December 29, 2011

Don’t Judge a Belly by its Cover.

As part of The Real Body Project I have been getting a variety of submissions; stories, belly sizes and shapes.  All unique in their truth. One women however, RedLin, has a truth that really got me thinking and one that I want to share with you.  Before reading below take a look at her belly. What do you see? Maybe a little scar, a patch of tape goo, and a tattoo.  By the media’s standards a pretty awesome specimen?


A prime example of why we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.

This belly has undergone 17 abdominal surgeries, not cosmetic, but real and at times life-threatening.  RedLin, offers a unique perspective on how we can approach this area of our body. I could try to rewrite what she send me, but I want to get this message out straight from her:

And so I have scars. They’ve faded over the years. The first surgery was in 2002 — almost ten years ago. The first one was certainly function over fashion, leaving me a huge gaping hole that was 9″ x 7″ x 6″ and took nearly two years to heal from the inside out, and since then, some of the surgeries have been laproscopic and some of them have required very delicate stitching, but it’s a mistake to think that the scars that are able to be seen (judged??) on the outside by another human being really doesn’t do justice to what happened to me on the inside each time I was cut wide open to try to get my health problems under control.

Don’t be fooled. Don’t tell me, “it’s not that bad” or “leave that in your past.” Because I still deal with it — every minute of every day. I lost my entire large intestine, part of my small intestine, and part of my stomach. Although my digestive tract works, for all intents and purposes, it does not work well It is not a well oiled machine. It hurts. A lot. Every time I eat.

And to be honest, sometimes I wish that how my belly looked would be an accurate portrayal of how big of a deal it really really really is… because I don’t think that it is clear enough and I wish people had just a tiny bit more empathy. Most people get in on a theoretical level after I explain it, but have a really hard time actually understanding an acute situation — why I might cancel plans or why I can’t eat that thing or why I am so thin or why I need yoga to keep my sanity or why I am not a morning person or why I might need just a hair more flexibility or leeway…  I wish they could SEE that when they look at my stomach. But they can’t.

The above photo was taken last week. And maybe you’re thinking, “Hey, That looks awesome!” But look again. Do you see that square near my left hip? That is the leftover tape from the cardiac monitor I had in the ICU last week. I’ve been there nine times since August 2nd.  There is some tape goo just above my tattoo also. See it? What you see isn’t what you get…This photo is from six years ago:

In the above pic, I was so proud of how strong I felt and how good those scars looked — they were much worse to begin with. Then six years later, I have what you see up top. Looks a million times better… but still hurts a lot. And I’m still struggling a lot.   have an incurable chronic autoimmune disorder that causes my digestive tract to attack itself as though I have the Bubonic Plague. My immune system eats my healthy organs and tissues and destroys them. It’s complicated and it is awful. Chronic illness is a tough thing for healthy people to understand.

I’ve had people airbrush these scars out of photos — me, in a bikini, on a beach, with friends.  Someone will Photoshop the scars out and send me the pic, along with a note saying “those scars don’t define you, so I erased them.” Um… Actually, that hurts my feelings. The scars do not define me. But I am not ashamed of them. They are like battle wounds. Literally. I effing earned them.  🙂

I’ve never really had a body image issue. I’ve never had a fantastic body. I’ve never been on a diet. My parents did not put any pressure on me whatsoever to be pretty or to lose weight or to be more active. However, I have done everything within my power to make this body work for me…  to coax it into cooperation…. to be in balance with me… and it fails me as often as it succeeds for me.  And that is a lesson in humility that I learn every single day.


After e-mailing with RedLin several times I offered up this idea. Photoshopping often alters pictures so much that effectively they have removed our organs; large intestine, small intestine, stomach. RedLin is a real life example of this, but not because she chose to be. If you are missing your organs you will have a flatter stomach. Thus I pose a question similar to the oft asked would you rather be fat or give up your left arm.

How many people would give up their organs to appear a certain way? Would you?

Be a part of a revolution. Send in your photo and your story to The Real Body Project at [email protected]

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Donna Freeman Dec 31, 2011 7:10am

Thanks for your candid and heartfelt sharing. Your beauty and strength are astounding. Recently someone showed me a completely airbrushed headshot, all wrinkles, discolorations and imperfections miraculously gone. I was so upset by it as it didn't represent me and the events that have shaped who I am today. He tried to explain that is how he saw me, as perfect, and I tried to explain that my imperfections are what make me who I am, they are what I contend with daily sometimes more successfully then others. That to truly see me, you have to see the imperfections.

Michele Hendarwin Dec 29, 2011 4:50pm

Moving, inspiring, humbling…..thanks Hannah and Redlin for this piece. We so often judge and perceive from what is on the outside, and miss what is the Truth behind the exterior…..

Tanya Lee Markul Dec 30, 2011 2:12am

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Hannah Siegle

Hannah Siegle began to do yoga four years ago initially for the physical practice, however she quickly discovered that the yoga began to do her in ways she never anticipated. The mind, body and spiritual connection that yoga cultivates has helped Hannah through the ups and downs of life, both large and small. She regularly blogs at Balancing on Two Feet on topics such as yoga, mindfulness, eating disorder recovery and all those things people don’t like to talk about. She was trained at the RYT 200 through Laurel Hodory and is currently working towards becoming a Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapist. She teaches yoga throughout Central Ohio with GoYoga ,yogaServe, and also works as an Assistant Editor for the elephant journal!