Me & My Belly: A Love/Hate StoryPosted: October 18, 2013
If there was a Facebook option asking for my relationship status with my belly, I’d have to choose the one that says, “It’s complicated.” I belong to a family whose women usually grow up to have big, round, female stomachs, and while I love being part of this full-bellied tribe, I’ve often wished that our physical trademark could have been natural washboard abs.
My belly was round from the time I was a little girl. My mom says that’s how I was born to be. “You’re like me,” she told me when I was ten, patting her own bump of a “puson,” which is the Filipino word for abdomen.
I didn’t want a round belly. I wanted a flat one, like the bellies of the three detectives on the popular 1970s TV show Charlie’s Angels. Jill Munroe, played by Farrah Fawcett, had a stomach that was flat even when she wore a bathing suit—unlike me, whose tummy stuck out in my one-piece.
The only time my belly was flat was when I lay on my back. At night in bed, I would run my hand up and down my stomach, enjoying its horizontal shape and wishing it would stay that straight when I stood up.
My fear that my belly would get bigger grew when we migrated from Asia to America to join most of our extended family. My aunts, who had all been slim as girls in Philippines, had turned into plus-size women with bellies big enough to fill their laps. During the taking of family photos they would jostle to get behind each other or insist on sitting in a row with the dining room table in front of them to hide their stomachs from view.
“You don’t want to end up like your aunts,” my uncle would say, half-joking, as if their bellies had become a cautionary tale about what could happen if you let yourself grow too much.
Like my older female relatives, I also tried to make my belly “disappear.” In my teens I trained myself to stick my chest out and pull in my tummy, and I stayed in this uncomfortable position for years, even as I subsisted on half-breaths because that’s all I could take in with my body constricted this way. I wanted my stomach to look like what I saw in the pages of Seventeen and in the movies.
It wasn’t until my thirties that I began to see my belly differently. While studying a subtle body movement practice for women called the Tantric Dance of Feminine Power ™, I got to experience the female stomach in a whole new way.
To learn this dance, I had to relax my upper body and release my belly. I couldn’t secretly keep my tummy tucked in because the teacher wanted us to wear clothing that would allow her to see how the movement was happening in our bodies.
It was like taking part in a belly revolution.
Wearing fitted tank tops, women let their bellies be seen. Some dancers would even lift up their shirts to leave their midriffs bare.
In this class, I was treated to the sight of bellies of all ages, shapes, and sizes: fat bellies, skinny bellies, baby bump bellies, stretch-marked bellies, scarred bellies, and toned bellies. No two bellies looked the same.
At first it was startling to see so many exposed bellies that didn’t appear at all like how women’s abs are “supposed” to look. But it was also liberating.
I realized that my belly, like the tummies of my relatives, looked exactly the way all female bellies are supposed to look: real and custom-created to fit each woman.
I began baring my own belly when I danced, reveling in letting all of me be witnessed. It felt so good to stop holding such a big part of me in, and for the first time in decades I was physically able to inhale and exhale in full breaths.
I’d like to say that since my “awakening” I ignore the pressure to conform to the photoshopped images of female bodies that I see in the media every day. If only this were true.
There are still moments when I find myself scheming ways to slim down my belly. During times when I am able to go to the gym often and my abs are more toned, I can’t help but feel sexier, more desirable—even as I know that this is absolutely wrong and damaging not just to me but to all women.
Still, there are now days when I really am better about accepting my belly in its au naturel state. If only I were brave enough to unapologetically embody the fullness of me out in the world all of the time.
As I look in the mirror and take another “gut check,” I promise my belly, “I’ll be better about loving you tomorrow.”