As a teenager and in my early twenties, I was excessively preoccupied with my weight and, to a lesser extent, with a somewhat prominent nose. But my avoirdupois and nasal configuration, I’m happy to say, are worries of the past. My once-outsized nose has assumed its rightful place in my adult face, blending nicely with the other features. I have permanently banished more than twenty of the one hundred forty-five pounds I carried on my 5′ 6 1/2″ frame during high school and college. The term “pleasingly plump,” no longer applies- and it was never pleasing anyway.
The journey from young chubby to mature slim and fit
These days I step on the bathroom scales without dreading the sight of the scarlet digits on the screen at my feet. I enjoy meals, eat and drink wisely, and shun thoughts of following a formal diet plan. No more Slimfast, no more Weight Watchers, no counting calories, no sneaky late-night trips to the refrigerator to eat the ice cream I denied myself at dinner.
With concerted effort and self-discipline, I developed and have maintained good eating habits. After a few years, it became easy to control what and how much I eat. My size fourteen dresses and skirts of the 1970s, long banished from my closet, have given way to today’s vanity-size six (probably a size ten back then) and the occasional size four. I’ve even become a quasi-fitness buff, sporting a Fitbit comfortably on my left wrist.
Nature and gravity’s inexorable march toward wrinkles
Unfortunately, five decades later, another irksome preoccupation has replaced the former one. Nowadays I spend the occasional morning looking in the mirror as I brush my teeth, lamenting the state of my skin and the sagging flesh underneath it. Despite continuing efforts to carry my senior body with grace, and regardless of drinking water, working out at the gym, avoiding the sun, and moisturizing faithfully, the inexorable laws of nature and gravity rule.
The bell tolls, reverberating with its message of the inevitability of aging. Wrinkles, lines, sags, rolls, and bulges are witness to the fact that, without body sculpting, liposuction, micro-needling, skin tightening, and other expensive and unnatural surgical invasions, the years are indelibly engraved on my body.
The effects of the loss of elastin, collagen, and muscle mass are at loggerheads with the gratifying digital read-out on my morning scale. Each year as he reviews my vitals and lab results, my primary care doctor greets me with reassuring “atta girl” compliments, discounting my efforts to tone the flab under my arms and abolish the loose flesh above and below my bra. He does not notate on my chart that my wall angels, push-ups, and seated rowing at the gym aren’t paying off to the extent I want them to. They play no part in his annual physical exam nor in our conversation.
The regrettable menopausal midsection
Equally distressing is the track the years have left on my midsection. A menopausal and post-menopausal woman’s middle is a prime target for fat, and the shapely waist, punctuated by buoyant breasts above and curvaceous hips below, elude even slender women of a certain age. My personal trainer, the encouraging and lovely Jessica in Portland, has crushed my hopes of ridding myself of the pudge around my stomach. Even as she assigns me such exercises as contralateral limb raises (“bird dogs,”) forearm planks, and hip bridges to strengthen my core, she advises me to temper my expectations.
Flattened hopes for a flat stomach
“Sallie,” she explained when I asked what exercises would help me lose my stomach, “the core exercises you’re doing will stabilize your back and hips and improve your balance. They’ll also improve your strength and mobility – and, in turn, enhance your quality of life for activities like gardening and hiking.”
Jessica’s semi-answer triggered a more to-the-point question: what exercises specific to stomach flattening could she prescribe? To my dismay, she responded, “It’s not only about exercise. Other factors come into play: diet, sleep, hormones, age, genetics, gravity.” Realistically speaking, your stomach won’t ever be as flat as it used to be. It’s part of aging.”
Jessica’s too professional to say what I bet she was thinking: “Sallie, just accept that you’re stuck for the rest of your life with a squishy tire of a tummy.” So, I didn’t waste her time by asking her about the bulges between my bra and waist. I know the answer. They will continue wobbling, bulging, puffing, and ballooning, however hard I work at it. This I accept as the prize for having outsmarted the Grim Reaper. Besides, I can wear long-sleeved blouses and sweaters. And they’re not that bad.
The unavoidable turkey neck (when it’s NOT even Thanksgiving)
But what about the final insult, my turkey neck? According to literature on the Internet, the human wattle is caused by exposure to the sun, neck muscles beginning to weaken, and the skin having lost its elasticity. In other words, it’s the result of living. This morning, I looked at myself sideways from the right in the mirror, holding the offending skin flap toward the left. I looked good. I repeated it on the other side, and again I was pleased until I allowed the sagging flesh to return to its natural, gravity-obedient position.
Decision Point: Health or Beauty (or a little of both?)
I have performed this self-examination multiple times before, wondering what, if anything, I am prepared to do about time’s encroachment on the topography of my body. So far, I have come up with the following mix-and-match options:
1. Celebrate the fact that my skin has performed yeoman’s service protecting me from heat, light, injury, and infection for three-quarters of a century. Be grateful that skin, flesh, and bones are all intact.
2. Find out about neck treatments, especially non-surgical ones, while blowing off concerns about facial wrinkles and my midsection.
3. Continue working with remarkable Jessica to increase my upper body strength and develop a killer core. Kick ass at the gym for as long as I can, until I can’t.
4. Give Jane Fonda credit for how great she looks, but listen to Audrey Hepburn, “The beauty of a woman grows with the passing years.”
I will most definitely select options #1, 3, and 4. I will probably violate my core value of going with the flow of nature and gravity and look into #2 as well.