Thursday, February 3, 2011

A Girl and Her Belly

Touch the Ground

Downward-Facing Dog

Good Socks

Tuesday Night’s Randomness (2/01/11)

The title of this post would work well with either of my two blogs!  I like it.  Maybe I’ll find a reason to use it over at Life, Love, and Food.  For now, this post is not about what I put in my belly but rather how I feel about my belly on the outside.

I do not have a particularly svelte body type.  I’ve got muscles and short legs and no waist.  For years, I felt self-conscious about my belly and the way it sticks out.  Even though I’ve always been active, I had a little bit of a pooch, maybe even some love handles.  I didn’t hate my belly, but I felt better when other people couldn’t see it.  Letting it all hang out made me feel vulnerable, exposed, imperfect.  I didn’t like those feelings.

In high school, I became more aware of my body’s shape and its “flaws.”  Thinking back on those years makes me a little sad because I’m reminded of how easily I became fixated on what my body looked like, rather than knowing and loving what it could do.  After high school, I started college and my belly obsession hit its peak.  Those were the days of Britney Spears mania, with pictures of her stunning abs mocking me everywhere I went.  It was irritating beyond belief, but secretly—of course!—I wanted those abs.  I started doing more abdominal exercises, which wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, as I was also running cross-country, and a strong core helps make you a stronger runner.  But I knew that the real reason I worked my abs is because I wanted them to look more like the ideal—more like those of a pop star.  (Sigh.)

I never drove myself to what I would call unhealthy extremes in my quest for a flat, gorgeous belly.  I had a full, vibrant life in college—lots of class and lab time, awesome professors, loving friends, and occasionally time to just relax.  In the fall, I had my cross-country season, and in the spring, I had easy runs and more time to spend with friends.  I was an excellent student, but I was very anxious about my future.  I think my ab obsession served as a mostly-harmless distraction from those deeper anxieties about what I would do after college and whether I’d be happy.

After college, time and lifestyle changed my body.  I went from sitting in class most of the time to running around during my work day.  I went from walking around a tiny campus to walking everywhere in my little city.  I discovered Pilates, then I fell in love with Pilates.  Yoga followed soon after.  All of these changes added up to less of me: I lost twenty pounds between my senior year of college and my fifth year of grad school.  My belly got flatter, my body looked sleeker.  The only part of that which was intentional on my end was the belly: Pilates did for my belly what no amount of cardio could do: it toned everything, adding strength and definition.  Even so, I’m still not one to parade around so everyone can see my middle.

Next week, my man-friend is coming for a visit, and here is where I confess something a little embarrassing: I think about doing some last-minute Pilates just to look good in front of him.  I feel ridiculous about it!  I don’t spend too much time thinking about my abs these days; I’m not as devoted to Pilates as I once was, and I’m okay with that.  When I remember, I try to spend some time in plank position and do some bicycle crunches, and maybe I throw in some push-ups while I’m down on the ground.  That’s what I did on Tuesday night while I was watching Law & Order: SVU on Netflix: ten push-ups, twenty bicycle crunches, a few deep breaths’ worth of plank position.  All of this while watching crime drama and hanging out in my old houseclothes.

Is it wrong to do something just for vanity’s sake?  I don’t think so if that thing is not harmful or extremely time-consuming.  Popping a Pilates DVD into my player certainly won’t hurt my quality of life, even if the only one who will take note of its effects is me.  I feel confident that my guy would still love and desire me even if my abs turned into a muffin top.  And I’m damn sure that he’s not thinking or worrying about what I will think about his body next week.  That’s one of the things that irks me most about being a woman: we are expected to spend a lot of time on our bodies to make them look good.  While I am very happy to spend my time running and doing yoga because it makes me feel good, I am always disappointed to think about exercise in terms of appearance, weight, and living up to societal expectations.  There was one time when I was out jogging in my old neighborhood in Evanston.  As I ran by some dude, he said, “Trying to lose some weight there?”  And I was stunned.  Was he being cruel, or funny, or was he just clueless?  As I considered these possibilities, I got mad.  Because what business does he have saying that to anyone, let alone some stranger he sees running in the neighborhood?  Would he have said it to a man?  If not, why?

No, sir, I was not trying to lose weight.  Thanks for asking.  Next time, mind your own damn business and keep your nose out of mine!  If I had it my way, asking someone about their weight would be considered as taboo as asking about their sex life.  In fact, I think it is.  My weight and my personal life are private—they are not up for public consumption unless I say they are.  Even so, I still prefer to run while wearing a shirt, and I always feel a little shy going to the pool in a bikini.  I will wear a bikini because I think it’s a healthy way to embrace my body as it is right now, but I consider myself fortunate that nobody says a word about any part of me, even my little love handles.  That’s the way it should be.


  1. Okay, I cannot BELIEVE some people. Who says comments like that to people out for a run? Sigh. You're right, weight and such should not be on the table for discussion unless you decide to put it there.

  2. I know! That man was ridiculous. I wish I'd had some snappy comeback, but I was speechless with shock. What a jerk.

    I do think it's really healthy for people, especially women, to talk about weight and whatnot because it is such a big part of how society views and judges women. That's why I decided to write this post. I sometimes wish that there were no such thing as appearance, that we were all sort of ghosts so that it wouldn't even be possible to judge someone based on their appearance. Wouldn't it be a relief to yourself?