What Lives in the Female Belly

I decided to name my blog “Stories from the Belly” for a few reasons. The first was that I wanted to tell the kinds of stories about being a woman that aren’t often shared out loud—true tales that might feel too shameful or painful or embarassing to tell anyone. Instead, a woman might store these stories deep within, locking them inside her body and forgetting they are even there.

I’d buried these types of stories in my belly for years. I didn’t even know that’s where I put them until I took a writing class with poet Jack Grapes more than ten years ago. Jack teaches students how to access the memories that we’ve buried in our gut, right in the belly.

I grew up having very strong feelings about this part of my body. My belly, like the earth, has always been round, never flat. Even when I’ve placed myself on a restrictive diet or felt motivated enough to work out five times a week, my belly is full and soft.

As a teenager I tried to hide my belly. I would wear loose clothing. I subsisted on half-breaths for years so I could keep my stomach pulled in under my rib cage. If only my belly would disappear—although anatomically if I didn’t have a belly and all that it contains I’d be in big trouble.

Maybe then I shouldn’t have been surprised that my belly was where I’d buried the true stories that I was most mortified and wounded by: the story of how I endured a verbally abusive relationship;  the story of how as a young girl I hid my dark complexion inside nylon stockings and under long sleeves (I wanted people to think I had lighter skin); and the story of when a swim teacher molested me.

In Jack’s class, I used my pen to siphon out the painful memories and release them from my body. In the process of transforming these traumas into stories for class, I began to heal from them. I started to feel whole again.

When I later participated in women’s circles, I discovered that stories that come from the belly are even more more potent when shared. These gatherings usually begin with a “check-in.” Each woman takes her turn talking about an internal struggle, a personal victory, or a new realization about herself.

I can’t tell you how many times over the years a woman has told the kind of personal story that people usually don’t talk about and I’ve thought, Really? You mean It’s not just me!?

Whenever it’s been my turn to share a fear, a neurosis, or a “this happened to me” moment, the women’s responses have been similar. Always, there is empathy, compassion, and recognition. Often, in these exchanges, some kind of release or relief happens for someone if not everyone.

In certain women’s circles nothing even needs to be said. The telling of an experience is visceral, transmitted from one female body to another.

Like at one gathering that was specifically for survivors of sexual abuse. As I entered the room, I looked around and realized that I knew almost everyone there.

That understanding alone—of knowing that these women, whom I knew personally, also carried their own stories of sexual abuse in their bodies—helped shed my shame around what happened.

Before that circle, I’d spent years trying to hide in plain sight. I was scared my abuse secret would be found out. I pursued acting but constantly sabotaged any potential success. I wrote professionally but only as a ghostwriter. My fear was that if anyone discovered I had been sexually abused they would want nothing to do with me.

But as I looked at these women, whom I admired and knew to be courageous, warm, compassionate, and wholehearted human beings—women I was honored to call my friends— I began to see and feel differently about myself. I started to let people see me.

For me, it has been shame that has compelled me to act smaller, compact my fullness, and swallow my voice. Shame caused me to entomb my messy truths in the bowels of my belly—along with my complicated feelings, my fiercest parts, and even my power. It has been in the digging up and reclaiming of all these disowned bits, allowing them to find their rightful place in my body and in my life—without the shame—that I’ve finally started to embody my wholeness.

The title of my blog pays homage to women and their bodies in all their fullness. It honors different aspects of the lived female experience that often get cast aside, disowned, or stuffed down in the belly. It embraces the (my) feminine appetites.

These are the many desires that live in the female body. And I’m not just talking about sex and food either.

I am a woman who is hungry to know herself totally, demands to be fully met by her man, and wants… craves… must have… much from this one life.

Thank goodness we have the stomach for all of it.

