The concept of bodies changing throughout a lifetime really does belong under the category of No Shit, Sherlock. We all understand this logically and intellectually, and most of us probably aren’t going around saying, “I’m going to have this fantastic 27 year old body for the rest of my life!” And yet, over the years I’ve heard many women AND men bemoan their changing bodies once they start to get older. “My [belly, hips, thighs, butt, arms] are getting [bigger, wobbly, saggy, poochy] – and they NEVER used to do THAT!” To be fair, I was once included in this group of complainers that I like to call everybody.
We live in a time that is positively phobic about aging (and maybe there was never a time where this wasn’t true for women, I honestly don’t know). Women are encouraged to “fight” the “signs of age” and now even men are increasingly expected to retain the taut physique of their youth. But bodies do change over the course of a lifetime. So why are we so damn freaked out when it actually happens?
Recently a gorgeous friend of mine lamented that all her pants had become too tight and she didn’t want to buy new ones. She’s a very healthy eater and regular exerciser, but she had just turned 30, so maybe things are starting to…shift. I recalled that right around the time I turned 32, my body, which had maintained its relative thinness for 9 years, also began to change. While my weight remained the same, there was some…sagging. Some pooching about the waist. Some poufing of the hips. I can guarantee you no one else noticed this but me. That’s okay, I noticed it enough for everyone. I decided to “fix” this “problem” of my maturing body with more dieting, more exercise and much more misery. You know how the rest of the story goes.
Now that I’ve had time to contemplate the ridiculous rules of the world, I haven’t got a clue why we are so determined to stave off age; after all, I was a mess in my 20s and much of my 30s (a fun mess, but a mess nonetheless), I struggled professionally in unsatisfying jobs, and in general nobody seemed to be rewarding me for my dewy youth. I have learned so much about becoming a better human in the past 20 years that I wouldn’t trade all my hard-won self-confidence and knowledge for a smaller waist or less saggy face. Those things wouldn’t mean I hadn’t gotten older anyway.
After I gained back all of my weight, I weighed as much as I did when I was 22 (before dieting). But I’m 44 now and my body is much different. I’m more muscular in some areas (probably from exercising) but my stomach is a fatter and for the first time in my life I have hips. Some of the changes in body composition might be from dieting (one theory is that we lose muscle mass which is then replaced with fat, a much better energy storage unit), but I suspect a lot of it is related to aging as well. The number-one complaint from my beloved middle-aged-lady friends is about their stomachs. Women’s stomachs get fatter over time because as estrogen production from the ovaries decreases, fat migrates to the stomach. The reason for this isn’t abundantly clear, but it may be because belly fat produces estrogen. If I had to guess, increasing belly fat after menopause most likely has a protective effect, but currently our fatphobic society focuses only on how to get rid of it (don’t do an internet search on this topic if you want to save your sanity points).
Back to my friend and her dilemma. I asked her, “So what will you do about your tight pants?”
“I’m going to try to exercise more,” she said.
“And if that doesn’t work?”
She paused and then sighed a little. “I guess I’ll have to buy new pants.”
And that’s the moral of the story: our bodies are going to change, and eventually you are going to have to buy new pants. You can do all sorts of crazy things to manipulate your body, or you can just buy some new pants, learn to appreciate all your body has done for you, and then work on the parts of you that really do get better with age: achieving wisdom, intelligence, kindness and happiness.