actually pretty democratic; if we work them, they’ll respond. I also don’t understand the attitude that who you are on the inside is all that matters. Obviously our interior landscape is profoundly important, but we are integrated beings; we don’t have to make a choice between interior and exterior. One has a lot to do with the other.
I recently turned 58. My kickboxing teacher, who has known me for almost 20 years, recently commented, sort of in passing, that my body is in better shape now than when I posed for Playboy. I heard him, but I was concentrating on my spin kicks, so I put it on the back burner of my mind. That night, I stood in front of the mirror and thought, He’s right. My muscles are leaner, longer, more defined now, and I felt again a sense of victory over the years of abuse I’d subjected myself to, and also over the huge amount of time I’d wasted on addiction. With every workout, I feel as if I’m winning back lost time.
Of course, there isn’t a gym in the universe that can completely stop the clock. Time has etched itself on my body in ways that I dislike. The texture of my skin is different; I can detect a bit of crinkliness here and there. And I’m quite upset with my elbows. If you took a close-up photo of them, you’d think, Wow, very old person. There is actually a plastic surgery procedure for tightening the skin on the elbows, but that seems a bit excessive to me, not to mention costly.
Speaking of plastic surgery, let me answer the question that inevitably comes up: I have had nothing surgical done below the neck, but I did have a face-lift at 50. And frankly, the minute something in that zone starts drooping, I’m going to have it hoisted back up. There is just no reason to not like your face in the mirror. You see it first thing in the morning, and brushing your teeth in the dark is silly.
There is another quote of Jeanette Winterson’s that I like: “What you risk reveals what you value.”
I risked everything in my teens and twenties. I risked my health and even my life. I got both back through determination and hard work. I’ve now learned to respect time as the precious commodity that it is, and I’ve learned to respect my body. I’ve learned to stand in front of the mirror and look at the strength reflected there—the hours of training, the miles of running, the years of distance between the strong woman I am now and the wasted girl I once was. We do, after all, have a relationship with ourselves in the mirror.
It’s sometimes a delicate dance for all of us. Most of the time, though, I get it right… as long as I don’t focus on my elbows.
Patti Davis is the author of eight books, including The Long Goodbye and The Lives Our Mothers Leave Us, as well as numerous magazine articles. She lives in Los Angeles.
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