Muffin top? Now that it’s official, what do we do with it?

Being unkind about your body's flaws may undermine your will to fix them.
(Ilustration by John Nebraska for The Times)

With the first stirrings of spring, so, too, have come the first sightings of extra flesh spilling over the tops of low-slung jeans and jiggling beneath belly-baring cropped tops. If you call that roll of abdominal adiposity a “muffin top,” you’re in high-falutin’ company: Late last month, the Oxford English Dictionary -- arguably the arbiter of the English language -- added the phrase “muffin top” to the list of new figures of speech it recognizes and defines.

But next time you look in the mirror and see that distinctive “protuberance of flesh above the waistband of a tight pair of trousers,” (to quote the OED) you should try saying “muffin top” with a little love, says Jean Fain, author of “The Self-Compassion Diet”, and a practicing psychotherapist who teaches at Harvard Medical School. That might be a better way of losing that unwanted protuberance than the usual ways in which women talk about the parts of their bodies they would like to change, tighten, shape or lose, she says.

“Women may be born and bred to be compassionate, but they’re also hard-wired to be self-critical,” writes Fain in The Huffington Post. “Dieting only makes matters worse. Given that unflattering self-evaluations tend to fuel eating problems, this little-known feminine tendency may help explain why preoccupations with physical imperfections are enduring women’s issues,” she adds.

In other words, the crueler your sneer when you stare in the mirror at your “muffin top,” the more likely you are to go to the kitchen in search of the real thing. Gaze at that muffin top with a little love and compassion--appreciate, for instance, that you nurtured a baby in there, or are a whiz at hula-hoop -- and you might go and do some crunches instead, Fain said. She calls this “compassion enhancing visualization” part of a “head-to-toe appreciation” every woman should do once in a while, and especially when self-criticism threatens to subvert healthy intentions.


Fain uses mindfulness and hypnosis therapy to help clients with eating disorders, and her meditation on the health effects of loving and caring for the body that “carries you through the world” can be seen here.

Not everyone’s onboard with Fain’s love-thyself approach. One psychiatrist-blogger describes her battle with “reverse body dysmorphia” -- where you know you need to lose weight, but manage every day to put on enough makeup and well-chosen clothes to think you look pretty kickin’ just the way you are.

And then there’s this take from another self-diagnosed sufferer of reverse body dysmorphia: after pouring herself into a pair of jeans that are way too tight and deciding she looks pretty damn good despite the muffin top, the Divine Diva writes, “please don’t judge too harshly. I’m sick ... really, really sick!”