The Island Atelier


The menopause is not an event; it’s a process. A multi-faceted process that spans eternal years. It teaches Subservience to torture. I thought childbirth had done that quite well enough, but apparently not.

A ‘hot flush’ is a euphemism for a tropical fever type of meltdown. With the first hot flush came the discovery that I have sweat glands in my ankles.

Before the menopause clothes take the shape of the body; after the menopause the body takes the shape of the clothes. This gives the choice between hiding under a tent or shelling out a fortune for quality structured clothing. The twinset and pearls was surely devised by a menopausal woman, a cardigan being the only garment that can be removed with sufficient speed and discretion as meltdown strikes whilst seated in theatre, cinema or restaurant. Pearls do not absorb heat so don’t retaliate by burning your neck. Gold is an incendiary device.

The menopause will rearrange the female form in a carefully prescribed order that has been handed down by centuries of female ancestors. You may or may not gain additional weight, but any fat that is attached to any body part will expand. This is because skin expands. Every skin cell changes from being a freshly blown up balloon with a clean spherical shape and a taut even surface, to a balloon that is on its tenth inflation: a saggy, baggy, wrinkled random shape that is far, far bigger than it was on its first inflation. The only consolation is that it hasn’t yet popped. The fat has a much greater space to occupy and cleverly obliges by expanding to fill every available pocket. It is not picky about the shape of the pocket.

The fat expansion process begins in the middle with rapid elimination of the waistline and then spreads to the limbs. Every ounce of fat that is uncertain of its destiny settles on the abdomen. Perhaps it thinks it’s being kind by compensating for the no-longer-possible baby bumps. Thighs are particularly prone to explosion. Gravity assists thigh explosion causing thighs to drape themselves over knees. Knees are not sure how to resist so they spread a little outwards and downwards into calves. Then calves take their turn and wipe out ankles. Feet don’t do too badly until the weather turns to hot. Then they feel oppressed by ankles and swell accordingly. Toes are lazy and wait until old age.

Bottom finds itself firmly wedged between expanded middle and exploded thighs. Poor bottom has nowhere to go. Compression turns to despair and a history of wobble turns to eternal sag. The parts of bottom that can sag over thighs settle there listlessly in concertinaed wrinkles. The upper part of bottom makes a pact of the Hung Parliament variety and combines with the waist in uncomfortable lumps. ‘Love Handles’ are a euphemism for love strong enough to put up with an extra set of unwanted handles in entirely the wrong place. The middle of the bottom, still  homeless, has no alternative but to amalgamate with itself. One buttock embraces the other to form an eternal speed bump.

This is the point at which the menopausal female abandons jeans. But all is not yet lost. The mirror declares that we’re not doing too badly from the waist up. All is tolerable until the next revival of the summer wardrobe. In the space of mere months, arms have gone the way of legs. ‘Strap top with mutton legs’ becomes the inevitable tag for holiday photos. Arching hands backwards reveals a pair of gnarled logs, and the first rays of sunshine give birth to liver spots. Onwards we go with resignation, clad in that middle aged sackcloth of linen shirts with sleeves and long trousers.

Onwards to holiday time and the meltdown-inducing threat of baring the body on the beach. At the sight of last summer’s swimwear, boobs mimic bottom and combine into another speed hump. The mirror reflects two speed humps diagonally opposed and separated by a large white maggot. Consolation: with my very own raft of life rings I’m not going to drown. But nor am I going to wear anything on the beach that I’ve ever worn before. There are choices, but not good ones. It’s either a burkini or upholstery.

Or scrap the beach idea. Which will inevitably lead to a scrap with family.

‘I am,’ I tell myself firmly, ‘more than a body.’ I am a mature woman with a mind. I repeat this to myself over and over again as I stand before the mirror plucking porcupine quills from my face…