The Female Belly

The Female Belly Comes in Many Forms


64 Comments on “What Lives in the Female Belly”

  1. ellierayne says:

    The way u said and explained sounds scary

  2. Thank you for sharing this and being so honest! I’m going to share this with many of the ladies we work with.

  3. I hope I can be the first to comment on this particular post because I have contemplated the name of your blog on more than one occasion as it made me uncomfortable. I never use the word belly. It reminds me of girth. Big beer bellies. Or it’s unhealthy –“Look at that Jelly Belly!” Instead, I always say abdomen (sounds super fit!) or “my tummy” (sounds cute and petite!) I now feel extremely comfortable thinking of my ownbelly as encompassing all my repressed parts and pardon the TMI, but since discovering your blog, I make a regular practice of breathing deeply thru my rib-cage/diaphragm and then vomiting up my innards onto paper. Thank you.

    • diahannreyes says:

      LOL Stephanie. Sounds like you, unlike me, are not someone who has stuffed your emotions and truths.

      I think there is definitely charge around the word “belly” for a lot of men and women for sure. But according to good ‘ol Webster’s, ’tis just another word for the human stomach.

      Thanks for reading and commenting.

  4. Diahann, I am so moved by this piece. I relate deeply to all you share. Generous and courageous of you to share it. I have had a similar of hating my belly (and for such small reasons that seemed huge to me at the time and sometimes still) and then discovered all that it has held and contained. How full of life and story and wisdom are women’s bellies. Thank you for reminding me of that.

    • diahannreyes says:

      Thank you, Audrey! I definitely believe that there is healing in embracing all of ourselves. I was a bit worried based on a couple of the comments, that what I was trying to say didn’t come through at all. So glad that to know that isn’t the case. xo

  5. BroadBlogs says:

    So sorry to hear about the pain you have been through. But so glad to hear about the support you have received. It’s so important for women to get together and share their stories.

    And I love the way you word things, like this:

    If only my belly would disappear…

    Maybe then I shouldn’t have been surprised that my belly was where I’d buried the true stories that I was most mortified and wounded by

    • diahannreyes says:

      Thank you, Georgia. I really do believe women supporting and holding space for each other is such amazing medicine. Would really like to see more of that in the world.

  6. wow i can’t wait to read more from you

  7. enissa says:

    I love “demands to be fully met by her man.” It resonates within me. On another note it’s scary how we all try to hide something about ourselves.. I suppressed my sexuality for years especially in my twenties.. I am now making up for lost time.. If you know what I mean..with that said, I ave been reading your posts… Enlightening and powerful

    • diahannreyes says:

      Enissa, really awesome to hear that you have reclaimed and are embracing your sexuality. That, as I know you know, is huge. Congrats. :)

      Thank you for your reading and commenting. I’m really happy to hear that my blog is resonant for you.

  8. I have always had a round belly. It was not until that I started Belly Dancing that I finally came to accept it as sexy and appealing. I gave it purpose with the dance.

    • diahannreyes says:

      Ivonne, I love Belly Dance. It can be so sensual and move so much power. And is it something to witness those bellies dance!

      • I was in my mid-20’s when I learned how to belly dance. At the time the other women in class were older. In retrospect I would say probably 40-50’s but in my young mind that was older. A lot of the women were over weight by societal standardsbut when they wore their costumes, and they danced it was beautiful, sexy and sensous. You didn’t see over weight old woman what you saw were goddesses in control of their bodies, which were instruments of the divine archtype.

  9. Tony Single says:

    Utterly moving, Diahann, and I’ve long suspected that this is what Stories From the Belly has always meant. It’s nice to have that confirmed, and your title does strike me as a deliberate creative choice that’s very much in keeping with your writing in general. You’re tonally consistent, always real, and what you say is never a mere afterthought.

    I do feel that there are a lot of men out there who’d do well to read your words, and I bet they’d be surprised at how relevant these are to both sexes. And while you certainly don’t require my endorsement, I love recommending your writings wherever and to whomever I can. Hell, I’m just happy to be here! So, thank you for prodding my own belly and getting me to consider things from that perspective – and yours. It has been rewarding.

