Trout bellies

By Debra LoGuercio

©Copyright 1999, Debra Lo Guercio, all rights reserved

      To my utter shock, horror and dismay, I woke up one morning not so long ago with trout bellies. I don't know how or why it happened, I only know that they appeared without warning when I least expected it, like a zit on prom night.

      Sad, cruel, genetically predisposed fate. Every single female on my mother's side had trout bellies, without exception. However, given the choice, I'd rather be cursed with the type of trout bellies one finds in my mother's family as opposed to my father's.

      On my Italian side, waking up with trout bellies would be a variation on sleepin' wit da fishes. On my mother's side, however, an eclectic All-American whitebread blend of Scottish, English, Polish and Austrian, there is no such spicy interpretation. On that side of the family, trout bellies are that jiggly strip of pale flesh that dangles from the underside of the upper arm just like a trout's belly does when you place it in the frying pan. I can thank my relatives for giving me the genes to grow my own trout bellies. They can thank me for the label.

      It seems inevitable. Not one single woman on my mother's side, even those who could make a strip of beef jerky look flabby, made it to her 40th birthday without developing trout bellies. Sadly, they made no effort to fight nature. They are of an era who believes that jogging is something you do to your memory, and a suggestion to lift dumbbells would merely have caused my middle-aged aunts to reply that their husbands were too heavy to pick up.

      No, finding methods for tightening up their gravitationally challenged triceps was not a consideration among the women in my family. When they discovered one woeful day that their hands stopped moving long before their upper arms did when they waved goodbye, they accepted their plight. Some just let their trout bellies flap freely in the breeze (despite the revulsion of innocent bystanders) or they removed every sleeveless item of clothing from their closets and resigned themselves to a lifetime in dolman sleeves.

      Not me. I'm not like all those women. I refuse to be a helpless victim of my heredity. Aging gracefully is for wussies. Armed with the knowledge that at some point, my body and gravity would go toe-to-toe, I got a jump-start on the fight years ago. I work out. I run. I do Tae Bo. I lift weights. I do pushups. No matter how strenuous the effort, it's worth it if I can wear a tank top in public without making strangers gag and small children cry. And I could. Until last week.

      I was driving with my daughter one hot day a few months back, happily clad in a breezy little tank top. My hands were high up on the steering wheel when we went over a rough area in the road. Our conversation was interrupted with giggles.

      "What's so funny," I demanded.

      She reached over and gave my arm a flick. I felt the underside of my arm moving, and I wasn't the one doing it. Suddenly, it had a will of its own. I tightened up my arm, to no avail. That long strip of flesh was moving independently, fluttering and flapping in an all-too familiar and familial way.

      As I tried in vain, over and over, to regain control of my unruly limb, my daughter flicked it again, a little harder this time. Once again, the underside of my arm rippled like a tube of Jell-O. My daughter was nearly athsmatic from spasms of laughter.

      I could feel it, but I didn't want to look. But I had to. It's like rubber-necking at an auto accident. Sure enough, there it was, where a once-tight tricep had been: the beginnings of the same trout belly that dangled from every single polyester-clad auntie with a bad dye job who'd ever planted an unwanted red-lipstick smudge of a kiss on my 8-year-old cheek.

      Oh the pain, the pain.

      Is this my fate? Regardless of the countless hours I've flexed, lifted, pushed and pulled? To have upper arms that, when outstretched, form a cape? What's next? Sensible shoes and striped clothing with anchors appliqued across the chest? Dinnertime discussions that revolve around bowel function? Or, God forbid, housecoats?

      Not without a fight, you can bet. By the time this column hits paper, I'll have a new set of dumbbells that will be substantially beefier than the already respectable set I'm using now. If I'm going to have trout bellies, then they're going to have six-pack abs. I don't care what it takes, but I will not be doomed by my genes. It is unacceptable. Flags should flap in the breeze. Arms should not. The fact that mine are beginning to is only temporary.

       In the meantime, while I whip my trout bellies into shape, if you see me around town in a tank top and notice my arms are pinned to my sides, it's not because I'm gearing up for a Riverdance audition. I just don't want to be performing any sort of involuntary movement in public that could best be measured on the Richter scale.

      And please, if I don't wave back, just don't take it personally.