Mandy Appleyard finds that by losing – rather than gaining – weight during her menopause years, she enraged a pack of ‘thin-shamers’
A LONG, honest look at myself in a full-length mirror, 10 weeks ago, was the catalyst to try and turn my body into a temple instead of a skip.
No more chocolate, biscuits or cake, in favour of as much fruit, veg and protein as I can stomach.
Boring, I know, but the happy result is that I have lost 7kg of menopausal fat which had accumulated round my middle, like mud, over the last two years.
I was beginning to look like SpongeBob SquarePants (farewell, waist!) and couldn’t get into most of my clothes without cutting off the blood supply to my internal organs, so being trim again feels good.
Going from following the trend (most menopausal women put on a mid-life spare tyre like mine) to bucking it by slimming down, however, has proved little cause for sisterly celebration. Quite the opposite.
“You’re such a skinny-minny. You didn’t need to lose weight,” a neighbour remarked, to my surprise, over our driveways.
“Ridiculous! You’re middle-aged, you should be eating what you want now,” sniffed a colleague, with what sounded suspiciously like contempt.
“Oooh, you’re looking far too thin,” a faux-worried relative.
The comments all smacked of judgment, rather than any real concern.
I hardly had to read between the lines to see I’m deemed vain and self-absorbed for still caring what I look like at the age of 55.
While weight-shaming has steadily become unacceptable at the heavier end of the scale, it seems slimmer women are increasingly exempt from the same courtesy.
Which puts me in the unlikely position of identifying with Cheryl Fernandez-Versini, who responded to a barrage of criticism about her weight earlier this month by arguing, “I would never dream of calling somebody too fat and [suggesting] maybe they should cut down on their food intake. What’s the difference?”
Indeed. Why should self-indulgence be lauded, but self-denial decried?
I was a skinny child but a plump teenager, and as a result have spent most of my adult life on a ‘quiet diet’, discreetly choosing the lightest thing on the menu (I’d like the spaghetti carbonara but I’ll have the grilled sole; salad with no dressing, please; I’ll forego the treacle sponge and settle for espresso) and calorie-counting to try to stay somewhere close to my ideal weight – 54kg, pre-menopause. Perfectly healthy for my 1.63m frame.
Of course there have been slip-ups, thanks to my prodigious appetite, a partner who loves fried breakfasts and afternoon teas, and a penchant for pastries. But if I cut back for a few weeks, I always returned to where I wanted to be on the bathroom scale.
Then menopause happened, two years ago, and things changed.
Extra weight slowly accumulated, most of it round my middle, making me entirely typical of women my age.
Post-40 we are prone to gain, on average, about half a kilogram a year.
When women reach menopause, hormonal and physical changes speed this gain further – with 90% putting on about 7kg.
My experience may have been textbook, then, but when I consulted my GP about feeling tired all the time, I discovered it had also sent my cholesterol soaring.
“Lose that extra weight and start exercising,” the doctor advised me.
I did just that, but was surprised by how frustratingly slowly the weight came off. This, too, is apparently typical: a slowing metabolism makes weight loss more difficult during and after the ‘change’.
Still, through sheer discipline/ bloody-mindedness and self- denial, I have finally done it. Cue rounds of applause? Pats on the back? None of the above.
Instead, certain women have made me feel guilty; as if I should be enjoying a gentle slide into elasticated waists and waterfall cardigans, rather than showing us all up in my unseemly fight to retain a waist.
I can’t help feeling my efforts have been interpreted as an implicit sideswipe for letting themselves go (in their minds, not mine).
Through the bizarre prism of mid-life body politics, being slim at a time in life when many women are steadily becoming the opposite seems to have made me a traitor to the cause.
“Envy and jealousy may both be at play when we take a pop at another woman for being slim,” agrees chartered psychologist, Sue Firth.
“Culturally, we’ve now accepted that it’s OK to be a size 14/16, so we feel threatened when someone successfully manages to slim down.”
In the past 10 weeks, I’ve been pointedly told “men love something to grab hold of”, and that “curves are sexier than a flat stomach”. That may well be the case, but I’m trying to keep my BMI in check for my own reasons – not to please a man who makes it clear he loves me, either way.
Having spent my life politely tiptoeing around friends’ and family’s figures, whatever their weight, I find it insulting to be told I’m less ‘real’ than anyone bigger.
Do I get sick of exercising the willpower to stay slim? Absolutely.
Would I rather eat whatever I want than endure the hunger pangs? Of course. And yet exercising that choice, which serves my health well, has seen me damned.
Live and let live, is my motto – eat what you want – but that cuts both ways.
I would never call you fat: so please don’t call me skinny.