For those of you who know me well, you’ll know that weight and body image have been lifelong areas of growth and exploration for me. I spent the first 30 years of my life trying to lose weight. More recently, I’ve shifted to trying to appreciate and love my body just as it is. I haven’t talked about these issues publicly much, but depending on how this goes, I may post about food and body image again in the future.
I had an email exchange with a friend the other day in which we were commiserating about a shared shame of our stomach areas. Oh, the stomach - in my case, that is. For others, it’s their thighs, or their back, or their wrinkles. Almost every woman I know has a body part or feature that they cannot imagine ever coming to terms with, let alone appreciating, unless said feature changes dramatically or goes away altogether. I imagine this is true for many men, too, though I haven’t spoken with men about these issues as candidly as I have with women. And for my gender-queer and transgendered friends out there: I’d love to talk to you more about these issues!
When I told my friend that I had made progress around my tummy issues lately, she asked, “How did you do that?” And I was momentarily stumped. It’s been such a long process that I can hardly remember all of the twists, turns, and moments of awareness that have helped me make shifts. But, I really wanted to email her back with something better than, “Gee, I’m not sure.”
Once I thought about it, I came up with a few insights that have helped me to embrace my body, belly and all. In sharing these insights, I’m certainly not suggesting that they will, or should, work for anyone else. We’re each on our own journey, and I believe we’re right where we need to be on that journey. If these thoughts happen to resonate with you, great! If not, no sweat – it’s a beautiful thing that we’re all so different in body and mind. J
At times when I haven’t been able to appreciate the beauty of my body, I’ve at least been able to appreciate its functionality and its sensory capabilities. My body has taken me on hikes, it has danced, it feels pleasure, it tells me when I'm in danger... I try to thank it whenever I'm in a place of gratitude.
Another moment of insight arrived via the amazing Anne Cuthbert. I did a 3-month teleseminar program with Anne , during which she suggested that I do the following: "Imagine that your stomach is the sexiest thing about you, and that everyone who looks at you thinks, 'Oh wow, look at that beautiful, sexy stomach!" At first I thought it was bizarre, and I thought there was no way I would ever be able to do that... but, I figured I may as well try it. For a week I walked around letting my belly hang out and thinking, "Yeah, that's right. I have the sexiest belly around. You know you want it!" It still felt a little ridiculous... yet, in time, I started thinking, "Huh. There actually might be quite a few people out there who think my body is sexy just as it is. I’m not going to contradict them!" I’m shocked that there are now some days when I look in the mirror and legitimately believe that my stomach is sexy. Who knew this was possible?!?!?
I also try to appreciate my body as a testament to the life I have lived and the struggles and challenges I’ve faced. Within my body (including my stomach) is the story of how much I have endured and overcome. It says that I am strong, that I am resilient, that I have hope.
Finally, I fervently wish that every woman could feel beautiful and loved in her current body, and I'm frustrated and saddened by the way our culture shames women's (and men’s) bodies. I almost think of it as an act of rebellion, and of solidarity with women everywhere, to challenge the dominant culture and say, "That's right - I love my body as it is, even though it does not fit into your idea of what it should look like. For the sake of myself and women everywhere, I refuse to let you tell me my body needs to change. Accept it or move on. Your issues are not mine to take on."
With all that said... there are still days when I look in the mirror and wish I could make my stomach smaller. But I'm more kind to myself now than I have been in the past. Again, I share all this not to prescribe what’s right for others, but with the intention of spreading awareness about these issues – and with the hope that someone will read this and know that they are not alone on this journey.