If you’re like most people, you may be ashamed of your body, or perhaps just parts of it. This is a long-standing habit for many of us, starting perhaps with our first zits in adolescence or maybe much younger. We weren’t as tall or strong or fast or pretty as other children. Maybe we even had freckles, red hair or a funny nose.

It doesn’t matter much what the real or perceived defect was we held, and maybe to this day, still hold secret shame that we’re not perfect. In a world of supermodels and buffed actors, often surgically, chemically, hormonally enhanced, or anorexic, it seems the average Joe or Joann can’t really match up.

Once past painful adolescence, suffering the indignity of not being the prom queen or football star, we may have entered our 20s in as likely a healthy state as we would ever be in again, but still uncertain of our attractiveness to a mate or friends. By the time we are “30ish,” we may have developed baby bellies, beer bellies, or middle-aged spread.

Despite the workouts, diets, and Sisyphean attempts to roll back the stone of time and age, we enter older adulthood, by and large, with unresolved and perhaps increasing neuroses about folds, flaps, fat, imperfect bosoms, bottoms, and bellies. And what about that skin? Like an old tree whose bark keeps getting thicker and hornier, we develop wrinkles, creases, spots, blotches, bruising, discolorations, varicose veins, hemorrhoids, gnarly toenails, hair loss … the whole catastrophe.

We just returned from a cross Atlantic cruise on which the vast majority of our fellow passengers were like us, ahem, mature adults. While spry enough to make a cruise, many had assistive aids for walking, and unlike the hard-bodied bikini and Speedo crowds on the usual Caribbean cruise, the tides of time had clearly marked their bodies with its high and low water marks.

Surprisingly, our fellow passengers seemed to accept and be cheerfully unconscious of their perfect imperfections in the dining rooms, around the pool, the spa, and the fitness center. They didn’t seem ashamed really, just accepting, by and large, of the que será, será.

Perhaps as older souls, they’ve come to a new relationship with themselves and their bodies. Or maybe they have gotten better at suppressing, denying or just coping with what used to be the shame of being less than perfect. Mainly though, it seemed more like mindful self-acceptance. A good thing.

And while a healthy body often looks better and lasts longer, aging inevitably comes, unless we die young. The sooner we can recognize and enjoy the happiness of being spiritual beings within a physical sheath of skin and bone rather than identifying ourselves as bodies, the more likely we are to enjoy the tides of time.

Gorgeous, magnificent and sublime are words that should be used as frequently as possible between you and your mirror. Hubba, Hubba is good too. And please never forget to smile. — A Beginner’s Guide to the Universe

Dr. Victor S. Sierpina is the WD and Laura Nell Nicholson Family Professor of Integrative Medicine and Professor of Family Medicine at UTMB.

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