The first time someone asked me if I was pregnant (and I wasn’t), it was like a punch to the stomach.
I was at work, and it was a particularly stressful day. I had been running around eating junk all day and not being intentional with my sucking in my stomach in the way that I usually employed when I was wearing a fitted T-shirt.
“Are you pregnant?” my co-workers asked excitedly.
“No. Just fat,” I said with a smile.
I wasn’t saying it to be snide or to “put them in their place.” I said it because it was the truth, and at that particular moment, it was one of the first times that it was okay.
I have always had a love-hate relationship with my belly area. She processes nutrients that allows me to live, she hurts when I laugh or cry too much, she signals me when something is wrong, and she has even housed life. She is strong, powerful, loyal, and tough — yet I have never really accepted her fluctuating size or the fact that she never gave me that six pack I thought that I always wanted.
The first time I thought about accepting my belly was when my son was about six years old. Around this age, he had become infatuated with my stomach region. He would grab my belly by both sides, squeeze all of the fat together and say, “I just love your squishy belly!” Then, as only children can do, he gave it a nickname: belly jelly.
When he first started to do it, every instinct in my body wanted to recoil and hide my least favorite body area. My thick thighs or bootylicious butt are okay to comment on, but my “belly jelly?” Not so much.
Then to make matters worse, my son decided to draw a picture of my stomach with stretch marks and all at his father's house and wrote, “I love mommy's belly jelly!”
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My son loved the part of my body that was warm and gave him comfort when he wanted to be close to me. It was the place he laid his head on while he read his books. It was the place he knew he once lived inside.
To me, on the other hand, my stomach was a place of shame.
I have been intentionally sucking it in since I was 13 years old, trying to make it look smaller than it was. I would always sit a certain way, wear certain clothes, and walk with my back as straight as it would go. Over 20 years of this and my son was sitting here telling me he loved the part of my body that I thought was the most imperfect.
I had a choice.
I could get mad at him and say, “that’s not nice” and make him feel bad for telling me in his pure heart what he loves about me. I could also starve myself so I could lose weight, but I am not a very nice person when I don’t eat.
I decided to at least try to love my belly because I believe that my son's relationship with me and my relationship with myself is going to affect the way he views and interacts with women in the future. I do not want him growing up to be like a guy I dated who told me that I would be even prettier if I could just tighten “it” up.
I wish I could say that I am cured of any negative feelings that I have about my stomach. I wish I could say that I no longer suck in my stomach. I wish I could say that I never grab my stomach and think to myself that my body would be perfect if there were less jelly in my belly. I still spend way too much time comparing myself to bodies that have smaller waists.
The journey to love my belly is a long one. I have 20+ years of messaging to work through that tells me that my value comes from being able to “snap back” after having a baby or not having a muffin top. I have unfollowed any person’s page who makes me feel bad about my body, and I have started to follow more beautiful people in all types of body sizes who are giving me the confidence to love myself no matter what pants size I fit into. I am working on creating healthier habits rather than just focusing on what the scale says. I still reflexively look at my stomach area first in pictures of myself, but I try to counter critical thoughts with positive ones.
Because I am beautiful. My son told me so.