I spent most of my 20s single. I used to say it was because no guy was interested in me. Or that I wasn’t interested in anyone. Or that I didn’t want a relationship.
The truth sat in a completely different lap. The truth was, I didn’t think I was lovable. And I wasn’t lovable primarily due to my stomach.
I can almost laugh, when I peer over the cliff’s edge from the safe distance of age 33, at what I believed so damn deeply back then. At that time, I would rarely voice it aloud, and when I did, only to a long-standing trusted friend, and usually only after a few beers.
It was so completely real that my protruding stomach, particularly set against my small frame, kept men from being interested in me. Sure, sometimes I thought it might be about other parts of me, like my face, or my hippie clothing, or my occasionally high maintenance personality. But it always came back to my tummy, which seemed to me to stick out like a starving child in Africa, blown up from malnutrition.
But my issue wasn’t malnutrition. It was eating too much. Consuming too much food. At one point, that could mean too much ice cream, at another, too many sprouts. But it was always me taking too much in. Stuffing that sad, lonely place in the best way I knew how. And that stuffing made me believe with all my heart that my body kept me from finding that loving partner.
It is possible that even at the time, some small voice whispered that the link between my thoughts about my belly and my inability to find a relationship was preposterous. But I had plenty of ads on TV, skinny and/or buff women in movies, and what I experienced of many of the beautiful women I knew to constantly prove me otherwise.
They were hot. Guys flocked to them. If I was actually hot, with that thin, flat stomach, guys would flock to me. They weren’t. So I wasn’t.
What I can see now is that I created this maddening belief system, and it just played itself out, plain and simple. But I don’t fully blame myself (actually, I don’t blame myself at all – it’s what I had to go through to get where I am). I place most of the blame on our society’s crazy obsession of some made-up beauty ideal that penetrates almost all of us.
And before anyone thinks, “but aren’t many of our beauty ideals innate? Isn’t it just what we are naturally attracted to?” I will answer with a resounding, “NO.” Just look at what is considered beautiful in India (and how that is changing due to influence from the West). Or what is considered attractive in Africa. The list goes on, and in every place the confluence of different social and economic aspects is what creates the ideal.
How many women believe they aren’t lovable because of one or more body parts? To get an idea, just check out statistics on plastic surgery.
How many men believe something is wrong with them because of what they were born with? Look to the amount of supplements sold to help men “beef” up.
Within the evolving world of nutrition and exercise, the focus has turned to toning rather than simply having a thin frame. Unfortunately, it’s the same thing in a different package. It is setting out an ideal of what we all should look like, and all you have to do is buy this product and work out at this gym and eat these specialty foods and you’ll be perfect. And lovable. And then find that perfect mate.
Yes, this is the ultimate underlying message. Fact is, each of us individually has to be the one to choose to exit the roller coaster.
It’s not easy. First, you have to recognize what is happening, that shaming of your body is all around you. Then you have to accept that this will continue, even as you try to change your own approach and love yourself as you are. It’s an uphill battle, and probably will always remain that way. Money is not made unless people are unhappy with themselves, so the machine will continue to point out your ‘flaws.’
So what’s the benefit? Freedom. Think of all that energy many of us spend on hating our bodies, this body that takes us through every single day, going above and beyond. It does so many things we never give it credit for, and it continues to do it even under our hateful gaze. Imagine if we gave it love instead. Might it protect us from more diseases, provide us with more energy, allow us to thrive?
I’m not arguing to eat a bunch of crap food and sit on the couch and be happy with it (but if that makes you feel good, go for it. Unless you are sick, I don’t believe doing this day in and day out feels good to anyone). Take care of your body with good food and move in ways that bring you joy. Connect to your family and friends. Breathe more deeply.
If you are an exercise fanatic, go for it. If eating a particular diet makes you feel better, stick with it. But don’t let what others do, say, or think guide your decision-making process.
I promise that the more you appreciate your body, the more it will do for you. The more you give it love, the more love shows up in your life.
Here’s my truth: it wasn’t until I really started to let go of my hatred of my belly that the men I was attracted to became attracted to me (or at least, I could start to see it). It was almost exact timing – as one level diminished, the other one rose.
For most of the guys that I became romantically involved with, my belly is their favorite part of my body. And my stomach has not changed; sometimes it’s slightly larger and sometimes slightly smaller. The only thing that has changed is my energy around it.
And if that’s not a reason to throw out what society deems is hot and lovable, I don’t know what is.
[Feature photo: Chele ~ Henna Moon ~]