Time to stop hating the belly

I just sat here and wrote an entire post that was so bad I can’t bring myself to publish it. I’m trying to figure out what I actually want to say.

I think it’s more like this:

I was sitting at this same table three days ago, writing, as usual, and I looked down and hated my stomach passionately. I hated it for existing. For the physical weight of it. For its soft curve. The way I can’t ever completely suck it in. It was, in that moment, an alien parasite, attached to my body. Something that could never belong.

Poor stomach. It didn’t do anything wrong.

I want to go back in time and pinpoint the instant when this thing started. When I irreversibly decided that this was bad.

I remember standing in the hall with my mom, when I was seven or so, and there was a party going on in the living room and kitchen. I looked up at her and thought she was incredibly beautiful. I reached out and touched her gorgeous belly, which swelled out slightly, and I said, “You look like you’re pregnant.”


She had been pregnant with my littlest brother pretty recently, and she’d read me all these books called things like “Mommy is Having Another Brother or Sister For Me to Play With,” and “Our Family is Pregnant,” and “I Can’t Wait For Mommy to Give Birth Because Giving Birth Is Amazing,” or whatever. I was pretty sure that being pregnant was supposed to be a good thing. Plus, I just thought it looked beautiful.

My mom froze. She looked down at me sternly and said, “Kate, that’s not a compliment.” I could tell I’d hurt her feelings, but I had no idea why.

Usually, she was good at explaining things, but this time she removed my hands from her and returned to the party. I stood there, trying to figure it out.

Now I get it. But that wasn’t when I realized that having a rounded stomach was bad. I don’t know when I realized it. I think it came on slowly, over the years.

People kept telling me, “You’re so thin!” and they didn’t say anything after it. That was the whole compliment. Not even, “You’re so thin and pretty!” Thin meant pretty.

(me, at 16, not sucking my stomach in)

Recently, I overheard someone telling a twelve-year-old girl, “You’re so thin! You can be a model when you grow up!”

I bit my lip. Don’t get involved. Don’t get involved.

My friend told me a story about trying on clothes with her mom when she was very young. Her mom was bragging to a saleswoman: “Look how thin she is!”

My friend thought, “Oh, shit.” Even then, she was pretty sure her body wouldn’t stay exactly the same. She still had to do a bunch of things– like go through puberty.

When I tried on wedding dresses, the saleswoman was telling me encouragingly, “This makes your waist look SO tiny! You look so thin in this!”

And my mom, standing off to one side, was saying, “You don’t need to look thinner. You’re beautiful.” She was getting angry. It cracked me up at the time, but it retrospect, it was very sweet of her.

My belly, by existing, forces me to rethink my relationship with my body. It forces me to learn what I actually think about beauty. Before, when I was skinny, sometimes it was almost as though my body didn’t exist at all. I focused entirely on my face, since my body had already passed some enormous cultural test.

Sometimes I hated my face so much I cried. Sometimes I saw how strikingly beautiful it was.

And now my body has grown into being. It’s here, demanding attention.

I can react out of thoughtless fear- the fear of the unknown and the stigmatized– or I can pause, and try to figure out what I really think. I might really think I am beautiful.

(me at 24, covering up as much as possible)

*  *  *

Unroast: Today I love my tan!

P.S. There is a mosquito that lives in this apartment and is ruthlessly attacking me in my sleep every night. It is my sworn enemy, and so far it is winning every battle. It’s like a tiny fighter jet. It makes me look stupid and uncoordinated. I am covered in huge red bites. Would it be really unhealthy to sleep covered in bug-off spray?

 

38 Comments »

Kate on June 21st 2011 in beauty, body, weight

38 Responses to “Time to stop hating the belly”

  1. Erin Block responded on 21 Jun 2011 at 12:40 pm #

    Thank you, Kate. Thank you SO much. I have been grumpy about my stomach, as of late, as “my body has grown into being.” I’m not used to having a stomach, or an ass, or breasts. They all feel heavy. And, I am only 120 lbs…up from 80…and people are still telling me I’m thin. I feel chubby. But, I also feel beautiful…

    Thanks again.

  2. Emma responded on 21 Jun 2011 at 12:45 pm #

    My stomach is the first thing I check in the morning, and the last thing I check at night. It totally defines my day depending on if it’s flat or not. And I loved this post because it makes me think why does it matter if my stomach is flat or not. How does that even have anything to do with my day and whether it will be a good one or not. It makes no sense, so thanks for pointing that out.

