Is your belly blocking your joy?
How do you feel about your belly? About other people's bellies? It's been wild to watch the range of plus size clothing expand and more visibility of fashionable plus size models - but there is still a belly stigma and a socialized preference for an hour glass figure in media and fashion (big hips, small waist, big breasts, flat tummy, voluptuous butt). Where's the love for the belly?!
I have spent many many many years obsessing, tried to shrink/tame/edit/camouflage/eliminate my belly because of body shame. My first memory of belly shame was when I was 9 in this banana coloured matching jumpsuit, a long braid and a pink headband. At a family gathering I was in the bathroom and came out to hear relatives talking about my belly, and my parents telling them it was baby fat and I'd grow out of it.
No one stood up for me. No one was discussing the drawings I brought. No one said it's weird to talk about appropriate shapes for girls' bodies. No one saw me past the fat on my body. I learned in that moment I could be many interesting things and all people would talk about was my body. I felt so embarrassed.
I thought there is a me out there with a flat stomach that is living her best life.
Then I went into a world that took every opportunity to remind me that only flat bellies are desired - and people with flat bellies are more successful, get love and relationships, have fashionable clothing, are healthy, and are treated better by strangers. I have so many habits built around this narrative that this journey is long and winding to detangle these voices that aren't mind and these behaviours that no longer serve me.
My relationship to my belly is very complicated and vulnerable.
Sometimes it's as if we are two different entities battling for control of the ship, constantly warring with each other and getting in the way of each other's existence. Other times, I can feel how soft, cute, tender this belly is. I can feel a weirdly healed scar from a surgery, the stretch marks, the changes in tissue from fat to skin to scar tissue.
In rarer moments, my belly and I exist in partnership against a larger battle against patriarchy and white supremacy - the hierarchy of bodies, the medical myths, conventional beauty standards, the most failed and most profitable industry (diet industry), the moralizing of good and bad bodies - my belly is a symbol of taking up space.
And there there are days where I'm just happy I'm not hating it and I can go about my day with things that deserve my energy.
I have found wisdom in getting curious about my body - observing my reactions to body shaming external or internal, my judgement of other bodies, the subconscious ways I choose outfits based on belly minimization (I don't even own jeans) and the emotions that live in this part of my body - my intuition, my emotional and physical gut.
I'm searching for tenderness. in my relationship to this belly. Whether me or society thinks it's good enough or not.
Here are some things that have helped my belly shame:
- What do I believe I can't do because I don't have a flat tummy? (e.g. crop tops, go the beach)
- How am I investing in taming this belly for other people's comfort/to avoid being harassed? (e.g. spanx/shapewear)
- What would I wear if I thought I had the best body? What would happen if I wore them now?
- Am I afraid of my body or am I afraid of what people think of my body?
- Who/what told me this belly isn't good enough?
- What narratives are on repeat in my heat that are stories against this body (e.g. does flat bellies = someone more deserving of love?, if I could just stick to a workout and diet routine would I have a six pack?)
- What if I got dressed in something that feels good and didn't do 'body checking' in the mirror before I go out? What if I go out FEELING good?
- How would I describe feeling good? Can I remember times feeling good or neutral in this body? What was I doing?
- Is it possible this body is good enough? Is that even a possibility? What would it mean for me?
- I started wishing myself a good day in the mirror! (my dirty mirror)
- I take selfies of me having a great time, I look at the pics and let myself observe the hyper-focusing on my belly for a few moments and then I dance or move around to shake it out.
- I rub oil on my belly, close my eyes, and try to tap into feeling it's shape, touching it without judgement
- I give myself belly rubs in the morning before I wake up and tell my belly what kind of day I hope we have
I'm working to find a new relationship to this body, all parts of it. It's hard and enmeshed in the world's judgement around me, but there is inspiration in seeing other bodies like mine take up space. There is inspiration in hearing your stories, in sharing the work of shedding shame and in the joy of making space for pleasure in this body - as it is - right now.
Keep unlearning shame and making space for pleasure: