Thursday, 1 January 2015

My stomach, my self

How it is, and how it was.

I grew up with women's magazines. My parents didn't like me reading them, but I got my hands on them anyway. They were a gateway into a different world, a delightfully girly world of fashion and makeup and skincare and pleasantly obvious quizzes and what he REALLY wants in bed.

All I wanted was to be willowy and ethereal like the girls in the pictures. I was confused and slightly in denial about my own body. Everybody knew there were only three body types. You could be tall and willowy and slender, you could be eye-poppingly voluptuous with a tiny waist and opulent, soaring breasts and hips, or you could be tiny and petite and delicate, waifish to the point of emaciated, with bones hollow as a bird's.

I didn't want the broad shoulders, wide ribcage and thick waist with which I was gifted. I hated most of my body as a teenager, from my wild hair to the keratosis on the back of my arms to the way my thighs touched together at the top. But my midriff was my absolute fixation. My bete noir.

I read from cover to cover any magazine that promised a flat stomach in five days. I followed wonder-workouts for the belly slavishly only to see no difference other than a burning, aching midriff after a week of angry, frustrated sit-ups.

I wish I could say that as I got older my distaste for my body left me. To some extent I have made peace with myself. My hair I have embraced. The keratosis I have accepted, for want of any actual solution, and I bare my arms in summer unsightly pimples and all. I can smile indulgently at the phrase 'thigh gap', shrug my shoulders and move on. My shoulders now actively please me. They are magnificent and powerful and I love them.

My stomach, not so much. And not just because it's been ravaged beyond all recognition by two children. The stomach, the gut, is the very centre of the self. The gut is where instinct and intuition lie. Until I am at peace with my stomach, I am not at peace with myself.

It's hard to be at peace with a baggy, stretch marked, mysteriously fluctuating midsection. It's always been my 'problem area', it's never been flat, it can start the day quite unimposingly and end it looking six months pregnant.

Once upon a time it was quite pleasantly softly curved - at the time of course I loathed every single one of the many millimetres I could pinch between my fingers. Now there are many more millimetres - many more. I am not shaped like a high-street shop model. Most cuts of jeans and trousers dig in in all the wrong places, creating extra inches, spilling ingloriously over waistbands that aren't even tight.

Looking at my stomach in isolation it seems very simple. If you don't like it, change it. Work out more. Do sit ups. Wear Spanx. Go on the *insert wonder diet* diet.

Only I'm pretty fit and you only have to look at me to see, objectively, that I do not need to go on a diet. Waif-like and ethereal I am not, but you would be hard-pressed to convince me or anybody that I have a weight problem.

I have been reading a lot by Geneen Roth recently and I have come to know that it's not my stomach that's the problem - a problem - at all. It's quite the opposite.

My stomach has the answer.

It's my stomach that has been trying to show me the way all these years, while I have raged against it.

My stomach is where I pin all my hopes and fears. My stomach is how I have delayed and postponed life, when life gets scary and real.

I will do X, once my stomach is flat. When I have got in shape and my stomach is nicer, I will buy different clothes. I will pursue a different path. I will do different things.

I will be a different person.

(Only I won't, because on the odd occasion I have had a flatter stomach than usual I was still me)

My stomach is an extraordinary thing. It's a living, breathing, flesh and blood barometer. I know everything I need to know about myself at any given moment, through my stomach. I know how I feel about myself, how I feel about life, how I feel about the world, based upon how I feel about my stomach.

If I am feeling tolerant and loving, my stomach is a gentle friend, the home of my wisdom, the once-upon-a-time home of the children I grew.
Cherry, 36 weeks.
Violet, 36 weeks
If I am feeling angry and frustrated my stomach is the blancmange-like colossus that stands between myself and everything I feel I should be, or want to be. It is the wobbly, white, porridge-like roadblock to my destiny. My destiny as somebody else.

My stomach is a chameleon. It is the changing, shape-shifting monster of my nightmares and the comforting haven of my dreams.

My stomach tells me the truth. I know things in my gut, my stomach shows me the way, it cannot be ignored.

My stomach wants - needs - to be trusted. It demands attention, it wants to be listened to, it will not deceive me.

My stomach, my self.

What My Stomach Did part 1. Cherry

What My Stomach Did part 2. Violet


  1. Ah, goodness. Speaking as someone who is very unlikely to have children, I am very pleased to read what your stomach did. Yeah, you tell it.

  2. Whilst growing up, I would ask my mum about her stomach and her reply would be that because she didn't exercise after having us, her stomach looked, as I put it, like she was pregnant. My sister

  3. urrently feels similarly and visibly recoils when her stomach or figure is mentioned. Always celebrating the things our bodies can

  4. Do, and have done, benefits all of us: the individual, the children, the onlookers. Thanks for sharing your experience.
    Very strange how the comments stop allowing anymore to be written or deleted...