Hard to Stomach

In order to demonstrate the results of her tummy tuck, an acquaintance recently lifted up her top and showed me her perfectly flat stomach. Immediately, I was concerned, not about her, but about the implications her surgery could have on me and my tummy. If I had a tummy tuck, I thought to myself, my stomach could also be flat. I started to fantasize about this. Then, I thought, having that surgery would not be right – after all, if I had it, I would be admitting defeat; I would be saying that I believed the status quo, which says my stomach is too big, to the point where I would butcher my body.

The tummy tuck incident made me realise, though, that I have hated my stomach every day since I was 12 years old. At that age, pork and beans were a popular lunch for my family. At the same time, I started to think about being sexually appealing, and also started to look at my body with a very critical eye (do the two always go together?). For some reason, I linked the puffiness of my stomach to the amount of pork pieces I was eating, so I cut down on those.

Throughout my teenage years, I ran a lot and refused to eat anything that wasn’t low-fat or fat-free, but the tummy bulge remained intact. Throughout my college years I continued to run. However, every time I looked at myself sideways, I hated how the edge of my stomach stuck out further than the point of my nipples.

Several years ago, I started experiencing considerable digestive problems. This made me hate my stomach in a whole new way: it wasn’t working, it looked worse than ever and I couldn’t figure out what to do to fix it. However, I also began to think about my stomach as a digestive entity, as a huge part of my body that provided an essential function. Eventually, I visited a nutritionist, who talked with me about the connection between stress and digestion. I had known about this to some extent, but it took this discussion to make me realise just how much stress and distress were affecting my stomach. Even when I thought things were ok, or was telling myself that things were ok, my stomach knew otherwise.

In conjunction with these digestive issues, I passed the age of 30. However, it has still taken me awhile to realise that food, drink and lack of exercise really do affect me differently now that I am older. When I was in my 20s, people told me that things change once one reaches 30, but I didn’t believe them because I could still drink, eat and not exercise as much as I wanted to.

With age has come an even fatter tummy. Increasingly, strangers ask me when my baby is due or offer me a seat on the bus (so far, I have refused out of anger, but maybe I should start taking them up on the offer!). As any woman knows, to have someone think you’re pregnant when you are not is a supreme insult. And, although I doubt that anything I do will ever make my stomach flatter (apart from surgery), I think I really have to decide which I hate less: cardio exercise or an extra fat tummy.

Of course, age is not the only factor that changes our bodies and our opinions of our stomachs. Our feelings change drastically when we actually ARE pregnant. They can even change from week to week, depending on our period, birth control and other hormonal changes.

All the thoughts and energies and feelings that I pour into my stomach make me wonder where this obsession comes from. I am certainly not the only woman who fixates on loathsome parts of her body. At times, it almost seems like a mental illness. Does it have to do with low self-esteem? With the continuous images of “perfect” women which we see every day in advertising and other media? Or, is it natural? Are we simply to trying to look pretty in order to get more friends, a good job and attract a mate? The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle.

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One Response to Hard to Stomach

  1. Mary says:

    Wonderfully genuine and thought-provoking as usual, Liz!

    As a woman who has spent the past two years pregnant or nursing (until just recently), I am going to hone in on your comment about our view of our bodies when we actually are pregnant. Pregnancy was the first time since about age 12 that I was freed from worrying about being too chubby and worrying about how what I ate affected how I looked. When you are pregnant, you are allowed to have a big belly and it is considered cute! Also, though, I had the distinct awarenes that I was no longer trying to be sexual and attract a mate. (Guys pretty much see the big belly and read it as “taken,” and do not look at you as sexual or attractive.) Isn’t that funny? I wonder if being taken out of the running takes away some of the pressure to look a certain way? Most importantly, though, growing a baby in my belly finally gave me something good to focus on–the health of myself and my baby–and allowed me to set aside my usual self-critical mode of operating.

    While having a baby who consumes a portion of your calories can be liberating, it also brings on a whole to sleugh of body challenges. My baby weight melted away with nursing. While nursing, my boobs were big and my butt went flat. I had to buy new clothes because my old clothes were all too big. I’ve stopped nursing, my boobs are tiny and my butt is round again, and my pants are too tight. As soon as I stopped nursing I was surprised how quickly I started thinking that I should probably not have had those chips with lunch or that ice cream after dinner. It is so easy to fall back into worrying about appearence and noticing all the ways I fall short, except now I feel pressure to do something about it while also working and raising a toddler!

    I am learning, though, to put health (not sexual appeal or adherence to certain standards) first, and to affirm how beautiful and amazing we are as women in all stages of life.

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