Middle age bellies, body acceptance, and menopause

As a result of the blog and our posts about body acceptance lots of friends have been sharing with me their thoughts about women’s bodies, shame, aging, all sorts of interesting stuff. Given the range of fitness activities I do–CrossFit, rowing, cycling, Aikido–I hang with some amazingly fit, strong, confident women.

It’s interesting to hear them chat about their bodies changing with age. They’re a very fit bunch, aging athletes all, and they have a lot of respect for what their bodies can do. Mostly I’d say their attitudes about their bodies and appearance are better and healthier than those of the less active women I know.  But the one thing that universally seems to irritate  is the change in the distribution of body fat that comes with age, with menopause to be precise. All of sudden, wham, everyone has a belly and no one likes it!

We all know that the changes in hormones associated with menopause leads to change in fat distribution. Lower estrogen levels post menopause move fat storage from hips and thighs to the midsection. And it’s the chubby bellies that bug people who’ve been on the thin side for most of their adult lives.

Here’s a recent piece, May 2013, from the Star Tribune on the science of it:

“A groundbreaking study, co-authored by the Mayo Clinic, has determined why fat storage shifts from a woman’s hips and thighs to the abdomen after menopause: Proteins, revved up by the estrogen drop, cause fat cells to store more fat. The study also revealed a double whammy: These cellular changes also slow down fat-burning by the body.Even though the research doesn’t provide weight-loss solutions, it may bring a sense of relief to millions of middle-aged women who have been fighting an often losing battle against the dreaded “post-meno belly.””

If the research doesn’t provide solutions, why might it be thought to provide relief? There’s a principle in ethics that’s relevant here–ought implies can. Blackwell’s dictionary in Western philosophy puts the principle this way: A formula in Kant ‘s ethics, meaning that correctly judging that a given agent is morally obliged to perform a certain action logically presupposes that the agent can perform it.

So there’s no point in saying you ought to get rid of your belly fat, if you can’t do that. You can aim to be at a healthy weight but beyond that there is little you can do about where the fat our bodies have chooses to hang out. That’s largely the fault of hormones and hereditary. (Newsflash: Spot Reduction/Spot Training Does NOT Work.) So the best you can do is learn to love your new body and treat it well. (Love is a better motivator than hate)

What works for acceptance? Look at your body and the bodies of other women lovingly. Look at imagery of sexy women with larger bellies. (Belly dancing and burlesque for example.) Shift your focus from sexy young bodies to the bodies of those older than you. And for God’s sake, please give up on the goal of visible abs. Down that path leads misery.  Watch Go Kaleo on visible abs.

Interestingly, Amber from Go Kaleo, is like me naturally gaining weight in the legs, thighs, hips and lean through the middle. It’s how I can weigh significantly more than the normal weight for my height and still wear clothes in the usual range of sizes. I gather that will change as I age and I’m hoping I cope well. Life is all about change. It’s either that, or death, I remind myself with my philosopher’s hat on.

About Sam B

Philosopher, feminist, parent, and cyclist!

10 thoughts on “Middle age bellies, body acceptance, and menopause

  1. Gingerzingi says:

    I’ve always tended to have the big belly, so I’m totally screwed! LOL, maybe I’ll do things in reverse and start losing belly fat after menopause. We’ll just say that’s my plan.

  2. Karin says:

    This is so helpful, thank you. I am just gonna stop thinking about my waistline, at least its proportion to everything else. I think I have been in denial about how much I have been secretly demoralized by the menopausal changes in my body shape. (What a sentence.) This blog is really helping me focus on what really matters. Also having this post come out the same day you shared the link “I Am Overweight” by gokaleo is a huge combination for me. Also thanks for your previous posts about BMI. My physician has been telling me for the last few years that I am a rockstar, but the printouts from my physicals still say I am obese. From reading this blog, I am learning what to pay attention to and what is meaningful. I just started reading the book on intuitive eating, and because I am paying more attention to what my body wants, I am drinking less beer (lol).

  3. […] Middle aged bellies, body acceptance, and menopause […]

  4. […] Body acceptance is a theme that has run through some of Sam’s posts and certainly I have strived to love the body I’ve got as I know I make better decisions for me when I feel good about myself. I recognize my privilege in even having body image issues. That it’s a big deal for me means I have enough money, food, shelter and love to have time to gaze at my navel. I want to tell you about a journey that lead me to having boudoir photos taken and it starts with a plastic guitar. […]

  5. […] my post on middle-age, bellies, and body acceptance, I noted that changing shapes and weight gain around the waist seems to take a harder toll on the […]

  6. Loved this article, have several friends & clients whom I’ve said the same thing to about their bodies once in menopause.

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