    • diahannreyes says:

      Tony, thank you. Your comment really moved ME! Made me teary eyed, really. It means a lot to know that you find my work resonant. I am a big believer that men and women are in this together and have hoped for that to come through in blog even though my focus is on the feminine. I want men to feel like they are part of the conversation, since in truth they really are, so your words are an affirmation of this. I also just really just appreciate what you have to say. You add a lot of valuable and interesting insight. And actually, your endorsement is very much appreciated. Thank you, truly.

  10. I love this post, Diahann! (Actually, I love ALL your posts.) And I also love reading the comments others have made. As I was reading, I was certain your words would resonate with many women. First off, I think the title of your blog is incredible. Ever since I was a little girl, my emotions always felt like they came from my gut, or my belly. Not my head or heart, but the center of me. When I was a miserable high school student, I would wake up every weekday morning with a horrible nauseated feeling. I knew I had to go to school, so I would eat peanut butter crackers and drink a small glass of cola, and then I would rub my belly and try to coax the nausea away. I remember my tenth grade teacher telling us that scientists had discovered we have cells lining our gut that are similar to brain cells, so we actually do “think with our guts.” Whether I felt ice cold fear, or the fluttering of infatuation, I was always alerted to these emotions by the sensations in my belly-the cramping or the flip-flops. Your description of trying to hide your belly really resonated with me as well. When I was 16 years old and weighed 96 pounds, so skinny that I hid my body under baggy clothes and told my mother I would rather be 250 pounds than feel my ribs grating against the mattress of my bed when I would lie on my stomach, I was concealing this part of myself as well. And now that I do have a full round belly and breasts to match, I find that I curve my shoulders inward as I walk, not because I’m ashamed, but because I think I’m subconsciously trying to protect this incredibly vulnerable part of my body. I’m only now gently reminding myself to stand tall and stop hiding. Thanks for sharing your story, Diahann, and by doing so, giving others the courage to share as well.

    • diahannreyes says:

      Miranda, thank YOU for sharing. It sounds like you have a very intuitive and wise belly. I had no idea bout the belly brain cells, but that makes absolute sense. I know I sometimes am in my head about important decisions but if I just quiet my mind and let my gut guide me- the answers are so much clearer and get me in far less trouble. I think it is profound, what you said, about your belly feeling vulnerable…(makes me think about how cats need to trust fully before they will let you rub their belly)… almost gives it a sense of sacredness. I love that you are stopping hiding too. And thank you for loving my work. :) That really means a lot to me.

  11. AdiC says:

    I am so glad I read this.

    Even I have noticed that pouring your heart out on paper does help you heal. But, I was afraid to do that wondering if anyone would bother reading it and if they did read it how would they judge me! But recently, a crush of mine read about how I felt ignored and cast away by him and since then we’ve been talking nearly everyday (after his profuse apologies and a two hour long chat about how it was all unintentional.) So, I guess putting the stories out there does help :)

    • diahannreyes says:

      I really think so, Adi (Is that your name? Want to make sure I’m getting it correct.) That’s great to hear that your crush understood and received what you had to say. I am getting more and more that when people judge a lot of times it has more to do with them than the person they are judging! Thanks for reading and sharing!

  12. Jenn Berney says:

    That sounds like an amazing class. I’m so interested in how we store our stories in various part of our body, and the language our bodies use to tell us when something is wrong. I’ve always loved that you use the word “appetites” in your tagline. It helps me connect to the various forms that sensuality can take.

    • diahannreyes says:

      Thank you, Jenn! Yes, the class was profound. Really changed my life not just in the ways I shared but it really helped shape me as a writer. I am constantly amazed at how there is so much more to the human body than its surface and anatomical parts, which society is mostly focused on. I feel like the world is missing out.
      “The body as oracle, follow the body, listen to your body, trust the body…” the body is where it’s at!