  3. Dee responded on 21 Jun 2011 at 1:13 pm #

    i don’t know how i got here but i am really overweight. it’s something i only see in my reflection and i am always surprised. in my mind i am young and thin with a slightly rounded belly because european women, the sexiest i had heard, didn’t have flat bellies like american women, and perfectly shaped legs and am always admired for my beauty but still surprise people with my intelligence.
    i guess my mother gave me that confidence. i am grateful.

    and you are beautiful and sooo smart.

  4. Samantha Angela @ Bikini Birthday responded on 21 Jun 2011 at 1:26 pm #

    I love that photo of you at 16. You look so genuinely happy. I hope you are just as happy now.

  5. Liz responded on 21 Jun 2011 at 1:28 pm #

    Hi Kate,

    I think you are beautiful, Kate!
    Women, teens, and girls in America (and many other countries) are hard wired at a very young age to believe that our value depends on our appearance. One of the many problems with this thought process is that the media is defining what it means to be “beautiful”. Sad, but true for the majority society. We need to rebel.

    I just published a post at http://www.secretsofmoms.com today in response to the ABC video/article about a 6-year-old healthy active girl who thinks she looks fat. The article states some pretty sad stats about children as young as three years old who are worrying about what they look like. We (every single woman) need to be the change. We need to make that decision every day.
    I don’t mean to sound preachy, and I have definitely dealt with my own body issues—but each of us needs to take our power over our feelings about ourselves back!!

    xo

  6. Liz responded on 21 Jun 2011 at 1:34 pm #

    Just to clarify what I just wrote–I don’t mean to say that we are hard wired to believe that our looks are the only thing we are brought up to believe is valued, but that it does play too big of a role in our sense of self-worth in the media.

  7. b1 responded on 21 Jun 2011 at 2:37 pm #

    Interesting. You are such a beautiful woman and your struggles are intriguing. They show that no matter what size you are, we all have been taught that our bodies are not perfect. That there is some flaw that needs to be fixed. Media has been selling that to us for the past 50 years and we are the only ones who can change that. When we stop purchasing the creams, the clothes, the make-up, the diet, and all of the other things that they sell us to make us look better, then we will evolve.

  8. Andee responded on 21 Jun 2011 at 2:49 pm #

    Thank you for saying your judgements of yourself out loud for all of us; it makes us all more aware of how we judge ourselves.

  9. Kate responded on 21 Jun 2011 at 2:56 pm #

    @Andee
    What a nice comment! Thank you for saying that.

  10. Melissa Smith responded on 21 Jun 2011 at 3:20 pm #

    Thank you for this. I’ve had a lot of this on my mind recently. You’re beautiful.

  11. Mme Wong responded on 21 Jun 2011 at 3:24 pm #

    Great post Kate!

    The story about your friend hit close to home: this weekend, my stepdaughter (almost 11) was recounting me how her mom told her that if she inherited her father’s height (he’s really tall and thin) and her mother’s boobs (they’re quite large), she’d be very pretty. She thought it was awesome.

    I couldn’t believe my ears. I wanted to scream (I still do). I kept my mouth shut. Or rather, I told my stepdaughter that beauty wasn’t defined by one’s height or cleavage, and left it at that. I still cannot believe a mother could say something like that, even in a lighthearted manner. I am still outraged. I haven’t been able to talk about it with her father because I’m just too angry.

    I realize I’m not contributing very positively to the discussion, but I had to get this out.

  12. Lynn responded on 21 Jun 2011 at 3:34 pm #

    I have caught myself doing the exact same thing. When asked if I could change one thing about my body, I always say *I would want a flat stomach*. Just today I was in a dressing room trying on some skirts and looking at my round belly and wishing it was flat. I don’t know why or when I started to do this, but I do. I’ve made peace with virtually every other part of my body, and I do consider myself pretty most of the time, but the belly angst remains. I need to learn to love my belly :)

  13. Sable@SquatLikeALady responded on 21 Jun 2011 at 3:37 pm #

    I have just found your blog (yesterday actually, through Alison at Physically Philosophical — the title just grabbed me) and I just want to say that you have started a revolution in me, in the way I think about myself and my body. You have a way of putting into words all of these subtle truths floating at the edge of my consciousness and it’s so unsettling…and so…I don’t know the word. Effecting? Changing? I don’t know.

    There’s still too much un- and re-settling going on in my brain right now for me to comment on what you’ve written here. But I wanted to let you know about the process you have instigated and inspired.

  14. Kate responded on 21 Jun 2011 at 3:41 pm #

    @Sable
    Welcome!! And I’m honored to be a part of your process!

  15. Kate responded on 21 Jun 2011 at 3:43 pm #

    @Mme Wong
    AAAAHHHH!!!!! (That’s me screaming)
    How frustrating. It really, really bothers me when prettiness is specifically attributed to one or two characteristics, put in a tiny package, and handed to a young girl. Damn it, that’s just unhealthy!

