Waist not, want not—reframing fat in the middle

Two brides, 1959, with waists, holding hands of a little flower girl
A double wedding in December 1959. The brides, aged 21 and 19, have waists.

Once I had a waist. Now I don’t have a waist, and I am programmed to perceive that as ugly. Programmed by biology and society and my foolish vanity. Time to reframe fat-in-the-middle.

A woman in black trousers and top doing tai chi. Her shape is rotund but not overweight.
Same body, different shape at 82

“Beauty is a code word for youth.” (Source unknown.) I’ve read that we adore and desire the features of healthy youth because they signal “Healthy, strong, active, fertile! Good co-parent material!” Clear skin, shiny hair, bright eyes … and in women, a waist.

To be fair, I still have a subtle dent in the middle, if you squint at me from the north. But essentially I’ve changed from a classic hourglass to a barrel shape. And this is so common in women over 50 or 60 that it’s pretty much the norm.

Why must we hate our new shape? Why must we struggle for the impossible? After browsing the web for advice on ridding yourself of post-menopausal fat-in-the-middle, I concluded that it’s all, well, to put it nicely, wishful thinking. At least as for me. And maybe you…

Common advice on the lost waist (paraphrased)

  • Fat-in-the-middle happens because your metabolism has slowed down. So eat less, eat better, exercise more, exercise better.
  • It’s because of the action of the stress hormone cortisol. So change your eating patterns, buy supplements, and reduce stress.
  • Fat around the waist is extremely dangerous and may kill you. So start liposuction, fat freezing, or yet another commercial weight loss programme.
  • It’s because hormone drops lead to a reduction in muscle mass which means your body doesn’t process carbs as efficiently, which triggers weight gain. So exercise more, exercise better.
  • It’s because brown adipose tissue function declines during aging. So do all the right things and maybe expose yourself to cold temperatures regularly.

All this advice implies that the waist will return if you do all the right things. But I do all the right things! What’s more, at 82 I weigh exactly the same as I did at 16: I can’t blame my change of body shape on extra weight. And yet I have fat-in-the-middle. My fat has simply migrated from tits-and-bum to the spot where once I had a waist.

Yes, I do know everyone is different. However, I also know a heap of people who exercise every day and have a healthy lifestyle and are not overweight—and still they have lost their waists. That’s why tunic tops and loose dresses and shirts-over-teeshirts are favoured by older people. It’s a clue!

Clearly, I have to reframe. Instead of fighting against this natural change, it’s time to embrace my fat-in-the-middle.

8 reasons for celebrating fat-in-the-middle

Stop pining for the lost waist! It’s gone, gone, gone. Gone for good and I mean good. I enjoyed it very much at the time but I intend to appreciate the fact that it’s gone. Let me count the reasons.

  1. An hourglass figure signals fertility. In my 80s, I am firm in my decision to have no more babies. So it’s lucky that I’m no longer arousing lust in young men. A waist would be wasted—worse, it would surely break a few hearts.
  2. My vertical parallel lines signal sturdiness, reliability, and strength. My body is sturdy like a tree.
  3. My barrel shape signals plentiful resources, generosity, a full store house. It also says, “I’m full. No more room for babies.”
  4. By chance, the dresses of my youth had closely fitting bodices and neat waistlines to show off our gorgeous figures. Conveniently, fashions have changed and now all my dresses work on a sack of potatoes, which I closely resemble. And I do love dresses.
  5. A portly middle adds gravitas.
  6. My fat is made visible by congregating in a central location. It’s an asset, I’m advertising.
  7. An apple shape is a bonding mechanism. When my sisters and I get together we sometimes bounce tummies like we did as little girls.
  8. If I keep regarding the human waist as a benchmark of a healthy body at any age, I will lose buckets of blood from self-flagellation. And that’s not good.

Surely that’s more than enough to convince you, and me, that a bit of fat around our tummies is useful, valuable, and even beautiful. If you’ve got it, flaunt it!

Four loose-fitting dresses in bright colours which all look great on a woman without a waist
In my wardrobe: bright dresses that look good on a woman without a waist.
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38 thoughts on “Waist not, want not—reframing fat in the middle

  1. Cathy Cade says:

    I never had a waist worthy of the name, so I don’t miss it. I did, however, develop something like a football in front of me during the menopause. Thankfully, most of this has gone since I lost a stone and a half recently (in the hope it would improve hip pain and blood pressure. It didn’t.)
    I suspect most of the additional fat around my middle came from my upper arms. The camera reinforces this theory.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Bring on the citizen scientists! How could this theory be wrong?

