This topic holds so much meat—no, not my belly, but my relationship with same. I’m 52 and, like most menopausal women, my belly is swelly. My body has taking on the shape of a kidney bean as my belly reaches ever more insistently for the wall in front of me. When I catch sight of my reflection in lax moments, my belly looks like one of those fruitful domes you see on medieval Madonnas—not the look I’m aiming for.
And yet, when I look around me, I see round bellies on almost all the older women. Being a regular gym-goer, I see lots of naked mature ladies, and most are thicker in the middle than the younger women are; even those over-50s who have excellent muscle tone and trim, firm behinds are a bit thick in the middle. (And those few older women who’ve maintained a slim waist show the effect of gravity in other areas—no one escapes unscathed.) This fullness in the middle seems to be the shape we take on as we age. So why do we beat ourselves up about it?
Perhaps because it’s not sexy. Says who? Well, scientific studies that tell us the exact waist-to-hip ratio that stirs men’s loins, no matter how old they may be. According to a 2001 study, men in Western countries prefer women with a waist-to-hip ratio of 0.7. (Mine is 0.5229, for the record.)
More magazine, which has lots of good content that I enjoy, relentlessly pushes the idea that we older women must fight against the appearance of age with all means necessary: needles, scalpels, burning chemical peels, rigid diets, punishing work-out routines. Where’s the fun in that? Where’s the embracing of our sexy, wise womanhood? After all, the swelling belly of middle age is usually accompanied by swelling boobs as well.
But just try to find a pair of pants cut for a kidney-bean-shaped, middle-aged figure like mine. You will, in the granny department: baggy stretch pants of double-knit with gathered elastic waistbands. Ugh! Just putting a pair on ages you a whole generation. And what do More mag and her sisters advocate? Spanx! Squish your guts with uncomfortable, confining girdles. Way to accept your body and age gracefully. You go, girls!
So—each morning I search my closet for something that doesn’t pinch and doesn’t make me look like I’m smuggling a watermelon under my shirt. Self-acceptance, good humor, and self-loathing duke it out in front of the mirror every day. My inner drill sergeant plans out my day: exercise routine, diet meals, no alcohol, early to bed, early to rise for more exercise, etc. “Eins, Zwei, Drei! Und vee iss marchink now!”
The endless battle between the pleasures of the flesh and the pleasure of having less flesh—when does self-denial cease to be worth it? I guess if I do plenty of exercise and choose my clothing carefully, I can be a lush, slightly tummified middle-aged mama. That’s a good goal: accept my basic shape, do my best to stay trim and fit with exercise that’s fun, and enjoy life, because life’s too short for dinners of plain broiled fish and steamed vegetables. I want a saucy, delicious life.
And please don’t send me advice on how to banish midlife belly fat. I got it—eat less, move more. Or guzzle apple-cider vinegar. Or avoid white foods.
Here’s the thing: I’m looking for the balance point—that magical place of peace, serenity, and acceptance, of knowing that I’m taking good care of my body, and being at peace with a rounder-than-I’d-like belly. I love to exercise; I also love good food, I love good wine, and I’m not willing to live like a Puritan in order to have a flat belly. In fact, I’m pretty sure that nothing will ever flatten this belly completely. Life is about pleasure, and I want the pleasure of enjoying my life and—is it possible?—loving my round belly. You too, perhaps? If so, please share your thoughts on living the good life with a thick middle.
Singh, Devendra; Young, Robert K. (2001-06-27). “Body Weight, Waist-to-Hip Ratio, Breasts, and Hips: Role in Judgments of Female Attractiveness and Desirability for Relationships” Ethology and Sociobiology 16 (6): 483–507.