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.
What is it about talking about my period that can relegate me, a grown woman, to a whisper?
I was at a freelance job the other day when I remembered I had to cancel a facial because I had just started to menstruate. My entire body is more sensitive when I bleed, which can turn a pampering experience into an uncomfortable one.
I called the receptionist. Just as I was about to tell her why I needed to reschedule at the last minute, a coworker came back to her desk right next to me and sat down.
Worried she might hear me, I found myself lowering my voice to a whisper. “Yes, I have to cancel because I’m on my period” I said, the last word practically inaudible—as if this woman, who has given birth to three children, might be offended by me saying the word out loud.
Just writing about my menstrual cycle makes me want to stop and change topics—as if I’m committing some offensive act, discussing a subject that is not appropriate for public consumption—even though menstruation is a healthy, natural part of being female, and none of us would be here if women didn’t bleed.
I’ve had my eye on Jane Fonda since I was a girl. During the ’80s, she frequently showed up on the big screen, appearing in many of the movies I would go to see with my mother—9 to 5, On Golden Pond, The Electric Horseman—and even at home on the VCR, where, like in the Horseman flick, she starred with Robert Redford in an earlier film, Barefoot in the Park. (My mom liked Jane, but she was an even bigger fan of Robert’s.)
I was more into Michael J. Fox and Molly Ringwald back then, but Jane was definitely a part of the picture while I was growing up. I knew that Henry Fonda was her dad and Peter Fonda her brother, and that Bridget Fonda, Peter’s daughter, was her niece. She was a familiar figure.
I got to know Jane even more the summer after my high school freshman year. I was browsing through the discount sales shelf at the local bookstore when I saw her photograph on the cover of a large paperback book. She was in black tights and a red and black striped shirt, and she was seated on the ground with her legs raised in the air. In bold black letters over her were the words: Jane Fonda’s Workout Book.
I recently took part in a women’s subtle body movement class where the teacher had us explore our tongues. For nearly an hour more than a dozen women lay on yoga mats in the dark as they got to know this part of the female body.
As I lay on my back with my eyes closed, I stretched out my tongue, opening my mouth so there was room for its full extension, then curled it back in, rolling the surface of my tongue over and my top front teeth and then across the insides of my cheeks. I then curled the tip of my tongue backward so that it formed a ‘U’ over itself before lifting its tip just high enough to graze the roof of my mouth.
As I stuck my tongue out between my lips, letting it slither through my teeth, my neck to arch upward, my chin jutted out, and my shoulders reached back in a stretch. I discovered that extending my tongue in different directions—first up, then down, and later in circles and wavelike motions—created a ripple effect, as my back, my arms, hips, and legs began to extend themselves outward too. By the end of the exercise, my body felt all stretched out.
Up until now, I’d never given much thought to my tongue—only that it’s a necessary human organ for articulating words and tasting food. But having spent so much time getting to know this part of my body better, I was struck by a few aha’s that go beyond the tongue’s shape, texture, or the way it moves.
1) The tongue is a ripcord to inner space.
Stretch out the tongue in all directions and in different ways long enough and it’s like pulling the ripcord of a parachute. Only, what it opens up isn’t an expansion of space in the body. Extending and twisting and turning my tongue around caused the tension knots in my shoulders to dissolve, which led to my back relaxing, the tightness in my hips loosening, and my nervous system letting down.