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Is the Female Belly the Last Body-Shaming Holdout?

Get our tips for owning and embracing a happy-tummy life

spinner image Dresses to Make Your Belly Happy
Buy new support bras that truly lift your breasts up and off your rib cage.
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|  Generous breasts and buttocks are back, but Buddha bellies remain weirdly taboo.

Thanks to the prominence (ahem) of the Kardashians and the mainstreaming of plus-size models in everything from catalogs to magazines to Barbie dolls, women's natural curves are being newly celebrated. I heartily applaud the trend but can't help pointing out its oversight: Apparently, those of us with postmenopausal pooches (it's a word; I checked) are supposed to suck it up (or rather in), wrestle on a pair of Spanx and camouflage our middles in loose layers and tunics. This is body positivity?

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Honoring the spirit of the age — woman power! — let's not allow others to define our profile or rob us of confidence or style. Instead, let's all take up belly dancing and see where it leads; maybe someday " meno-pot " will be hot?

1. Show that shape. If pregnant women can flaunt their bellies, why can't we? Toss your inhibitions aside in clingy but classy skirts, tops and dresses that reveal womanly curves. Start with an updated pull-on pencil skirt in a stretch blend, at a ladylike, knee-grazing length. Then top it off with a bodysuit; this eliminates tuck-in bunching at the waistband, and the leotard-like design and snap crotch make it easy to get on. (There are plenty of long-sleeved versions to choose from.) To boost the gutsy (ha ha!) attitude, add a jersey "body-con" dress or a wrap style; both mold to your silhouette.

All of the above come in regular and plus sizes, in a palette of neutrals, brights, pastels, stripes and prints.

2. Elongate your torso. Those fertility-goddess statues you see in museums are not to be emulated, so beware of little or no separation between boobs and belly. If you do one thing to make your belly happier, buy new support bras that truly lift your breasts up and off your rib cage. You've got it right if your nipples are midway between your shoulders and your elbows, and several inches of clean space separate your bra band from your stomach. This frees you to create the illusion of a waist.

Or, to make the waist you have appear slimmer, belt any tailored dress or coat above your natural expanded waistline — a look often favored by Michelle Obama. If you have a full bosom, try this with fit-and-flare dresses that balance fullness on top with a wide A-line skirt.

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3. Find pants that love your middle. Your silhouette will benefit from medium- to high-waist styles that cover your belly and tuck in its frequent companions: muffin tops or love handles. Black wash jeans with a cigarette-slim leg and flat-front pants with a side or back zipper — both styles cropped at the ankle — should top your list.

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Want more reassurance? Put any and all of your relatively trim extremities — ankles, wrists, forearms, neck — on display. This visually stretches your silhouette and redirects attention to your fabulous accessories.

4. Don't go to extremes. And now it's time to put our collective VWS (vanishing waistline syndrome) into perspective. Yes, too much belly fat — especially the kind that nestles between organs — is unhealthy, upping our odds of heart disease, diabetes, stroke or even cancer. But for most of us — regardless of our size and shape — tummy bulge is simply a fact of life at 50+. Never apologize for it!

For more beauty and style tips for women age 50-plus, check out The Woman's Wakeup: How to Shake Up Your Looks, Life, and Love after 50, as well as AARP's new Beauty & Style special edition for tablets.

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