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Essays Memoir

The Body Geologic – Metamorphosis

Muscle weighs more than fat. That is indisputable.

What’s weird is that the muscle in my thighs morphed into fat and then, like grains of windblown sand, migrated upward and deposited themselves as dunes on my torso. 

I did not suspect this shift in body shape because my weight didn’t change. My exercise routine hadn’t changed. My diet hadn’t changed. Besides, wouldn’t gravity pull the flesh downward? 

But there were clues that hinted at seismic shifts.

For a while now, when I hooked my bra, a roll of skin would sit stuck above the bra hooks. I have to smooth it out by hand. 

In June, I got to see my first opera performance in two years. I put on a flowered shift that I liked. Looking in the mirror, I noticed that there was leakage of flab out the back of the arms, like a lump of clay. Alarmed, I pulled a summer sweater over the dress. 

Wearing my sweater at the Opera

Throughout Covid, Bill and I have practiced Zoom yoga in our basement. I had put mirrors along one wall in a remodel several years ago. I use the mirrors to check if my arms are parallel to the ground in Warrior Two Pose and that my knees don’t splay during Chair Pose. 

All of a sudden, all I see in the mirror are my boobs. They seem so prominent. Mae West prominent. Dolly Parton prominent. Every time I raise my arms in say, a Sun Breath, the tee shirt rides up above the boobs, and remains there. Folds of fabric poof like ocean waves on my chest. 

Quit your eye-rolling. Yes, this is a trivial issue in the grand scheme of things. Don’t you think I know this? Am I whiny? You bet! What gave me the courage to write about my own itsy angst is Nora Ephron’s 2006 book: I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman

In it, Nora comments on her life as a Manhattanite with no apologies. This is what she says about her neck. “According to my dermatologist, the neck starts to go at forty-three, and that’s that.” 

She adds, “The neck is a dead giveaway. Our faces are lies and our necks are the truth. You have to cut open a redwood tree to see how old it is, but you wouldn’t have to if it had a neck.”

Nora Ephron C 2010 by Elena Seibert

Nora Ephron and I go way back. It was in the mid-1980s. I was recently divorced. As a middle-aged woman with a child – and a smart mouth – my dating prospects were dim. Also, I was working crazy hours as a brand-new primary care doctor.

I found Ephron’s book Heartburn in a bookstore’s remainders bin for fifty cents. The book was laugh-out-loud funny. When I found out that the novel was a thinly veiled skewering of her just-divorced husband, Carl Bernstein, I remember asking myself, “Are you allowed to do that?” 

This was the Carl Bernstein, the guy who broke the Nixon Watergate story, a demigod in those days. He had cheated on her when she was pregnant! Still, it was a revelation to me that you could write about your life like that.  

But, let’s get back to me. It’s not just my appearance. My bra is uncomfortable. It’s a tad snug in the morning. As the day goes on, though, it squeezes my chest tighter and tighter, as inexorable as tectonic plates pushing against each other.

What are my options? Well, I could go braless, but that’s not practical for hiking, tennis, golf and yoga. I could get bigger-sized bras, but does that mean I will need all new clothes? That’s a drag. I hate to shop.  

Right now, I am choosing suffering. I want the discomfort to remind me to change my behavior. I am cutting out my two favorite binge foods: peanut butter out of the jar and ice cream out of the carton. I drink port at bedtime less often. (Maybe my boobs are bigger from higher levels of estrogen from the alcohol. Hmmm.) 

I will have to lose a few pounds. Of course, the loss won’t be just from the places that I want. At this age, you can be too thin. You can become a frail stick-figure, like Nancy Reagan. 

Most likely, I won’t be able to rebuild the muscles on my legs and butt. This is not exactly a surprise. Throughout my lengthy education, I’ve been told in different settings that things go downhill, sort of like how gravity works.

I took a course on aging when I was in my late 30s. A handout showed drawings of a woman’s body shape when she was 40, 50, 60, 70. I was shocked when I saw the 40-year-old’s form. 

Her abdomen already had a pooch! And it got worse with each decade. Her abdomen protruded more and more; her back hunched more and more; and she lost height.  

The inevitable slippage is not just physical. In my introduction to Buddhism in college, the professor expounded on the Four Noble Truths. I quit listening after the first one: All life is suffering. At nineteen, you don’t believe it.

But, as Ephron says, “Denial has been a way of life for me for many years.” Or as I say, “Education is overrated.”

Seriously, though, knowing is always better than not knowing. Here is the real take-away from I Feel Bad About My Neck. Ephron writes, “One of my biggest regrets … is that I didn’t spend my youth staring lovingly at my neck. It never crossed my mind to be grateful for it. It never crossed my mind that I would be nostalgic about a part of my body that I took completely for granted.”

Well, lesson learned. While checking my yoga poses in front of the mirrors, I will stare lovingly at my giant chest and be grateful. 

The boobs

Tell me: Which body part do you wish were different? 

By Cathy Luh

I am a doctor, a writer and Grammy to Edin and Caleb. I live in St. Louis with husband Bill.

7 replies on “The Body Geologic – Metamorphosis”

I loved this blog, it was a big LOL. I really enjoy your writing, Cathy. And you really look great.
I wish I had more hair. Dad’s hair was fine but dark, Mom’s hair was white but abundant and wavy even after chemo. I unfortunately got the thin but white hair. I was able to enjoy a few years of my long straight hair in high school/college before my revenge haircut. It’s been short ever since. By the way, check out Body Sculpt with Gilad on YouTube (great mix of warmup, hand weights, and stretches) and BioOil for crepey skin. I’m glad that you are appreciating your boobs, they deserve some adulation.

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It only gets worse. The ‘appearance’ items (sags, bulges, wrinkles, etc.) seem trivial once the ‘functional’ abilities start to go. Enjoy what you have while you still have it.

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You made me laugh at my body angst..I mean…really ….as a woman in her 70’s..I thought I would be wiser. I refuse to have angst about not being wiser…maybe that means..a bit of wisdom has filtered into my fat

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This is a hoot. As for me, it’s still the knees. Always the knees! Someday I’m going be 95 & I’ll still be fretting about my knock-knees. 😉

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