I write this post half in jest because, for the most part, I have a body that a lot of women think would solve all their problems. I’m thin and small and well-proportioned. Also I’m relatively young. I hope it’s obvious that I don’t think my body needs to be reclaimed as “alternative beauty,” and that I’m joking to cover up my embarrassment at not being able to grok what I know intellectually– there’s nothing wrong with my body and it happens to be to my society’s liking.
But I can’t help it. I have an Achilles heel. Except for me it’s not my heel (quite pleased with them both), but my tummy. I have a paunch. A pooch. It’s not even fat. Like, there’s some extra fat there, but the size mostly comes from… bloating, I guess? It kind of feels like some days the insides of my abdomen are all in place and some days they are just sloshing all around and pooling in the front. Sometimes the cause is obviously food, but that’s not alwaysas consistent or clear as you might think. Propensity to pokiness seems to be related to hormonal fluctuations and sleep. Sometimes my belly is totally flat for a few days and I’m very quick to get used to that, but the gut always comes roaring back.
I know grossly bloated tummies on otherwise thin women are common. Presumably it’s universal even if it’s less noticeable on thicker body types. And internet ads make it clear that the secret to cutting belly fat and bloat is desirable enough to be clickbait. I even know that allowing for a little more puff used to be more popular. Some older corsets pop out over the belly to allow squished fat to be directed there, so it was obviously considered better in that situation to protrude forward than to have a thick waist. I see an amount of belly-popping that would embarrass me personally in a lot pin-ups up until ~the 60s. My husband even claims that he liked a little belly on a woman before he fell in love with my sparkling personality. But I was weaned in the era of completely flat stomachs on tv and started out string-bean skinny myself, so I was pretty upset when puberty came with a spare tire.
Now, I think I’m pretty good about ignoring what I’m “supposed” to be doing with my appearance to the extent that I don’t find it useful or fun. But I’ve been at war with my belly since it came on the scene at adolescence. I suck in my gut habitually, and I think this leads to a vicious cycle of exaggerated refractory poking out and then having to hold in even harder. Sucking it in constricts my breathing which probably exaberates my anxiety, not to mention the anxiety caused by dividing my attention between social interactions and gut control.
I want to make peace with my gut, but it’s hard. A deep part of me think it’s unacceptable. Like it’s rude or sloppy to show my face while I’m revealing just how far my tummy wants to be protruding. Like my belly is an unruly child and I’m terrified to be that maddening parent who’s too okay with it. I’m afraid if I stop fighting it, it’ll get stuck fully extended. I guess ultimately I’m afraid that I’ll deserve to be a schlub if I accept that this might just be how my body is. Maybe I’ve barely got a lid on it by sucking in and mentally resisting it, and who knows what else would come frothing out of that pot if I stopped holding down that lid?
But none of that^ makes any sense, right? What’s the worst that can happen, I accept my body and then it doesn’t meet the standards that only mattered when my self-acceptance was more conditional? This fear feels more like giving up (the illusion of) control. My badly behaved belly isn’t getting with the image I’d like to project whether I fight it or not. Might as well end the war.
This is actually very exciting to write. Every time I realize that I’m afraid to accept something about the way I am because I believe my mental resistance is the dam holding back something worse deeper inside, I get brave/vulnerable, stop resisting what is, and then very quickly I’m over the whole complex. It just takes a short time seeing the world through the lens of “It’s okay to be me and let the chips fall where they may” to realize how silly the idea that I need to repress myself is. Being comfortable in your own skin is the best feeling there is. I know because I’ve tasted it, and I want to live there no matter how exposed the journey back is. Like society teaches us to do, I’ve been trying to feel good about my body by conforming to standards. But I’ve already learned this lesson a thousand times– the only way to love your real self is to love yourself unconditionally. If I plan to love myself fully only when my tummy is flat, I won’t really be loving me for who I am whether that day comes or not.
If this were one of those alternative beauty videos, this is the part where I’d eat a huge meal, put on a gold sequin bikini, slather my belly with glue and roll around in gold glitter. Then I’d stand up, peel off letter stickers I’d been wearing around my belly button, and the negative space would read “My Belly is BEAUTIFUL.” Probably top it all off with some crying. Needless to say, that feels kind of contrived to me. More power to those that like that sort of thing, but I could only see myself doing that out of a need to justify myself to others. (This blog post is all the self-justification I need on this topic!) I don’t ever see myself glorifying my pokey tummy, but I do feel ready to call off hostilities and let it do its thing. That’s a pretty good start 🙂