What Lives in the Female BellyPosted: July 15, 2014
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.