  13. ledrakenoir says:

    Very well written… :-)

    I always thought when I saw these big beer bellies – how expensive they’ve been creating – but that’s an other twist – you (again) draws a good pic – the good and proactive gut feelings, they sit in the belly – regardless of how those bellies looks – it takes practice to interpret these signals from our bellies and especially courage and confidence to trust them – the easiest thing is to listen to others’ feelings from their bellies – but is it the right thing to do, I doubt – at least then we should always consider why others criticize (or praise) us – sometimes there is a hidden agenda and other times it is well-meaning – it also requires practice to interpret these differences – even if life is a reality, yet a life-long training… :-)

    “I am a woman who is hungry to know herself totally” – in my eyes a perfect attitude, wish more women and men did it that way – and not just trying to please the public opinion or the opinion of the leader of the pack – living on someone else’s premises or even worse terms that we believe are applicable – it isn’t egoism because it isn’t to harm the welfare of others only self interest – by the way talking about sex – I believe sex will be better too – because then it isn’t something we do to gain recognition – but because we want to have sex for pleasure… :-)

    • diahannreyes says:

      Drake, I agree! Self-knowing benefits everyone, really- and all of life’s activities and choices that matter, including sex, career, love, etc. And definitely takes practice learning to listen to our gut and go with that… it sometimes can feel counter to all the “should’s” that society tells us we should follow. But I do know that when I follow my gut- I’m usually steering in the right direction for myself.

  14. SirenaTales says:

    Courageous, wise, passionate, thoughtful and generous you are, Diahann. Thank you for this honest and insightful piece chronicling your journey of healing, embodiment and empowerment. After so many years of dancing and bodywork, I still continue to be amazed both by how we store so much (including so much gunk!) in this precious vessel, and by how miraculous the body is (including in its power to heal). The belly: ah, yes! Such a potent, complex and creative creature and image. Yay you for healing, and helping others to do so by your efforts! Shine on, my friend. xoxo

    • diahannreyes says:

      Thank you, Chloe. the body is really magic. As a girl I wanted magic- I wished to fly and be able to do everything that the magical creatures and humans I read about in books could do even though I knew that none of that was real. Turns out magic is- and it lives in our bodies… real magic and not fantasy magic. I would definitely imagine that you who are so tuned in with your body and its abilities know of its many powers more than most. I also never ceased to be amazed at how much is stored (both the gunk, as you say, and the beauty) in our bodies! xo

  15. markrenney2 says:

    Wonderful writing Diahann. Insightful, informative and courageous, as always.

  16. Katalina4 says:

    One of the reasons I love swimming is the locker room – so many women of all kinds of different shapes and sizes! I mean it’s almost as if we are all totally different animals, different breeds, cause the variety, the diversity of the female body is so broad.
    Love your mission, to write from the belly, to write through and past the shame. It is so liberating for all of us each time we share a little more…. xx

    • diahannreyes says:

      You know, I realized that recently. Went swimming in a pool where everyone happened to be women so a lot of the self-consciousness about whether or not one had a “bikini body” was let go. A lot of beauty that often gets missed when we just focus on the ideals.

      Thank you, Katalina! I really do believe there is power and wholeness to be reclaimed in embracing the parts about ourselves/our body that we try to disown! xo

  17. sarahbgoode says:

    Lots of people consider the gut to be the second brain. It makes sense to me that we would hide a lot of emotional pain there. And also, it makes me wonder why a flat belly became seen at so attractive in modern society. It wasn’t always. But now women have so much pressure on them to be everything. Little wonder, we are ‘supposed’ to have flat bellies/no baggage etc. Great post :)

    • diahannreyes says:

      Thank you, Sarah! I agree w/ you. I suspect it’s because if women weren’t so busy keeping themselves reigned in, the belly being a symbol of that, who knows what we would do w/ all of that reclaimed baggage… and I mean that in the best way possible.

  18. Great post.

    I suppose it all comes down to us being able to throw the light on those hidden aspects of our own self which we avoided confronting. As and when we are able to bring these into light, they lose their power and hold over us. This is when you shed all your inner counter-commitments and witness greater success.

    While technically this can be done by one’s own self, it works much better through a guided session as you have yourself found out.

    I wish you further success as you tread this pathway to a more empowered self awareness which serves you.