  16. Jennifer Jo responded on 21 Jun 2011 at 7:37 pm #

    Kate, seriously. You ought-a take up belly dancing. I’ve been doing it for a year now and it has TOTALLY revolutionized how I feel about my body, and I was (and still am, sometimes) one of the biggest belly watchers (er, navel gazers?) ever. Do it!

  17. Mandy responded on 21 Jun 2011 at 10:11 pm #

    Body issues are like cockroaches. The lurk around the edges of our consciousness, and make their presence felt in sneaky and unpleasant ways. Only when they venture too far out of hiding, do we spot them, drag them kicking and screaming into the daylight and find out they ain’t so big and bad.
    Unfortunately, most of our battles with body issues have to be fought over and over again, as we learn to be wary, and to keep a vigilant eye out for them.
    Reprogramming ourselves takes a lot of time, and is a constant job.
    Thank you, Kate, for keeping us awake and aware, and for being brave enough to share your own struggle, so that each of us knows we’re not alone.

    Today, I’m not in love with my belly. But I AM in love with being me.

  18. Emily responded on 21 Jun 2011 at 11:03 pm #

    I’ve been lamenting my extremely round tummy since I was little. I wanted to be skinny and flat tummied like Kate was. But as I got older, I started to enjoy my round tummy and soft curves. It feels so good to experience what it’s like to be embodied as myself at every stage of life.

  19. Serena responded on 22 Jun 2011 at 12:25 pm #

    It definitely *is* time to stop the belly-hate. It’s so scary, so awful – how this fear crawls into the hearts of so many beautiful girls across the world, poisoning self-respect & self-confidence.
    And I can relate…when I was 12 I knew I would eventually have to go through puberty…but I was already scared to see my body change…already afraid for what was bound to happen..

  20. zoe (and the beatles) responded on 22 Jun 2011 at 9:53 pm #

    welcome to the bane of my existence since age ten. i cannot tell you how my happiness if governed by the thing that is my stomach. and i cannot tell you how many negative words, thoughts, and tears i’ve devoted to it. it depresses me to think how much time i’ve wasted worrying about something so arbitrary. people do not love me because of my stomach. they love me because of me. i’m learning how to accept myself slowly, one day at a time. it’s not nice to see that other’s struggle, but it’s nice to see someone i can relate to, especially someone whose stomach i envy! (’cause you’re gorgeous, kate).

  21. kathleen responded on 22 Jun 2011 at 11:08 pm #

    Thanks for this post. It can be so hard when you think you are the only one obsessing about something that shouldn’t define you. So hard to separate the self image we give ourselves because our bellies. :)

  22. Anna responded on 23 Jun 2011 at 1:30 pm #

    As I go through my yoga teacher training I am acutely aware of my body at all times. I spend half my life in front of mirrors trying not to judge myself on how I look, but to focus on how I feel. I have noticed day by day my stomach has a mind of its own. Some days it is puffed out, other days it is seemly flat. You know what I have noticed? No one cares except me. When you are happy and have that glow people are looking at your stomach. They are looking at your energy.

    P.S. For those pesky mosquitoes try dabbing some grapefruit or lemon juice in key areas (behind your ears, at the nape and base of your neck, wrists, behind th knees, and your inner ankles – and any other places you are targeted). This is a great repellent. Mosquitoes are attracted to potassium too, so lay off bananas. ^_^

  23. Kate responded on 23 Jun 2011 at 1:44 pm #

    @Anna
    Lemon juice! I love it! So simple!

  24. Throw it Out Thursday 6/23/11 « Melissa Smith Blog responded on 23 Jun 2011 at 5:45 pm #

    [...] Kate at Eat the Damn Cake has Stop Hating the Belly [...]

  25. yaga responded on 25 Jun 2011 at 6:55 am #

    This is such a beautiful piece of writing! Normally, pieces about body acceptance are either hard to read or have a certain feeling of pressure about them… but I just loved to read this and it made me feel great! Thank you!

  26. Lovely Links: 6/24/11 responded on 25 Jun 2011 at 8:06 am #

    [...] Time to stop hating the belly. Word. [...]

  27. mbs responded on 25 Jun 2011 at 8:42 pm #

    i love your blog and i love this post!! i can totally relate to this.. all of this… my mom used to say to me ¨suck you stomach in” a LOT when i was young (as young as 7 and it continues..im 26 now, with two kids) she said it when were i have a mostly flat stomach and people always talk about that (like my moms friends) and i still find myself obsessed.. looking at my stomach in the mirror, for way too long.. hating my stretchmarks, the loose skin, the bloating… this is fascinating to me.. how mothers can say things like that to their kids.. and how we can think our stomach or any other part of our bodies is so important…

  28. mbs responded on 25 Jun 2011 at 8:43 pm #

    i hope i made sense.. english is not my first language…

  29. mbs responded on 25 Jun 2011 at 8:47 pm #

    ok i just re read it and it make no sense.. *she said it when we were sitting at the table eating, walking down the street, over at friends house, while i was doing my homework…*i have a mostly….

