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 with pride.
She informed me she has decided to embrace the menopause belly. A brave choice in a society that chooses to celebrate youth and beauty over experience and wisdom, and one of the reasons many women struggle to adapt to the mental and physical changes caused by menopause.
I don’t mean the well-documented changes, necessarily, like hot flushes and brain fog, I’m talking about the symptoms that not even women are comfortable discussing until they’re halfway down a bottle of Chardonnay and someone admits the incontinence word.
I thought hot flushes were bad, until menopause attacked my digestive system
In spite of a healthy diet, there was a period when I could have powered myself to work such was the flatulence caused by certain foods in my diet that I’d eaten previously 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 with my meno-pot.
Despite eating less, dosing up on turmeric and exercising like Jane Fonda on Speed, there are many days during the month when my belly looks like I’m five-months pregnant
I understand that our metabolism slows down in middle age – although, recent scientific research suggests that increased weight gain is more linked to the reduction in our activity patterns rather than our need of more chocolate. 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.”
Fortunately for me, Facebook reminds me daily about my problem area with its clever promotions of the latest pills and exercises to combat bloating on my homepage. And yet, despite trying pretty much everything to tighten up those loose folds of skin left by two pregnancies – short of a tummy tuck – nothing gives.
Why do I care so much?
If I’m honest, I don’t really. But the media tells me I should care. Apparently, women are supposed to have flat stomachs, even though most men my age walk around proudly with bellies the size of small beer kegs, and the average woman’s clothing size in Australia is a size 16.
Last Christmas, I experienced that type of gender inequality firsthand at a drinks party when I bumped into a male friend I hadn’t seen in a while. He greeted me with the words, ‘You’re looking nice and slim, Lou.”
I’m still not certain if the implication of his words was that I was a bit porky the previous time we met, or if I was finally meeting the society’s expectation that women be slim, but I suspect he thought he was being polite. Whatever his reasons, 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
I’ve decided that instead of sacrificing the last chapter of my life to the knife, diet portions, or the gym to get back into my size 12 jeans, I will be a bit more circumspect about my priorities.
I will carry on eating good food and drinking good wine with good people
I don’t need to fit into a bikini EVER again. If I’m being honest, I quite enjoy my middle-aged invisibility at the pub and 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.
Admittedly, if I woke up tomorrow morning with a flat stomach, I don’t think I would demand the old one back, but my belly is a visual representation of my age, my ability to create two beautiful humans, and every middle-aged woman’s right to be what the fuck she wants.