My Conversation with an Opinionated (& Wise) Old Lady at the Pool

In Experiences, Quotations, Thoughts on January 25, 2011 at 1:10 pm

When you’re squeezing yourself into a speedo you tend to discover parts of your body you didn’t know you disliked five minutes ago.

I had just finished tucking my body into the black spandex one piece suit I’d purchased earlier that day (By the way, those things are way too expensive for how unflattering they are!) when an elderly woman a few lockers away began to speak. Her voice was darling and had a thick accent (was it Dutch?).

“You have beautiful color,” she stated with a smile as she motioned to my legs.

“She can’t be serious,” I thought, but there’s something to be said about children and mature adults; they rarely lie to you about what they think (maybe what they’ve done, but not what they think). “Thank you,” I managed and politely made eye contact.

“You don’t…” she paused as she fumbled for her words, presumably trying to translate her thoughts into English, “… you don’t use those tan beds, do you?”

I smiled secretly thanking her for knowing exactly what to say to subside my discomfort and momentarily boost my self-confidence. “No, I don’t,” I half-lied (reasoning with myself that it doesn’t count when you can’t remember the last time you were in one) and then continued, “My family is Portuguese, so we’re just this color.” There was no pride in my statement, it was simply a polite, factual (okay, semi-factual) response to her inquiry.

“That’s good,” she interjected (It’s good that I’m Portuguese?), “because those tan beds are bad and you can get cancer.” (Ahhh… it’s good that I don’t tan.) As if knowing I probably hadn’t fully believed her the first time she said it again for good measure, “Beautiful color.”

I turned the corner and smiled to myself, casually sauntering toward the pool sporting a speedo with new found confidence.

What had changed? What did I have to be confident over in this moment that I didn’t have five minutes before I met this woman? Nothing. I found myself struck by the thought that perhaps confidence was attainable after all. I mean, here I am working out trying to change my body and gain confidence and she’s sitting there completely confident in her speedo swimsuit, at least 40 years older than myself, honestly probably wondering why I look so distressed at my 25-year-old reflection in the mirror.

My epiphany was simple: perhaps we look for confidence in the wrong places. After all, if confidence could only be found in the attainment of an ideal body, then not only would we be grasping at straws but there would come the day when gravity rips our confidence out from underneath us. This isn’t to say we shouldn’t work out, treat our bodies well and try to be the best person we can, but perhaps our five minute warm-up would be best spent reminding ourselves of the reasons we’re lucky, the reasons we’re loved, the parts of ourselves others like and we should too. Why was I not looking in that mirror thanking God that I’m tanner naturally than the average Oregonian after a week of sleeping at the tanning salon? Why was I focused on the way the swimsuit cut into my butt instead of being thankful I have a butt? I think the old lady in the locker room would argue that what we see in the mirror is rarely a reflection of our physical self, but rather a reflection of what we think of ourselves.

Seriously, the wisdom elderly people have to impart upon us is amazing… if only we take the time to listen.


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