Today at Gather, the consignment shop where I work, a woman came in and spent a half-hour perusing the racks. She was very thorough, filing through all of the racks-- small, medium, and large. She diligently sorted through the sale rack. In the end, she took only one dress into the dressing room. It's a dress I've been eyeing for months-- a long silk multi-patterned v-neck with bell sleeves. It's a dress that would not suit my body, but I was excited for it to belong to someone.
The woman went into the dressing room and came out to where I was standing. She stood in the entryway to the dressing rooms shyly. "Does this work?" She asked me. She looked stunning. The fitted patchwork of patterns hung perfectly on her body.
"I can't tell," she said, "because my body is changing with...." Here she hesitated. "My body is changing as I get older," she said. Then she pointed to her belly, the part of her body that many women in midlife struggle with. It struck me that she didn't say menopause, though we both knew that this was what she was referring to.
"I get it," I said, "My body is changing too and you really look wonderful in that dress."
Another customer in the dressing room next to the woman's echoed my praises and the decision was made. We chatted as I rang up her purchase and she told me that she was buying this dress to wear to her son's wedding. The original wedding has been during COVID and she had not been able to go-- just the bride and groom did the ceremony in a national park on top of a mountain. Her daughter-in-law's dress had the same colors as the dress she was purchasing and she was excited about that.
We talked a bit more about how shopping for her has changed because her body is so different now. I get it. Most women my age get it. No matter what we do, how we eat, or exercise, changes happen.
The problem is not that our bodies are changing, it is that the changes are unwelcome. Being young, maintaining that young body status quo is what is expected of us, regardless of our age. But that's crazy. We're done with our reproductive years. Our bodies are getting more comfortable, more relaxed, parallelling the path many of us are on in other areas of our lives. At this stage in life, we deserve a little relaxation and comfort.
Seeing this beautiful woman doubt herself so much made me angry. She was beautiful. The shape of her belly was beautiful. The texture of the skin on her neck was beautiful. All of it. She looked great in that dress she chose for her son's wedding. But what she saw was the subtle change in her body, a change that she probably has no control over, that she's watched happen over the last several years, a change that she's probably tried to manage with no success.
Menopause happens. Women live twenty, thirty, sometimes forty or fifty years beyond their reproductive years. Our hormones change because we no longer have that biological function. And with these hormonal changes our bodies morph into something different. What I would love to see is a focus on how productive, innovative and dynamic women are during those twenty to fifty years of menopausal life.
Besides humans, Orcas are one of the only other species to experience menopause. Their function in their pods is to help support their families, to gather enough food to support the baby whales. Elephants, don't technically go through menopause but the elder females are an important part of the herd. Where grandmother elephants are present, the babies live longer than when there is no female elder.
I'm starting menopause now. I feel liberated from so much-- the pressure to be as accomplished as I once was, the expectation that I will play the same social roles that I once did. I spend my time doing things I enjoy and seeing people I love. And my stomach isn't flat.
Our roles change through the course of our lives. The focus of our strengths, energies, capacities changes. And so do our bodies. That's just a small part of menopause. It would be great if we could focus more on the wholeness of menopause instead of just that tiny part. Yes, our bodies change during menopause, but we can still find the perfect dress.