People think that because I am thin I don’t have a right to have bad body image. I look back at my younger self and wish I appreciated how I looked then, because I never felt good about how I looked, even when I had glowy skin and firm muscles. In many ways, I feel better about my body now than I did at 18, but that’s not saying much.
When I was thirteen I wore a C cup bra and was 97 pounds. I said, “If only you cut my head off, I would be beautiful.” Every time we went swimming I sucked in my stomach as hard as I could, because even though I was a skinny kid, I still had a round tummy. I practiced walking and talking with my my stomach held in until I could do it smoothly.
When I was fourteen I stopped eating to keep my weight under 100 pounds while I grew a few inches taller. I wanted to be a jockey, and I knew I was already too tall. I figured if I could stay under 100 pounds it might still be possible. My brother happened to walk in on me changing, and told me I was repulsive, that my breasts looked like growths on my bony ribcage. All I could see was that I still had a round belly.
My bout with anorexia only lasted a few months, and when I started eating again I gained nearly 40 pounds in a few weeks. My stomach stuck out even more. People at school whispered that I was pregnant. I had the kind of reputation that it seemed feasible. I wore tight jeans and half shirts which made my stomach more noticeable.
My weight stabilized without any sort of dieting and I wound up about 5′ 7″, 119 pounds, and 34D bra. I still had a little round stomach. Everyone said that if I could only lose 5 pounds and flatten my little round tummy I could be in Playboy. If only I could lose my round tummy. I didn’t really want to be in Playboy, but I wanted the option, you know, if life didn’t come as easy as I thought it should. It would be security. My mother thought I should get a teaching degree to fall back on, but in my head I thought that I could always pose nude if times got tough. I looked forward to being old enough to compete in bikini contests when I turned 18, if only I could get my stomach flatter. I never entered a single one.
In my early twenties my best friend became an exotic dancer. I used to practice in front of the mirror in my bedroom, but I could never really do it in front of people. My tummy was too round, and it would break my mother’s heart. I might have been willing to break my mother’s heart if my tummy wasn’t so round, so maybe it worked out for the best. I spent a lot of time curled in a ball in the closet, crying over how everything made me look fat. I weighted 125 pounds.
When I turned 27 I suddenly put on 30 pounds. People asked often if I was pregnant. I learned how invisible fat girls are at trendy bars on a Friday night. Men would scan the room and not even hover on me for an instant. My step mother started telling me I was too fat to fit into my clothes. My boyfriend, whom I met when i was skinny, asked me to marry him anyway, and I bought my first girdle for the wedding.
When I was 30 I lost that thirty pounds and although my stomach still stuck out, I was so happy to be smaller that I didn’t hate it anymore. I wore bikinis again. I told myself women were supposed to have curves in many places. I felt sexy, but still wished I could take off five more pounds. I just decided that I enjoyed sweets more than I cared about having a flat tummy.
When I was 32 i got pregnant. I had a reoccurring dream of being a stripper, then would wake up and remember that I was pregnant and that door had been slammed shut forever, not because mother’s can’t strip – there’s no law against it or anything -but because my body would never be attractive again. I gained 50 pounds and ate ice cream twice a day. My doctor yelled at me that I was too fat.
When my baby was born, I was proud that my breasts could feed him, proud that my feet got wider to make me more stable as I walked him back and forth to soothe him, and I was glad my belly was a soft place to let him sleep. I found that a jiggly belly is great entertainment for a baby if you let them poke it and grab it and watch it jiggle.
I lost my baby weight easily, and I realized that I still could be a stripper after all, but I didn’t want to any more. My body existed to give life, not entertain. When I nursed, I didn’t mind if my breast showed, as long as my stomach was covered. I knew how everyone was obsessed with stomachs and wanted to know if they were flabby or scarred or hard and tight. I knew mine wasn’t up to par.
I went on to have another baby, and I was proud to say I never got stretch marks. Proud of something I had no control over, proud to say my body hid the evidence of its ability to do the thing I was most proud of it doing? That doesn’t sound right, yet it was true.
I divorced, and re-entered the dating world. I lost all of my baby weight again, plus another 15 pounds. My breasts deflated, but my arms were strong and for the first time I had visible biceps. I was skinner than I was in high school, but the skin on my stomach looked 60 years old. It wrinkled and drooped. I learned to have sex with the lights off, or only while wearing a sexy nightie. I was 115 pounds and I still had a little round tummy. I hit 110 pounds and realized that no amount of weight loss would make my tummy disappear. It was just how I was built.
A few years went by and I slowly put the pounds back on, until I was exactly my pre-pregnancy weight again of 135-138. My wrinkles filled in, my breasts re-inflated, and my hips filled in around a belly that still stuck out. Adding weight made me look less a victim of starvation; you know the look, all skinny limbs and a protruding stomach. Now I looked more curvy, and my stomach made more sense. I still don’t like it though. I would sit next to my boyfriend, and instead of listening to him talk, I would look at how my stomach stuck out farther than my breasts and hoped he didn’t notice.
I went on a Marilyn Monroe movie marathon in my living room. She is build like me. She even has a round little tummy below her belly button, just like me. I start to think maybe women have bellies. I admire her small waist,though, and shop online for corsets and girdles.
I decide that I like to breathe more corsets and girdles allow, and that they aren’t a perfect solution, or I’m not a perfect consumer. They tend to give me weird bulges and roll down at the top, making a weird lump right where I don’t want one, but I keep buying them and hoping for a miracle. instead I look like me encased in shiny Lycra.
I realize that my body type is in keeping with the 1950s look. I give up on trying to look like Twiggy. I start buying fit-and-flare dresses. I stop wearing formfitting tops and trying to hold my stomach in, instead opting for soft and flowy shirts. I wonder if I am a failure, if I am giving up, if I am just too lazy to do sit-ups and too undisciplined to diet more strictly. I wonder if I am being gentle to myself, if I am starting to accept my body for what it is. I like how I look in the mirror in my loose tops and fit and flare dresses, even when I turn sideways.
When I lie on the couch with my children, they like to play with my “fat, jiggly belly,” but they tell me it is their favorite place to lay their head. They won’t love me more if I ever achieve a flat belly. In fact, if I do, they will miss my belly as they have always known it; soft and warm and good to hug.
I write this blog in a recliner with my laptop resting on my legs, and I look down at belly, which is soft and sticking out too far. “I want to make friends with you,” I tell it. It doesn’t answer.photo credits: Left, Middle, Right