Dear round, protruding Belly,
How’s it hanging beneath that oversized shirt?
OK, but seriously. I wanted to chat because I’ve had kind of an ongoing hot/cold relationship with you, and I think it’s time we sorted this out.
You’ve been with me since birth, Belly. Back then, everyone thought you were the cutest thing ever. Now, I’m not positive, but I’m pretty sure my folks used to kiss you and blow raspberries on you the way I now do with my 2-year-old son.
You got so much love back then. So much!
When I started elementary school, no one really mentioned you. I remember I used to do this thing where I’d walk around and pull half my shirt up, tucking my elbows into the bottom of the tee — until one girl told me that was weird, so I quit showing you off.
I didn’t think too much about you then, except to ask my mom when we were going to eat, because, well, I’ve always really enjoyed food.
It wasn’t until I started doing more “athletic” activities that I really began to notice you. I started with gymnastics. We did some tumbling, and I learned how to do cartwheels and round-houses. I had a great time.
But for some reason, I started noticing how the other girls didn’t have a belly that looked like you. Most of them were slim with bellies that were neatly tucked into their 8-year-old bodies. Kind of like Barbie didn’t have a belly, except I was always more preoccupied with the fact that she had no toes and that her feet were always pointed (what’s up with that?)
But then I started ballet, and that’s when the real belly shame came in.
My teacher, this stern, curly-haired woman who always wore the same distinct perfume every day, would tap you with a ruler and tell me to “suck it in!”
I tried to bring you closer to me, making room for you up against my back, but within seconds I would breathe out — and there you were again. Some girls were older and starting to stretch out into these tall, waiflike ballerinas. But there I was, with you out in front.
And after I while, I began to resent you.
Even when I got to middle school and stretched out like the other girls, you were still around. My mom would take me shopping at Mervyns for pants (remember Mervyns?!). We always had to get bigger sizes and then cuff the legs because you, apparently, weren’t the “right” width for someone of my height.
Who made up the rule that it was cool for guys to sport a belly but not girls? Why did the “dad bod” become a thing, but we’re still telling moms to shed the baby weight?
Once I reached my teen years, though, I began to grow into who I am today. That is, I began to learn to love myself just a little bit more every day. And while I still somewhat hated not having the microscopic waist of my then mermaid-like best friend, I was also kind of proud of you.
You were round and cute, soft, a tad pale.
There was really nothing wrong with you — just something wrong with people who had a problem with you. Talk about misplaced blame!
Once I hit my early twenties and began to drink more heavily than I would ever recommend anyone do, you started sticking out a bit more. Throughout these years, I would have a petite beer belly every other year.
Sometimes, I would boast about you the way men boast about their beer guts tapping on them as they sip their cheap cans of Bud like bad stereotypes. I didn’t get why more women wouldn’t do the same.
Yeah, I know. Patriarchal bull. I just didn’t know the name of the problem at the time.
But you know what, Belly? I still love you.
I loved you as a kid, even when folks tried to make me think I shouldn’t — including my mother, who still sees it necessary to comment on you.
I loved you when you were the product of one-too-many diner runs in high school, and I loved you when you were mostly composed of bar food and Michelob AmberBock.
Now that I’m a mom, I love you so much more, so much. You carried my first daughter as long as my body allowed. After she passed away, you shrank down, and I’ll admit that I tried not to look at you for a while, tried to ignore all those phantom kicks.
Then you were there for me, for us, when I got pregnant again. And man, you got BIG. So big, in fact, that I was frequently asked if I was carrying twins. I know some people would have felt insulted by this; I totally get that.
But honestly, I was just so proud that I had another baby in there, and that you were doing all the heavy lifting. You were a rock star, Belly!
And when it came time to push out our temporary tenant, the muscles you’ve got working in there really came to the forefront.
I don’t think you’ve ever worked so hard.
It was strange when I finally saw you again, but I felt no sadness for my “pre-pregnancy body.” I mean, maybe that’s because you had already been around (more like “a round”...) my entire life. I wasn’t mourning 10-hours-a-week-at-the-gym abs or anything, and honestly, I don’t think I would’ve cared either way.
Bellies frequently get a bad rap. Diets on burning belly fat are constantly being touted on the covers of magazines. Five-minute miracle ab workouts are frequently pushed my way, thanks to a culture that prefers women starve themselves than have “muffin tops.”
And please don’t let me get started on those ridiculous ItWorks! Saran wraps that I’m supposed to use to squeeze you in with all my internal organs. I don’t care if It Works or It Doesn’t.
I just want to tell you that I love you.
I love randomly poking and prodding you because you’re there and that’s how I show affection.
I am absolutely in love with how my son runs toward me and then grabs you with both of his tiny hands.
The way my husband hugs me from behind and doesn’t shy away from touching you.
The way I can feel you working hard when I decide to do more challenging work on the yoga mat.
The way you always make room for all my favorite foods: nachos, pizza, veggie burgers, and — yes — the occasional (craft) beer.
I’m sorry if I didn’t stand up for you enough before, Belly.
But please know: You are appreciated.