I have a confession. I have spent most of my life trying desperately to conceal or minimize my belly.
Even as a child, I had this little “pooch” that stuck out. I always took ballet and the leotards and tights dug their way into that pooch that wouldn’t budge. I wished on eyelashes that I would wake up with a perfectly flat, no, perfectly concave stomach. I would stare at myself in the mirror, sticking it out, sucking it in, pulling it in, flattening and spreading it with my hands as best I could – then I’d pinch all the belly I could muster. Oh, how I hated that thing.
As a teen I learned about sit-ups and crunches and ab-work and pilates and when I would put on my leotards I would hope in vain that the 25 sit-ups I had done the night before might have made a difference. More and more I started taking things into my own hands to rid myself of this abomination. I was taught, over and over again, that this belly just needs to go away. I so strongly felt that I needed to make it disappear, and then everything would be alright.
I went through periods in my twenties where I felt skinny and the belly was a little less of a problem. On those days I felt happier, more confident. But then I would wake up the next morning with it protruding over my pajama bottoms. What pants could I possibly wear that were both cute AND would hide my body? What could I wear that would make me appear different? What would make me appear better?
Now in my early thirties my relationship with my body has changed, mostly for the good. I have bad days and I have good days – the good days mostly outweigh the bad. But still I sometimes see my reflection in the mirror in an exercise class and all I notice is that darn belly trying to peek out of my lululemon pants that were supposed to be so slimming, they were supposed to make it disappear, at least for a brief moment. The deep-set belief of belly being bad as a child still rears its ugly head as an adult.
Five months ago I kind of fell into a new yoga studio with brand new teachers and a brand new practice. I fell into this studio during a period where a lot of change was happening in my life – everything felt like it was uprooted and of course this made me go back to old patterns of disliking my body. I almost didn’t go to my first class there because I thought to myself “No Maggie, you’re dealing with enough change right now, why add more fuel to the fire?”
Fast forward to class last week when our teacher Mitchel instructed for the umpteenth time for everyone to let our bellies be long, to let them hang out. When we are on all fours or in crouching cat (think downward dog with very bent knees) he often instructs us to imagine our bellies swaying side to side like a cat. And whenever he does this I can’t help but smile and think of my cat Milo who flaunts his belly like it’s his job. If he’s flaunting his belly, why shouldn’t I?
But the point is that for these five months I have been instructed to just let my belly be. To let it freaking hang out. To forget about the sucking in, the flattening, the diminishing, the shortening, the crunching. I can let my belly be itself – that little pucker toward the bottom of my torso that has held on to so much guilt, shame, and pain for most of my life. And the more I allow myself to let my belly be, the more confident I feel and the more solid I feel within the structure of my own body.
I am discovering a part of my body, my belly, for the very first time. With fresh eyes and a loving and wholly accepting heart. I know that my belly journey will have its ups and downs but what a great sense of relief to put my hand on my belly and say to myself, for the first time ever, “Hell yeah!”