    Cheers

    Shakti

    • diahannreyes says:

      Thank you, Shakti. It is definitely a path worth walking. Yes- embracing our light and our “dark” in our totality! I agree that we have the power to do it ourselves- and also that there is a potency to a collective field that can move mountains sooner in my experience. It sounds like you know a lot about this from our own work!

  19. ninoalmendra says:

    Now that explains everything about your blog name in a very nice way.
    I never knew that Belly can be a good storage of bad memories. I normally store everything in my head, no doubt I occasionally got headaches.
    From now on, I will start segregating! Good memories goes straight to the head, to keep it light and bright. And bad memories goes down in the belly, beer will take care of it in a snap!
    Of course I’m just talking on a Man’s way of handling situations.
    Women will always have their own way. Like a ship, she’s unpredictable! =)

    • diahannreyes says:

      Good point that men can be very different animals and deal w/ their emotions differently! You made me laugh with your segregating/beer “solution.” Also, I should add that I do think that another reason for the title that I didn’t go into is that I love food and might want to write about that at some point. For me, food is a direct line to my memories and the places I’ve lived- all I have to do is think of my lola’s puchero and I’m transported to Manila in the 1970’s. Food has always been the way to my heart and the people I love. Hope you are having a great day, wherever you happen to be in the world right now, Nino!

  20. Elizabeth says:

    As usual, your writing hits home with me on so many points not least of which is my own belly. I’m between the rock and the hard place of accepting it *and* being unhappy with it. While I know it did house a little being for 9 months, I also know that extra fleshiness is also due to donuts! And..it’s where my daughter finds comfort. And, and, and… Thanks as always for the healthy food for thought, Diahann.

    • diahannreyes says:

      Thank you, Elizabeth! Your comment makes me think about how the belly must be so powerful because why else would society continue to tie women into emotional knots over its appearance alone? My relationship with loving my belly continues to be a work in progress. I love that vision of your daughter still seeing your belly as that space of comfort.

  21. Marie says:

    Thank you, for an unexpected moment of exhale into the tender places of shared stories.

  22. Lisa says:

    Great post as usual! So well written and thoughtfully, poignantly, and passionately expressed. This blog deserves tons of coverage.

  23. Your post, Diahann, speaks volumes about the healing power of sharing. It’s always a pleasure to read your posts. They are always so authentic and transparent and that what makes them wonderful. :)

  24. So good to see you so grounded, D. I know it’s a process – the point of this blog – but you’ve come far.

    “For me, it has been shame that has compelled me to act smaller, compact my fullness, and swallow my voice.” And you have helped many women, disenfranchised from the world and from themselves, return to their wholeness and fullness.

    This is precious, isn’t it? “In certain women’s circles nothing even needs to be said.” The healing compassion is powerful.

    Your voice has rung clear and strong through the fears and vulnerabilities you lay bare. It is in those places we connect, of course. I think your blog tests the question: “Can you (all) handle the truth, my truth?” It’s the question you grappled with for yourself and once you answered in the affimrative, you’ve held out to us what you have done and felt and continue to hope for. And find that many cAn handle your truth.

    I’m glad to be on your journey.

    • diahannreyes says:

      Diana, I hadn’t even thought about it in that way- “Can you (all) handle the truth, my truth?” That is potent insight. Thank you for seeing and understanding so well, my friend. And for being on this journey with me. I know I’ve said this before, but you were one of the first voices I heard respond when I launched this site last year.

      It really has astonished me how the response in general from people has been the opposite of what I’d feared, and sometimes, even beyond anything I could have hoped for. It’s really humbling and awesome.

      To touch upon the theme of your “Outsider, Looking In” series – Makes me think about how sometimes, when we think we are the ones being isolated, it is really we who are keeping people out. Xo

      • Right. We are the ones keeping others out – in fear. What you share of the surprising, marvelous response to your honesty is what all the guests on my board have felt. =) We’re sort of on a parallel journey.

        Xxx
        D.

  25. “In certain women’s circles nothing even needs to be said. The telling of an experience is visceral, transmitted from one female body to another”.

    The quote I copied here again, reaffirms for me that like attracts like. Bodies can only catch stories they’re familiar with, I think. Love how you were able to catch this with words.

