My Nana was one of my favorite people. She spent most of her time reading and doing crossword puzzles. She suffered from back pain as long as I knew her. She rubbed many people the wrong way, coming off as snobby and judgemental. But she loved me and I loved her. A black and white photo of her sits on my desk reminding me of that abiding feeling of unconditional love I experienced with Nana.
Nana had a beautifully chiseled jawline, a strong nose, and high cheekbones. She had a long neck and thin arms and legs which she accentuated by wearing solid colors, often black. I remember her most in black turtlenecks with a large artistic necklace hanging right at her sternum.
In addition to her long thin arms and legs, Nana had a hard, round stomach which got bigger as she got older. It was there in my first memory of her which meant that she was in her early fifties. I remember her little round belly growing over the years. Nana never wore loose clothes. She never donned moo-moos or loose blouses. She always wore close-fitting knits that showed her whole body.
I have many of the same characteristics that my Nana had — thin arms and legs, a long neck. Like Nana, I love to read. I’m in my early fifties now and I notice my body changing. Last night lying in bed I said to my partner, “I feel like my butt migrated to my stomach.” She laughed in agreement and understanding. She too is experiencing this physical shift in her body.
Whatever butt meat I had before has left the room, walked across the hall, and made itself comfortable in a circle right around my belly button. When I wear high-waisted pants now the waistband has a little platform to sit on. My belly isn’t that big yet, but if I follow Nana’s path, it will only get bigger.
I remember Nana’s belly. It seemed so out of place with the rest of her body. I have images of her in her black bathing suit — long arms and legs, strong, pronounced collar bones, and a little paunch right at the belly. I regularly accompanied Nana to the swimming pool on the top floor of their apartment building so she could do her physical therapy exercises. She’s put a volleyball under each armpit and float while she moved her legs to release the tension in her back.
My belly isn’t always pronounced. Around my period it gets bigger. If I have gas it grows. But it’s always there, no matter how much weight I lose, the shape of my body doesn’t change — long, thin arms and legs and a little butt belly.
Nana’s belly is the one I remember most clearly but most of the female elders in my life have had the same progression of the butt rounding the corner to live at the belly. It’s easy to complain about this, to lament the fate of the aging body. But complaining is a waste of energy and completely unproductive. I could commit to doing more core work to try to get my butt to move back to its original position but I’m not sure I really care that much.
Mens’ bodies change too; their butts also move to their bellies. But men aren’t considered physically the way women are; they aren’t objectified from puberty through death. They aren’t socialized to keep up their looks as they get older.
Why are women fighting this battle? Why am I? For whatever physicological reason, my butt has decided it would be happier on the front of my body than it was at the back. So what. When I think of Nana, sitting in her chair, reading Russian literature, one elbow resting on her belly as she puffed away at her True cigarette, I think of how much I loved her, not about how big her belly was.
It’s profound, to think that, with all that is going on in the world, that I, that millions of women, are focused on the changing nature of their bellies. Right now my belly feels a little like it did when I was very newly pregnant, not quite showing the world, but fully aware that my body was changing. I could feel the tightness of my jeans, the subtle discomfort of something shifting.
Maybe that’s how to think of this aging body belly — there’s new life there, new possibilities, dreams, and hopes. Growing my daughter in my belly, giving birth, and raising her has been one of the greatest joys of my life.
I’ve been lucky. Besides my butt moving around the bend to my belly and my hair going gray, I’ve not had many other physical changes with getting older. There is so much room for new life experiences and growth as we get older. Focusing on my belly is an unnecessary distraction, a pull away from all the good stuff that comes with aging.
I wonder if Nana thought about her belly; if she tried to tame its growth. I have some of her jewelry, several of those ornate necklaces she used to wear. I’ve rarely worn them because I haven’t felt like they quite suit my style yet. Until now, they’ve felt too “old” for me. But my body is changing. I’m getting older. Maybe now is a good time to try on some of those necklaces. I bet they’d look great with my new belly.