  30. - Tessa responded on 26 Jun 2011 at 12:50 pm #

    Having a tummy is a sign that our bodies are performing as they should be – storing food for the times when there is none. I try to comfort myself with that knowledge. I TRY to.

  31. Heidi responded on 27 Jun 2011 at 4:45 pm #

    Oh, belly. Soft, squidgy bits. The pooj.

    I wrote this 3 1/2 years ago http://www.heidizone.com/2007/11/abdominal-appreciation.html.

    And I am still struggling to live and let live with my flabulous tum.

    I wonder why I care. I am quite certain nobody else does.

    Here’s to soft bellies!

  32. Jak responded on 04 Jul 2011 at 7:42 pm #

    I hate my stomach. It pops out and pushes on my insides if I try to contain it. It will not be tamed by diet or by exercise or compression. It makes itself known in a room before my face. What I didn’t know until a year ago is that my belly has been around since I was a kid. It’s always been present, even at my most active and diet-controlled time. It’s here to stay and there’s not much I can do about it, other than work to accept it.

  33. Bookeater responded on 07 Jul 2011 at 1:25 am #

    I started getting fat at age 9 or so, starting with a fat stomach. After being sexually molested, I briefly thought that I was pregnant. The fat stomach was a visible sign that soon I would get in Trouble for Letting a Man Do Things to me. Pregnancy still creeps me out and I still hate my stomach.

  34. Katie responded on 12 Jul 2011 at 12:37 pm #

    i’m thin….always have been. i totally know what you mean about it being a “compliment” in and of itself. it’s always weird to me to see roommates of mine (who are beautiful, in my opinion) weigh themselves 4 times a day….its like a litmus test of self esteem. And at first i’d give them a hard time, then i thought…maybe i don’t understand, because i’ve never worried about my body?? i identify with what you said about already passing some cultural test and never thinking about your body….one day a gf of mine was like “your butt looks good in that; he’ll like that” and i was like…”boys look at my body?? oh….oh i guess they probably do.” it was a weird thing to realize at 24….probably should have figured that out at 14. in my mind, physical prettiness always has more to do with face/hair/etc than the shape of my body. It’s an interesting paradigm shift to consider that other people are thinking first and foremost about the curve of their stomachs, etc. Great post.

  35. Mama Duck responded on 27 Jul 2011 at 7:15 pm #

    i hate my tummy ~ but my kids love it…they say it’s soft like bread dough… ; ) Kate: You are an amazing woman, love reading your posts. We unschool and love reading about your experiences. Thank you.

  36. Spelling responded on 19 Aug 2011 at 8:21 pm #

    i love this post. i can’t remember the day that i realized that i had a tummy, unlike the skinniest girl in my class, stasia. (and of course she was popular and had gorgeous skin that was a mix of white and black and never had a single pimple in high school!) ever since then, (and it’s sad), i’ve been sucking in my stomach. i’ve been doing it for so long that i never walk around with my tum au naturale.

    but i’ve learned… we have to stop comparing ourselves to ‘that girl!’ we’re just gonna all turn into binging machines that never truly believe that we’re beautiful.

    *roast: i just ate 2 margaritas and wayyy too many pretzels. (and it seems to have already had an effect on my thighs) i’ll have to hit the gym for a lot longer tonight.

    *unroast: i have convinced myself that pop is not healthy and so therefore i have completely stopped drinking it! i’m still dependent upon my ice cream and chocolate though.

    stay beautiful, ladies!

  37. Eat the Damn Cake » tired face syndrome responded on 17 Apr 2012 at 6:47 pm #

    [...] has been something that came around later, to look me in the (weary) face from the other side. The flat belly. The thick, lustrous hair. The one poem I had published in a teen magazine as a kid. I thought [...]

  38. Becca responded on 10 May 2013 at 1:44 pm #

    I am incredibly late to this post, but I still wanted to say thank you. This is something that haunts me every day. I hate my belly more than I could ever express, but I have to realize it’s probably not going away without drastic measures like surgery. I lost a lot of weight a while ago, and so I think some of it is loose skin, etc. Some of it, though, is just fat. It’s where my fat settles and where my fat is going to stay. I hate myself and convince myself that my fiance no longer finds me attractive because of this one part of myself. And that makes me sad.

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