    I also had that weird relationship of wanting the success, not having a clue how to get it, working in madness to figure it out, and then shrinking from any hint of achieving it. Like yours, I understood where the need to hide came from, but even knowing that didn’t stop me from not wanting to become too much more successful than my sisters. To do so would have meant certain death – that of our relationships. Of course, it didn’t matter at, my success or not, only their own preoccupation of their failings – which had included me all along.
    Well, another post that gets me right in the gut – and you have some idea about how vulnerable that area is for me… You do have a way with putting into black and white, what we need to see to heal, or keep healing.

    Utterly love your insight, your humanity, your hard won feminine wisdom. xoxox.

    • P.S. Forgive my unrelenting typos. They beg for life consistently. ;)

      • diahannreyes says:

        Lol. Seriously, I didn’t notice at all if there are any. You are talking to someone who proofs her posts more than 25 times yet five days after publication still manages to find some word or letter or punctuation point amiss. Then I wonder how come no one has said anything- kind of as if I’ve had broccoli between my two front teeth for weeks and people were just too polite or something :)

    • diahannreyes says:

      Thank you so much, Robyn and also for sharing.

      It’s funny how success can sometimes feel like a betrayal and how the force of whatever agreement it is linked to can feel stronger than our will. I totally am familiar with that, too. And then there’s the mad chasing of the tail… I have yet to figure out what is that about… wanting it/not really wanting it/needing it/can’t have it/pushing for it/pulling away from it.

      The gut as that vulnerable place- makes me think of precious, sacred space. xo

  26. Diane Lansing says:

    Deep and insightful again Diahann. My perspective on belly changed when I had my son. I was so in love with the big full belly of baby! I would walk by windows and check out my reflection. After you give birth the belly is jelly like for a few days and even that didn’t detract from the magic of carrying that life inside. I like to stay in shape, but I’m older now and my body makes me happiest when it feels good and healthy! I love reading the journeys all these women have taken and celebrate us all. All shapes and sizes.

    • diahannreyes says:

      I love your belly story, Diane! And the belly is like jelly part- I didn’t know that happens. so interesting and magical, really, this part of the body. Maybe that’s why society is always trying to mess w/ it. Thank you for sharing. xo

  27. Eli says:

    Diahann,

    First, thanks for the like on my post over at Please Excuse My Vagina. That’s how I came across your blog. I’ve stuck around, though, and read this post, and really appreciate it.

    This bit, “For me, it has been shame that has compelled me to act smaller, compact my fullness, and swallow my voice. Shame caused me to entomb my messy truths in the bowels of my belly…” reminds me of an experience I had with a massage therapist. He was working my abdomen and came across a bit that wasn’t tender in a physical way, but in an emotional way. I got teary-eyed and it surprised me, lying on the table crying not from physical pain, but from a buried emotional one.

    Rick, the therapist, noticed and said, “this area here is where we store emotional pain,” and in that moment I felt embarrassed and shameful. How could be know that was what I was crying about? I was scared by that, and felt found out. But scared of what? Scared of being honest. Looking back I can see that pain had a lot to do with hiding my trans identity.

    There’s a reason the saying “go with your gut” exists. There’s a lot of wisdom in our bellies: isn’t it unsurprising the Buddah is so associated with his belly? There’s lots of science that corroborates the idea that our bellies are powerhouses of emotions. But of course in America we’ve created a culture that favors analytic intelligence at the cost of emotional intelligence. What am I getting at? Oh, just that you’ve hit a resonant topic, and I wanted to thank you for sharing.

    I enjoyed this post, and am glad to have come across your blog.

    Thanks,
    Eli

    • diahannreyes says:

      Hi Eli, It’s great to” meet” you. I very much appreciate what you wrote on Sophia’s blog and I look forward to visiting your blog this week as well.

      Thank you for sharing here your belly story and being so generous with your honesty about what came up for you and how you felt.

      I actually never thought about wise Buddha with his big round belly until you said that- but now I think of it, and go, but of course! Thank you for that, too.


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