My stomach is my one thing. Everyone has one, it’s that thing that you really hate about yourself. It’s superficial and stupid, but you can’t help but stare at it when you get into the shower or put on your clothes.
My stomach has never been flat. I had a swollen belly as a child running naked around my house, and it to this day it still refuses to leave. I’ve always been a naked child, I don’t do well with clothes. As soon as I got home from school, off went the clothes and I was happy to sit in my living room in my underwear and watch TV. I still do that honestly, some things don’t change.
Growing up meant body pressures and expectations, so I noticed that my childhood tummy didn’t stretch out when puberty hit and I shot up inches. I felt like a troll from a childhood storybook. I had long gangling arms, something my mother referred to lovingly as “chicken legs”, no boobs to be found and then this protruding stomach. All I needed was a toothless smile and I was ready to move under the bridge and scare little children.
Puberty sucks for most people, and for me, it hit hard. Braces, acne and no chest to be seen! It didn’t help that my tween years were in Athens, Greece. Land of tan beautiful women, and even prettier teenagers. How is that possible? I speculate the water. Top that with the boom of Myspace, and I had all the photos I ever wanted of my exploding face and metal mouth.
It wasn’t until I moved to an American high school that I finally got a break. The braces were gone, the hair was long and I was the “mysterious foreign girl”. Inside I still felt like that troll, but on the outside things were doing okay. I moved to another high school, developed what I diagnosed as a stress-related eating disorder, and dropped about twenty pounds. My lowest was 115 pounds, which years later I would proudly keep on my driver’s license until I was told that if I was more than five pounds away from that weight I needed to change it. I finally changed it two years ago.
I started college at The University of Alabama, which to those of you who don’t know, is a mecca for sorority girls and underage drinking. I realized that I looked like an infant compared to these girls. They were the royalty trying to cross the bridge and I was still, you guessed it, a troll. I started calorie counting heavily, punching into my app every morsel of food that passed my lips. I went to the gym and droned away on the elliptical like the other girls working out in January for that “spring break body”.
I studied theatre in college, which meant that every once in a while during class a teacher would tell us that we “needed to lose ten pounds”. Thanks teach! I’ll get right on that! Not to mention that my classmates were toned triple threat wonder-stars, which was hilariously terrible. My body never fit in, and to become what they wanted I would need to do more and eat less.
To this day I don’t understand how it happened, but one miraculous day, I decided not to. I have no idea how or why, but I realized I was tired of spinning my wheels and getting nowhere. So I stopped. I stopped counting, running and rejected it all. In protest, I wouldn’t go into the gym. I was a liberated troll! I could live elsewhere than the bridge!
I finally started to understand that the troll body that I was given would be the body that I had. I finally started to accept the parts of myself that I wasn’t convinced needed changing. This was a big deal to me. Self-acceptance started to funnel into my life and I felt defiant and happy. I wasn’t completely friends with my stomach, but we were cool.
A couple of years later, I would go to Pride Weekend in Florida. I would wear my bathing suit proudly and force myself to love my body. I would even go topless, which strangely enough didn’t make me feel sexy. It made me feel childish, like when a kid squats down to the sand to pick up a shell, their butt a counterweight to their squishy tummy. I felt that nostalgia again of running around my house naked. I felt silly in the best way possible.
As we grow, it’s harder to cling to things that make us feel like kids. Nothing is better than feeling the bliss of being a kid. You don’t care what people think, the sky is the limit and your only worry is when it’s time to go inside. Uninhibited joy. When do we as adults feel that? When are we not psychoanalyzing every thought and situation? Just doing and loving and enjoying. Letting our stomach rolls jiggle with laughter.
I am sorry to my tummy, for trying to change it. For trying to make it flatter and hard. For restricting it and mashing it into size four pants. For feeling uncomfortable at my friend’s pool party. For looking up $3,000 Cool Sculpting treatments in college. For reconsidering wearing high-waisted pants because they emphasize my middle. For binge watching workout videos for six-pack abs.
Never again. I’m going to squish it and poke it and remember that younger me wouldn’t want it any differently.