body image · fitness

Lizards loving their bellies, and you can love yours too

It’s summer, season of belly baring and angst about bodies. Lately I’ve been wondering about why we, and I’m including myself here, care so much about the way our middles look.

See Why do women strive for abdominal perfection?

I care about abdominal strength. I’ve taken up small boat sailing and doing some hiking. But visible abs? Why can’t we love our bellies as they are?

I’ve had three kids and it shows. I’d like to think about my belly the way I think about these lizard bellies. Cute!

See also:

Free the bellies

Middle age bellies, body acceptance and menopause

Belly patrolling

body image · Guest Post

Free the bellies! (Guest post)

So I am just back from vacationing in Cuba (I know, there are worst things to do in April). And I did it! I bought 3 bikinis and actually packed them and wore them to the beach. My tankinis tried to come along. They were calling me from the closet where they are stored with an old one piece. They were trying to convince me I was making a mistake. I stood fast and refused to take them. What a great decision! This April I freed my belly!

Last summer Natalie published a really inspiring post on her bikini body. I commented back then that I was going to do the same for my next vacation. I failed at that because I went to Mexico in December and wore my tankinis. I convinced myself that I had lacked time to go bikini shopping. My options are limited to a specialty store because of my size which is not catered by regular stores so it is not like it would have taken me days to visit all the stores and choose from, oh so many options! So even though I told myself a tale of lacking time I really simply chickened out. Why? Body image issues!

The last time I exposed my belly in public was some 25 years ago. I enjoyed my day at the beach wearing my two piece and then pictures came. Those were the days when you actually had to take the roll to the pharmacy for processing and pay .99 cents for an extra set of your 24 pictures. So one week later, when I saw the pictures of myself enjoying myself in the water and with family I was unhappy with how I looked. Why? I did not look like a model wearing a two piece (who does? models do). The comment of my then spouse that maybe I was too old now to wear a bikini sank in and confirmed that as of then I was going to embrace one piece suits (another of many reasons why that person is an “ex” now). From then on I only wore those or sometimes even shorts and a t-shirt, perhaps even a long-sleeved t-shirt.

Never mind that I had had great fun that day wearing my bikini at the beach and that I am smiling and laughing on all pictures (I just looked at them again and I truly look like I was having a lot of fun). But the body issues took over and tainted the memories of that day and the perception of the pictures and the body on display. Reading Natalieh’s post last summer I went back to the pics and thought: heck (actually it was more something like: screw this bullshit!). I chickened out in December and regretted that. So this time, one week before leaving, I went to the store and bought myself what I needed and resisted my inner narrative that my body is not to be exposed.

That first day, I put on my favourite of the 3 to help myself. It also helped that I recently got a great ribcage tattoo that I want the world to see (I had actually shown my belly to many more people since I got it than I did in the last 25 years just to show off the tattoo!). I put on my beach cover up and went to the beach. And then there was that great, frightening but mostly great, moment of taking the cover up off. What I felt? Great! I felt free!

Freeing my belly also felt like freeing my mind. The feeling of wind and water caressing my belly skin was fantastic. I am never going back! Screw the tankinis and my one piece with them. Screw narratives that say bikinis are for the young, thin, and flawless. I am strong and healthy but not thin and flawless and that is perfectly alright! I never felt as sexy as embracing that. Not that that was the goal but rather a surprising outcome, surprising to me anyways.

So please, if you have not done so yet, free your belly! You will feel great in so many ways! And thanks again Natalieh for your great post that triggered this.

This is my fave red number. I am not in it because I suck at selfies and was by myself so no trusted photographer available.

PS: Don’t be surprised if you find me wearing my bikini top with my shorts working in my summer office when we experience Southern Ontario heat this summer. Once you have freed a belly, it remains free!

aging · body image · diets · eating · fat

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.