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 her belly and proudly flaunt it in my direction.

Close up of a woman's belly

She told me she’s decided to embrace the menopause belly – a brave choice, I thought, in a society that chooses to celebrate youth and beauty over experience and wisdom, and the reason many of us struggle to adapt to the mental and physical changes caused by this stage of life.

And I’m not talking necessarily about the well-documented changes caused by menopause, such as hot flushes and brain fog. I mean the symptoms that not even women are comfortable discussing until we’re halfway down a bottle of Chardonnay and someone blurts out 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 attacked my digestive system

A short time ago, (and in spite of a healthy diet), there was a period when I could have powered myself to work, such was the intensity of my intestines’ reaction to certain foods I’d previously eaten without any problem. Fortunately, I managed to reduce my mortifying excess emissions by switching to a Low-FODMAP diet, but I haven’t been quite as lucky solving my memo-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 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, 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 around proudly with bellies the size of small beer kegs, and the average woman’s clothing size in Australia is a size 16.

And when I struggled to find an image of a “mummy tummy” for this post, it became even more apparent to me why women struggle with body image issues.

Last Christmas, I experienced this type of gender inequality firsthand at a drinks party, when a male friend of ours greeted me with, ‘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 expectation, 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

And fortunately, one of the benefits of ageing is the wisdom that comes with it, which helps us 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

Body Image Issues in Middle Age and Duckfacing

Since I hit forty, I have this tendency to pull a very peculiar pout with my mouth when anyone asks me to pose for photographs, and I end up looking like a duck.

Like this:

A Ducks Face

Fortunately (or unfortunately), I do know from where this problem emanates. You see, unlike the majority of women who have body image issues associated with their stomachs or thighs, my problem area is my chin.

It’s not like I don’t have a problem with my muffin top – it sleeps beside me on the mattress at night, and hangs appropriately over the top of my fugliest granny undies – but the difference is that I can conceal my baby belly with voluminous tops and dresses.

Whereas, other than wearing a Hijab or full-blown Burqa, it’s virtually impossible to disguise the size of my chin.

I realise that I sound as vain, vacuous and narcissistic as a Big Brother contestant, (and I admit to being all three where my chin is concerned), and I am aware that there are many people with physical disabilities and facial disfigurements out there. But we’re all allowed a self-indulgent moan occasionally about those little things about our bodies that don’t conform to society’s idea of female perfectionism and piss us off, daily.

To be honest, I got a reasonable set of legs and although the boobs are on the small side, they work. But I also inherited a tortoise neck set of chins that is so multi-layered in its complexity that there is no discerning indentation between my chin and neck.

Think Winston Churchill or Alfred Hitchcock, and you’ll get the picture.

English: Sir Winston Churchill.

So what I tend to do to distract the eye from this natural disfigurement when someone takes my photo, is one of two things.  Either I lift my head up at such a ridiculously high angle to disguise it, that I end up looking like someone has just rammed a hot poker up my ass. (And of course I can’t possibly maintain that position all day, hence, hideous fugly photos suddenly threaten me on Facebook and I look to my friends like I should be a participant on the Biggest Loser).

 Or I pull the duckface.

I have been told that the duckface does indeed draw attention away from my over-developed neck area, but unfortunately it also makes me look like I’ve been to the cheapest lip surgeon in Sydney.

Even when I lose weight, the chin remains stubbornly en masse. It is a persistent reminder of my father’s genes – and men definitely wear it better. NC has inherited the neck curse too and we have both learned that there are many things in this life that we dare not do – such as lying back in sultry poses, because our head to neck area shifts into one mass of very unattractive skin folds; or looking down.

In my defence, I CAN and DO live with this problem. But it becomes an issue in photos. I’m a ‘creative’ and I like to make a record of events and I think I take a good photo. I certainly take a lot of them. But if you looked through our online family photo album, you would think I died in childbirth. Most of the photos of me end up on the cutting room floor. When the family takes a photo of me, they take it at least ten times, muttering, ‘oh, dear!’ after each shot.

I know, just call me Dorian Grey.

I’ve wasted many hours in front of the Mac photo booth trying to get that ONE special photo that I can fake it with for the next ten years. And time is not on my side.


Make me feel better. Do you have an area of your body you hate?

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The 5:2 Dog Diet

As many of you will know, I am a fervent supporter of campaigns that demonise the objectification of women and I detest the unrelenting emphasis on women’s weight that leads to body image issues and the propaganda pertaining to the all-consuming need to be thin.

The issue of weight control has to be handled delicately, and never more so than when its side effects may be harming the health of your own children.

It has come to our attention that the Spoodle Princess is getting a bit fat porky.

 The 5:2 Dog DIet

When we returned from our most recent dysfunctional holiday, which the Princess spent at a resort in Dural (!), it was obvious that she had lost a lot of weight. You know what holidays in the sun are like? All that exercise, fresh air, tanning and ball-chasing – sometimes a girl can just forget to eat!

Then again, it might also have been because she was actually walked occasionally, or because for ten days every predatory male dog south of Sydney chased her for what we like to call, a special cuddle.

I’m not sure if it was the guilt of sending her away or the fact that her selection of designer coats was a little loose around her small frame when we returned, but the family began to compensate by overfeeding her.

Anyone who has a Hoodle (Spaniel crossed with human) knows how easy that is to do. There’s always that leftover sausage or NC’s* cooking (often only fit for Hoodle consumption) and the Princess’s favourite meal, Spaghetti Bolognaise.

Over the last week, however, we’ve noticed that she has developed some rather embarrassing love handles and is becoming harder to carry during her walks.

Upon analysis of her feeding habits, during one of our recent family therapy sessions, (and a mortifying reading on the scales), it appears that the Princess has actually been eating more than the rest of the family put together, which, when you consider that her fighting weight is 8kg, is obviously detrimental to her health.

Her level of fitness has obviously already been affected.

She no longer chases the ball like she used to, when for a few minutes of the day she would forget she is human and behave like a common dog. She struggles to jump onto the sofa to vacuum crumbs, and I am certain that I discerned a tut the other day when I suggested a walk around the block.

So I have been forced to mention the D word in the house, which is something I have tried to avoid as the mother of NC, knowing what an impact that word can have on young girls.

I have had to remind the Princess that she is in fact a DOG and porky dogs are no fun at all.

In her defence, I know that she wants to help herself. I can tell that she is uncomfortable in her pink velvet Dogue coat when the hood sits that little bit too tightly around her neck, and she is struggling to bark really threateningly at Trixie Yapface next door without pausing for breath. She takes her role as guard dog to the family very seriously, and was embarrassed to find herself breathless recently after an ill-timed dash downstairs to give the postie his daily warning to ‘fuck off’.

The old man spoke on the Princess’s behalf at the meeting and we have finally managed to persuade her to try the 5:2 diet. This diet proposes that you eat for five days and fast for two – we did need to correct the Princess’s initial assumption that this involved five meals for five days a week and two on the other days.

Weigh-ins have been a traumatic process for the whole family, but we know that we have to be strong for our girl.

The North Shore has high standards and you need to be able to wear your collection of designer coats with pride, so the other bitches stop and stare in envy rather than bark out the number for Weight Watchers.

*Nerd Child