By Ashwina Garg Mar. 22, 2018
It’s perfectly acceptable for a man to get broader as he ages. We’ve even coined a cute little name for the male, middle-aged spread: the dad bod. Then why isn’t there a corresponding mom bod? We can refer to them as MILJH... Mothers I’d Like To Just Hug.
As my husband watches me squeeze myself into my skinny jeans with the determination of a high-altitude climber, he shoots me a knowing smirk. He knows that the jeans have become a tad too tight, but I will eventually get into them, thanks to Lycra. He doesn’t get why it’s a big deal that I get into these jeans. He’s always had a tummy and made peace with it a long time ago, but I, on the other hand, have always been fit and skinny. So this slow descent into comfortable, middle-aged flabbiness confounds me.
Ever since I entered my thirties and was done with bearing children, I have been determined to maintain the same weight that I was when I was in my twenties, but the damn scale is a treacherous beast. It keeps telling me that I weigh only a kilo more than I did in college, while my clothes quietly insist that the scale is delusional. The forties have been the worst because I am too young to give up and decide to age gracefully, yet I mysteriously curve in places that I shouldn’t and have flattened out in places where I am supposed to curve. Everything on my body seems to have moved three inches lower. It a conundrum deeper than the mystery of the Bermuda Triangle, and I sometimes wonder if this constant struggle to keep all my curves in their rightful place is worth it.
After forty years of striking a balance between food and fashion, why do I still want to be thin? To be honest, it’s quite a painful experience. Once I am in these glorious, snug creations that I fast to get into, I am unable to eat or drink anything. They are woefully uncomfortable and I always end up having a miserable evening on a diet.
I have noticed many others like me during these night-outs. They jauntily sport a glass of wine all evening and well into the night, skipping from one person to another, busy networking like industrious worker ants. They never sip even one drop of their wine or taste even a crumb of the appetisers, and I marvel at their self-control. And their level of self-abuse. So badly do we want to fit into a certain mould that we are willing to sacrifice what could be a great evening of good food, wine, and laughter, and trade it for a miserable one of fainting hunger?
But now, hiding my expanding curves, that babies and a well-lived life have given me, feels just wrong.
I have contemplated going for the look I see many women with weight issues opt for – sliding into khadi, handlooms, and tons of silver jewellery with a graceful streak of grey at the temple, but I am not that person. I have always aspired to be a femme fatale with poker-straight hair, a little black dress, and black stilettos. While growing up, I identified with the vamp more than the heroine. (Let’s face it, they had more fun than the heroines who were busy making tea or running around trees.) But now, hiding my expanding curves, that babies and a well-lived life have given me, feels just wrong. Why did I still cling on to the body-con?
I think it has to do with the fact that I am from a generation that fought hard to wear what we liked. Whenever I wore a short skirt or a tight T-shirt, my mother would give me her two-minute appraising look to decide if it was decent or not. She never actually stopped me from wearing anything that I wanted to. She worried about men gawking at me and she had good reason to do so. Those were the days when even wearing jeans was a reason for men to ogle at women. A woman wearing shorts or a mini-skirt was rare, even in a city like Mumbai. So subconsciously I equated wearing these skinny, slim clothes as a sign of freedom and modernity. Was I clinging on to this idea of modernism when modernism had in fact been redefined a long time ago?
I see women all around me struggle with the same conundrum, investing in fit bodies or foundation garments that cost more than the dress itself, and even then look like a 10-kilo bag with 20 kilos of groceries stuffed into it. Why do we do this undignified thing to ourselves? I don’t see men struggling with weight issues. It’s so perfectly acceptable for a man to get broader as he ages. We’ve even coined a cute, cuddly little name for the male, middle-aged spread: the dad bod. Made famous by actors like Leonardo DiCaprio, Vince Vaughn, and the actor we formerly knew as Chris Pratt but now know as Generic Superhero, the dad bod is considered super rad. Men who sport this physique are supposedly too busy mentoring troubled youth, running start-ups, or writing poetry to care about having six packs. These guys are perfectly comfortable in their flabbiness. Then why isn’t there a corresponding mom bod, describing women who are too busy helping with homework, cooking nutritious meals, pursuing careers, and hanging out with friends to care about perfectly chiseled abs?
If anyone deserves the celebration of an imperfect body, it is a woman. Her body has taken a hell of a beating during motherhood after all. Instead, we call women who are skinny as yummy mummies (and ugggh… MILFs), and deride women who have slipped into comfortable flabbiness for “letting themselves go”. Where I wonder? To the opposite of MILF land? Mother I’d Like To Just Hug? Will that be so bad?
I think that a hot mom body, like everything else, comes down to a choice – either embark on a rigorous fitness-and-diet programme and get back to my original shape, or accept my changing shape and adapt with a more dignified and age-appropriate wardrobe. These days, I am leaning more toward the latter. A crisp white kurta that covers my hips offers so much more freedom and comfort than a tight, spaghetti-strap top. I can breathe free and eat my tiramisu in peace. I can bond with my husband over our matching round tummies and most importantly, I will look good because I look the best when I am at peace with myself. I don’t really want to be known as the woman with the slimmest hips. I’d rather be known as the woman with the widest smile. So that’s the choice I will make. When I turn fifty.
Ashwina Garg is a freelance writer and entrepreneur. She is the author of the best-selling book 'Spicy Bites of Biryani' and writes regularly for Women’s Era, Bonobology and other sites. She has a keen interest in social causes and writes for the Hyderabad-based NGO, SAHE and TEDxHyderabad.