In junior high school one of my friends put her hand on my lower belly as we were walking down the sidewalk enjoying some soft serve. She held it tight and said, “Oh my god, I love this.”
It was just her and me, so I wasn’t embarrassed she grabbed my potbelly — she was my best friend. I had tried on bras with her in the Macy’s dressing room beneath unflattering lighting as we both laughed so hard that tears streamed down our cheeks. She had seen me in every style of swimsuit, trying to hide the little belly-bitch, with no luck. But I remember thinking I wished I loved my belly like she did. Her stomach was a flat as a board, so of course she would love mine. It didn’t belong to her.
I was born with a potbelly. Even as a string bean of a kid with long and lanky arms and legs, there was always a curve just below my belly button. After puberty, I realized very fast I could enjoy all the delicious food I wanted, whenever I wanted, but it would float right to my abs and love handles (I would prefer thighs and ass). I had hard edges, but I also had soft places and curves, and I longed for a different body then, one which did not include this belly.
When I was in high school, for the most part, I hovered around a size 8, little belly and all. I went through a phase where I thought I would love myself more if I was model-thin and limited my calories to 1,200 per day. I lost about 20 pounds, but my belly stuck around, reminding me I was born this way; I was supposed to curve there. I could deprive myself all I wanted, but she was here to stay. Soon, I got hungry, and I got over the self-deprivation, but I would still wish for flat abs.
I’m in my 40s now, and after having three beautiful children, I am embracing the belly. She isn’t going anywhere. I run 40 miles a week because I like to kick my own ass, and train for half marathons, and I feel her during every run, and it is normal. I am normal. That pooch is still there.
I think sometimes we forget normal (especially when it comes to our bodies) has a huge range. After I had kids, I went up a few sizes, and I was normal. My friend had her third child and was feeling bad because she had gone from a size 2 to a size 8, but she was normal (at both sizes). Another fellow mom loves nachos and margaritas and takes walks for her mind, not her body. She is a size 12, looks so smoking hot, and she is normal. Ashley Graham, my favorite model, is open to showing off her delicious curves; she is normal. My sister-in-law does super competitive races, loves the thrill of living on the edge, has very little body fat and flat rock-hard abs, and she is normal.
We are all normal. We all want to look and feel our best. We all struggle to work with the genes that were handed to us because it is so much easier to admire beautiful when we see it in other people. We don’t pick them apart and point out their flaws like we do to ourselves, because it would be incredibly mean and shallow, yet we feel it is acceptable for us to take the abuse.
Our bellies: They are sensitive, soft. They protect our uterus. They are home to all the delicious food we eat. They grow babies. They deserve love — no matter their size. They are the center of our beautiful bodies.
There is no such thing as a perfect body — oh wait, yes there is — the body we have right now, this very second. Thigh gap or no, potbelly or abs of steel, they are all pure perfection. So start treating yourself like you treat your friends. You deserve it.
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