I’ve stopped being skinny. I have folds around the middle. I think less of myself and suppose others must think less of me too.
In this new state, I am a disappointment.
My pants no longer fit comfortably. Some waistbands are tight. Some pairs fit snugly across my behind and cause the waistband to slide down in the back. This is a secret disgrace.
Most people cannot see these developments or at least don’t indicate that they notice. By modern Western standards I am still considered slim.
But that no longer describes how I feel. Or how I see myself.
Instead, there is a private shame. A shadow that casts itself over each view in the full length mirror. A mourning for a long battle finally lost.
I nearly left out guilt. It fuels my shame and hunches over the struggle. Guilt is active – it should really be a verb. My guilt when I eat too many of the very nice things that I really love, or when I avoid deeply strenuous physical activity, or when I combine those two things together day after day after day…my guilt becomes its own arena that builds itself practically! I tame it by going out and breaking a sweat. I sideline it when I bypass the late night snacks and just drink water all evening.
My guilt is persistent and runs on very little fuel.
But I exercise! I do! I remain strong and flexible, capable of unusual feats for a middle aged lady.
These antics, however, will not save me from more folds around the middle and a backside that bubbles then sags.
I eat moderately. I welcome fruit, vegetables and lean meats. I also like breads, and chocolate and after hours ice cream. I know there’s a mismatch between calories in and calories burned. Cognitively I am very well informed about how to address this mismatch.
Emotionally, the struggle between knowing and doing rages unabated. It’s exhausting. I run out of steam to keep fighting temptation. In fact, I’m not that interested in fighting. When everything that might taste good or just feel good to you presents a temptation, it’s easier to throw down your armor and just surrender.
What’s eating me alive are my own onerous expectations. I fear that people won’t love me if I’m not thin. I imagine my husband will not look at me if I grow soft around all my edges. I may lose the respect of my students and colleagues if I no longer look the part of the svelte physical educator. I am not sure that I can like myself without the punctuation of stark muscle definition running up and down the whole of my body.
I am a woman. Menopausal, middle aged, past prime. We know, we have evidence of what happens to women’s bodies in this phase of life. It’s individual and there are patterns. Softening is a fact. Shrinking, drying, receding are par for the course. It doesn’t all happen at once. Some parts can take a very long time. Aging turns out to be an uneven mixture of losses and gains.
Muscle mass is harder to hold onto. Fat hits its stride. Hormones can only spell Fall and Winter. The spread starts in the middle; flab finds a home wherever it can. Real estate values plummet.
Muscle weighs more than fat. But the formula is not the same as it was at 35 or 40 and I am appalled and unamused. Fat keeps colonizing my muscly parts, sitting on top, layering the sides, hiding the strong parts that I know are still there. This is what they warned us about passing 50.
I require more chocolate and cuddling. My intellect is sharp and fierce. Mind over matter means I can read deeply while scarfing ice cream huddled beneath 3 layers of warm blankets.
Women and weight gain. Women and aging. Now, not suddenly, that’s me. I am the subject in the search bar.
Who I was: the runner – marathoner, sprinter, middle distancer, medalist, champion.
Physically gifted, talented, graced, blessed, exemplary, outstanding.
Much social currency derived from my physical accomplishments.
My body, my athletic achievements, my physique provided a means of communication most likely to win people over, to engender respect, admiration, attention.
As long as I showed up as a competitor, I learned how to present like a winner.
Not all change is visible. Not all change is negative. Not all change demands apology. Not all change feels bad. Not all change has an antidote. Not all change is here to stay. Not all change knows its history. Not all change is immediate or radical. Not all change is age-related. Not all change is nutrition influenced. Not all change is physical. Not all change is emotional. Not all change is hormone based. Not all change involves other people. Not all change stays inside my head. Not all change finds recognizable expression. Not all change makes me sad. Not all change keeps me up at night. Not all change happens today. Not all change is unexpected. Not all change scares me.
All there is though, is change.
What shape will the future take? and yes, I put all the irony into that single question.
My partner tells me I’d be better off if I could let go of my negative framing.
I say I’ll be better off when I let go of worrying about what others might expect. I’ll be better off when I allow myself to find joy without guilt. I do feel better when I move in ways that make me happy, that reward me with some sense of accomplishment.
I am better when I name my demons.
The gain here is not weight, it seems. The gain will be love of self. Kindness to self. Patience with self. The gain will be permission to be. To breathe. To embrace who I want to be.
I can imagine the weight my love will carry.
The gain will be the weight of self-love. The gain will be the weight of self-acceptance. The gain will be the weight of self-knowledge. The gain will be the weight of self-discovery.