December 13, 2011

Fear of the Belly. A Cultural Epidemic.

A heart on the stomach.

Self-love in a most vulnerable place. The stomach, the belly, the abdomen. The focus of so much angst, worry, pain, fear, anxiety.  Is self-love here even possible?

American culture is obsessed with the idea of a flat, rock-hard stomach. Muscles shining through and definition galore. The absence of fat becoming a status symbol.  Is your six-pack there? If yes then you have arrived. This is the message that is sent. Celebrities shown pulling up their shirts in public, magazines screaming how to get that sexy, defined look and TV ads for the latest and greatest fat burner.

Soft, pliable, round, full, vulnerable. All dirty words.

This message came across to me very early in my youth.  I was a larger child, with a belly that protruded beyond my hip bones. As I grew into adolescence I became aware that this wasn’t ok. I longed to get rid of my paunch and roundness. It showed weakness in me and made me different from everyone else. I obsessed on this area. Starting at my stomach in the mirror, sucking it in many, many times a day and as my eating disorder progressed I was crazed with making sure that it was really getting smaller, that my hip bones were there and sticking out. Tape measures were used to ensure that I really was shrinking. However even as the numbers decreased I felt disheartened that some fat still existed there. I didn’t look like the rippling fitness models.  And if I sat down forget it. Fat rolls spilled over my entire abdomen and all my efforts at perfection dissipated. I was the fat kid again.

Over the years, no matter where I’ve been with my eating disorder and body I’ve never had those abs I wanted. A layer of fat still persisted no matter my size or shape. I slowly numbed out to this area. Refusing to look at it in the mirror and instead feeling it from the inside out, a problem in itself as I dealt with persistent digestive trouble. IBS, heartburn, food intolerances. I can’t help but wonder if these digestive problems were fueled by my toxic fixation on this area. A lack of self-love that manifested from the inside out.

This picture evoked a lot of emotion in me.  Hands placed on the stomach.  Something admittedly I still hate to do.  Feelings of discomfort abound with my exterior there even though I suspect that much still comes from inside. The stomach is the last to heal.

As a society as we control our stomachs we also control our feelings and emotions. Hardening to the outside, keeping everything in. In truth a flattened abdomen denies the very things necessary as humans. A strong core doesn’t’ mean a flat belly. Developed abdominal muscles are actually rounded in appearance and have crucial purposes as they help to align our torso, breath, and keep us erect. We are designed for physiological purposes to hold fat differently here and a small layer of fat is actually healthy.  In women this fat is needed to have strong bones and balanced hormones.

This area also houses the enteric nervous system, a place that is often considered to be the “second brain.” Here lies more nerves cells than in the rest of the peripheral nervous system combined. Would you abuse your “first brain” with constant efforts to shrink and hone? Would you melt it away?

Embrace this space. Love it and allow it room to grow and flourish. The more love that you give your stomach the more it will restore to how we are meant to appear inside and out as humans. Come into the full stillness that resides here and listen to what you hear.

What does this photo evoke in you?

Edit: The photo above was chosen because it began this whole train of thought. I realize that it isn’t realistic in many ways but I thought it was important to include it. I don’t imply that this belly is round or full from the outside, but could feel that way from the inside, akin to my experience that I write on.


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