When my daughter plays with the loose skin on my stomach, I don’t cringe.
When she grabs and pinches and squeezes my flesh, I don’t feel self-conscious. I don’t think about losing weight, or if my abdomen will look good when I’m wearing my best lingerie. I don’t worry about the bikini I just bought or if it’s a good idea to put my not-firm belly on public display.
Instead, I tell my daughter the words for what she’s touching.
“Belly, stomach, pansa.”
I touch my skin next to where her hand grabs and pulls and I say, “Mama’s pansa.”
I take her hand and we touch her skin in the same spot: “Maisie’s pansa.”
She pounds on her stomach with glee, delighting at the noise it makes. I join in, tapping on her tummy and my own, sharing, reveling in her joy.
As she studies my freckles and the mole in my belly button I tell her, “This is the outside of the house where you grew. This is what I looked at when I talked to you and sang to you before I could see you. This is how we were able to know each other, even before you were born.”
We eat breakfast and she growls for more bites. With each spoonful she utters a satisfied sigh and smacks her lips. I know enough Spanish to tell her, “Pansa llena, corazon contenta” (In English, this means “Fully Belly, Happy Heart“). I tell her that I hope she always has a ferocious appetite, for the food that fills her belly and for relishing the world around her.
I tell her that the world probably won’t change that much by the time she grows up, and that there are people who will base her value on her beauty, and nothing more.
I can see it already, her beauty. Not only the beauty that a mother sees, but the beauty that other people respond to. I don’t lie to her. I tell her that in this world, her beauty is currency. I tell her that it will give her a power that she must choose how to wield. I tell her that other people will try to spend it for her, and if she refuses they will resent her. I tell her there are also people who will revere and celebrate her for no other reason than the fact of her beauty.
I tell her none of those people matter.
I tell her she will always be beautiful, no matter what she looks like.
I tell her she must know the whole of her worth.
I tell her that she is strong, and brilliant and capable.
I tell her that I have never had a flat stomach.
I tell her I am beautiful, too.
Author: Elizabeth Dwyer Sandlin
Editor: Alli Sarazen
Photo: Mateo Bagnoli/Flickr