  2. josaiawrites says:

    Perhaps it is further proof of how much more centered I am….! And much harder to push over, I might add!

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Spot on! How very wise of our bodies to do this thing.

      1. josaiawrites says:

        Indeed! Our bodies can teach us some things about wisdom and acceptance, yes? ( I very much enjoyed your article!)

  3. I think your shape is fine. You are certainly not overweight or have any of the shapes that signal a health issue. I’m thin and I’ve always been thin with a bit of a waist hanging around after all these years. Other than stop things from falling down over my hips, it serves no purpose. Haven’t aroused any men either! 🙂

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Thanks for reminding me of the secondary reason for a waist: as a sort of clothes hanger.

      1. 🙂

  4. Eva says:

    Ladies – best ever to read and rolling around laughing – both: blog post and comments!

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Oh that’s another reason to love our middle fat: rolling around is more comfortable with a bit of padding 🙂

    2. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Eva hello!!! Gorgeous to hear from you. (Feel free to share.)

  5. rodkersh1948 says:

    Not resorting to a cliche, but isn’t it what’s on the inside that counts? I’ve never really thought about waists male or female although a big bottom is meant to be healthier than a big tummy (I am the latter). Be grateful you have your hair – I lost mine a long time ago 😄

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Thanks for the tip!

  6. Sheree says:

    Pregnant ladies don’t have waists and they look fab

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      So true!

      1. Sheree says:


  7. With men, the waist is handy for hanging trousers on, supplemented by a belt that can not migrate southwards because the hips exceed the waist in girth. Once the waist disappears we are left with a constant hitching need, otherwise the trousers end up round our knees. Not a pretty sight at all!

  8. judibwriting says:

    I also do not want anymore to be the younger person that I was when I had a waistline. I like being sturdier on every level.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Great. I’m forever working on my inner agist.

  9. henhouselady says:

    You ask a very powerful question. Who needs a waist anyway?

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      It was nice while it lasted but enough is enough

  10. Pat says:

    I really enjoyed this, Rachel. I am finding that I have somewhat of a waist if I look in the mirror straight on but if I turn sideways it isn’t there. I am working (most the time) to lose some fat but it seems to just migrate around. Or hang around. 😀

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Thanks! I was glad of a few spare kilos when I had Covid.

  11. judithhb says:

    Nothing to say Rachel that hasn’t already been said. I love your post and yes, at 84 I have a waste but I have to look hard to find it. Dictating this response waist is spelt incorrectly as waste. So perhaps that says it all. A waist is a waste when one is older

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Nicely autocorrected, WordPress! Sometimes you do the right thing.

  12. I love your writing — wit and humor in abundance!

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Thanks Anne—I really appreciate your comment 🙂

  13. debscarey says:

    All the women in my family (except moi) rocked the hourglass. I’ve moved from a pear to an apple in my mature years so, as I never really had a chance to properly rock a waist, I don’t miss it as much as many. But I am having to learn a different dressing style which is tiresome, and requires both shopping and selling of the existing wardrobe. I am not an enthusiastic shopper 😀

  14. Your post made me smile. What a wonderful celebration of our bodies!

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Yes, bring it on! Thank you, Priscilla.

  15. Gallivanta says:

    My waist is very happy with your words. It jiggled with joy.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Bumping tummies with you virtually.

  16. Rebecca Budd says:

    I am celebrating your 8 reason for “celebrating fat-in-the-middle.” A brilliant post and a wonderful follow-up discussion. I am with Mandy, my waist is jiggling with joy.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      At a certain point, it’s just who we are, right?

  17. Joared says:

    I certainly don’t have the waist I once had. I’m reconciled to not having it ever again. Oh, well! There are some other things I’m never going to have again, too.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      “Oh well!” is a phrase that I find very useful nowadays 🙂

  18. Lois Roelofs says:

    You are spot on. I lost my waist years ago. Had to give up skirts with tucked in blouses lest I look like a column. Now it’s tunic tops. Straight ones though—flares look like maternity, and at 80 I’d hate to give off that impression. Thanks for the laugh!

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      What luck that fashions expanded at the same time we did!

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