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.

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