Embracing The Menopause Belly

I caught up with an old friend recently, and when the conversation turned to the inevitable topic of menopause and weight gain, I was surprised to see her stroke and flaunt her belly proudly in my direction.

When she told me she’s decided to embrace her menopause belly, I couldn’t help thinking how brave she is, in a society that celebrates youth and beauty over experience and wisdom — the reason many of us take some time to adapt to the physical and mental changes caused by menopause.

And I’m not talking necessarily about the well-documented symptoms, such as hot flushes and brain fog. I mean the changes not even women are comfortable discussing until they find ourselves halfway down a bottle of Chardonnay and someone admits they’re incontinent. Not to mention the increase in facial hair, the decrease in libido, the thinning of the hair on our head, joint pain, and for some of us, the impact on our digestive system.

I thought hot flushes during meetings were bad, until menopause decided to attack my digestive system

In spite of a healthy diet, there was a period when I could have powered myself to work such was the intense reaction of my intestines to certain foods I’d previously eaten without any problem. Fortunately, I managed to reduce my extra emissions with a switch to a Low-FODMAP diet, but I haven’t been quite as lucky solving my meno-pot.

In spite of eating less, dosing up on turmeric, and exercising like Jane Fonda on Speed, my belly still looks like a five-month gestation

I understand our metabolism slows down in middle age — although, recent scientific research suggests that increased weight gain has more to do with a reduction in our activity patterns rather than chocolate, because, as Erin Brodwin points out in an article she wrote about the problem, “As we age, we also get less active while sticking to roughly the same diet.”

And I’m also fortunate that Facebook reminds me daily about my problem area with its clever promotions of the latest pills and exercises to combat bloating. And yet, in spite of trying just about every recommendation for tighten up those loose folds of skin left by two pregnancies — short of a tummy tuck — nothing gives.

Why do I care so much, I hear you ask?

Well, if I’m honest, I care because the media tells me I should care. Apparently, women are expected to have a flat stomach — even though the majority of men my age walk proudly around with bellies the size of small beer kegs, and the average woman’s clothing size in Australia is a size 16.

And the pressure to have the perfect body, and the reason so many women struggle with body image issues became even more apparent when I searched for an image of what I would describe as a “mummy tummy” for this post and came away empty-handed.

Last Christmas, I experienced this type of gender inequality firsthand when we caught up with friends at a drinks party and I was greeted by a male friend with, ‘You’re looking nice and slim, Lou.”

I’m still not certain if implication in his words was that I was a bit porky the previous time we met, or if I was finally meeting expectation, but I suspect he thought he was being polite. Whatever his reasons for the comment, I can’t imagine ever greeting a man like that.

But life’s too short for crunches, pills that make you constipated, and wearing Spanx each time you want to wear a dress

And, fortunately, one of the benefits of ageing is the wisdom that comes with it, which ensures we appreciate the privilege of wrinkles. And so, instead of sacrificing the last chapter of my life to the knife or the gym to get back into my size 12 jeans, I choose to be a bit more circumspect about my priorities.

I choose to carry on eating good food and drinking good wine with good people

I don’t need to fit into a bikini again. EVER. I am actually really enjoying my middle-aged invisibility at the pub and on the beach. And I’m grateful for the extra time (I used to waste on the most minimal amount of pampering) to keep challenging my degenerating brain.

That’s not to say if I woke up one morning with a flat stomach I’d demand the old one back. But there’s an old quote about controlling the things you can control, and that’s where I’ve drawn the line with my belly. Like my friend, I’ve decided to embrace its wholesomeness in celebration of my age and maturity, its awesomeness in nurturing my two babies, and its visual presentation of a middle-aged woman’s right to be who the fuck she wants to be.

Photo by Monika Kozub on Unsplash

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