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This month, I turn 40 . . . an age I clearly remember thinking was so old when my parents reached it in my teen years. Blink, and now I’m the one who has two preteen daughters and is about to hit this milestone. If you follow me on Instagram, you might know that #slowdowntime is one of my go-to hashtags — and it rings true here.

Over the last several months, I’ve been reflecting on my life up to this point, where I want to go next, and how I want to mark this step into the next decade. The obvious birthday events are on the calendar — taking the day off work and celebrating with family and friends — but I also decided to do a few things that have been on my wish list for a while.

One of those things was to work with a personal stylist to discover the colors, styles, and shapes that best complement my features and body type. I’d managed to navigate a professional environment and various media opportunities without a stylist’s help for 15-plus years, but my recent foray into video/audio podcasting made me realize I could be making some more flattering choices. (If you haven’t checked out the Life Time Talks podcast yet, you can find all the episodes here.)

So, this past spring, as an early 40th-birthday gift to myself, I hired a stylist, with a few goals:

(1) incorporate more color into my wardrobe;
(2) learn about the styles that work with my body shape;
(3) get comfortable being a bit bolder with my clothing choices; and
(4) invest in a few foundational pieces that will go the distance.

I figured this would be a largely aesthetic endeavor — and I initially felt pretty self-conscious about the investment. But as I moved through the process, I realized I was getting more out of the experience than I’d expected.

It turned out to be a much-needed wake-up call around my body mis­perception. I’ve always had a more athletic build, and yet I’ve constantly strived to look and dress like the tall, lean women I see in so many images across the media landscape. Even after nearly two decades of working for a whole-life health-and-fitness magazine that aims to feature a diverse group of people of various body shapes and sizes, I was still pursuing an idealized physique.

I’ve learned that my shape, in fact, is rectangle in combination with pear — not the inverted triangle that I’d been chasing. I have broad shoulders, wide hips, and little waist definition. You’d think after living in this body for nearly 40 years I would have known and accepted these features. Except I didn’t and I hadn’t. I continued to fight them, consciously and unconsciously.

Working with my stylist helped me realize I was ready to face reality. I was ready to finally and fully embrace my actual body instead of resenting that it wasn’t what I imagined it could be — to break free from the desire for culturally influenced aesthetics and instead build on the assets I have always had.

It’s been a game-changing experience for me, much like when I first discovered how much I love strength training. I feel more confident, more positive, more hopeful. For the first time in a long time — maybe even since I was a kid — I feel free in this body that’s my home.

This experience turned out to be one of the best birthday presents I could’ve given myself; I only wish I’d done it sooner.

But that’s what life is all about: Live and learn (the theme of this issue) and, hopefully, grow. Cheers!

Jamie Martin, Experience Life
Jamie Martin

Jamie Martin is Experience Life’s editor in chief, Life Time’s vice president of content strategy, and cohost of the Life Time Talks podcast. Follow her on Instagram @jamiemartinel.

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