When I get up in the morning and head to the bathroom to begin my daily ablutions, I’ve noticed more of those little vertical wrinkles appearing over my top lip in recent weeks. Okay, who are we kidding? In recent months. You know, those cracks and crevices that your lipstick bleeds into so you begin to resemble the Joker in Batman. So you just wear lip gloss hoping it will camouflage the cracks? Yeah, those cracks.

Unfortunately I can’t use lip gloss to cover up the rivulets in my skin that run along my decolletage. That just requires denial, or a turtleneck. 

Sometimes I go in for a closer look. I even use the small mirror with five times magnification to help my deteriorating eyesight see what I really don’t want to see.

I notice a few more white hairs sprouting from my temples when I pull my hair back in a ponytail. Although it really isn’t white. It’s simply devoid of any colour. I pulled one hair out to examine it more closely and noticed it was clear. No pigment whatsoever. There is even a stripe of hair that stealthily hides near the crown of my head and appears to be dull and not the bright, brassy red that it once was. I’m fairly certain it’s destined to join the other hairs that have given up their colour. A friend of mine aptly refers to this stripe as her trauma streak. 

Once I’m finished with the close ups, I swing around to take in my visage in the floor to ceiling closet mirrors. I look at myself straight on, assessing what I see before me. Then I turn sideways and gaze at my profile, standing tall, sucking in my belly so I can see a faint outline of my ribs, holding up my breasts remembering a bygone era. “Is this mirror a true reflection of my physique?” I wonder.

I wander over to another mirror, the one on my dresser, and do the same thing trying to see if my reflection is the same or if one is better than the other.

I look down at my stomach. I can see the skin beneath my belly button, slightly slack, like an elastic that’s lost it’s snap. I know exactly how and when that happened. The three boys responsible for this are fast asleep down the hall in their beds.

I contemplate stepping on to the scale to see if the needle has moved down, even a smidge, since I weighed myself this time 24 hours ago. Nah, I think I’ll take a pass today.

I turn away from the mirrors, wrap up my daily dissection and throw on some clothes. A pair of super, stretchy skinny jeans and a loose fitting tee-shirt do the job.

For me, those cracks or wrinkles or white hairs don’t exist when I’m not looking in the mirror. When I go about my daily business my skin is as supple and as taut and dewy as a 22-year-old’s. My body is pert and perky with firm yet silky smooth curves.  

The daily dissection of my appearance doesn’t stop me from slicing myself a piece of cake for dessert.

Sure, I could be more disciplined about my diet and exercise regimen, but what for? I did that already. Once upon a time I was a competitive athlete. Training and diet ruled my every day as a pre-teen and teenager. I remember steeling myself for “weigh in days” every week, hoping I had kept my weight in check with my coach’s expectations. There were no cheat days, and definitely no slices of chocolate cake. For some of my teammates this led to self-destructive behaviour and even eating disorders. For me, it was an inconvenience that I learned to live with. It was worth the price of admission if it meant travelling the world and representing my country at international competitions.

While the cumulative effect of my training and competition days likely had some negative impact on my body image, it never developed into full-blown obsession as it has for other women who didn’t even have the kind of high performance sport experience I had.

If anything, it has created unrealistic expectations. After twenty-five years I think I should still be able to effortlessly do twenty chin ups, run ten laps around the track and then fall into the splits. I can’t understand why I don’t have eighteen percent body fat, a washboard stomach and that gorgeous definition in my arms where my deltoids meet my biceps. And yet I know exactly why I don’t have that magazine quality body.

So many women–myself included–hold ourselves up to the aspirational. The Jillian Michaels of the world who make fitness look effortless. The “Just do this every day and you too can look like me” is the stuff of marketers’ dreams. Women buy into this hook, line and sinker.

Sure, that body can be yours too, if you’re willing to pay the price.

Follow that exercise regimen religiously. Food is purely fuel, a means to an end, no longer consumed for pleasure.

This is not the life I wish to live. I did this when I was fifteen years old. I didn’t much like it then so I can’t imagine I’d much like it now.

These days the difference between exercising five times a week versus the three times a week I currently maintain seems negligible. I’m not planning on entering any competitions. 

Exercise is as much about my mental health as it is about my physique. An evening jog or a twenty minute yoga sesh before bed is often the remedy to clearing the clutter that takes up space in my head.

I acknowledge I have a sweet tooth and indulge it when the mood moves me, but all those years of training made me develop good nutritional habits out of necessity. I know that eating for pleasure can go hand in hand with making healthy choices. The days I decide to grab a burger, fries and milkshake with my kids are as much of a choice as the days I roast vegetables and poach fish for a family dinner.

Sometimes I catch myself comparing my body to those of other women, which I think is only natural. I’ll be at the beach in my one-piece and gaze over at some bronzed goddess in her barely there bikini with envy. As quickly as the envy entered my mind it leaves and I am back to slathering my kids with sunscreen and taking comfort in the knowledge that one day she too may enjoy the company of her children.

I know I won’t stop dissecting my appearance in the mirror, but I remember the sage advice my coach gave to my teammates and me many years ago; “your greatest competition is yourself.”  I still believe that, but these days it’s more about acceptance of what I am than trying to cheat nature and achieve what could be.