Loving What You Hate

learning to love your belly stomach

For eons, my body image hang-ups have centered on my little belly-pooch. Why is it there? Why won’t it flatten? Will doing the “wrong” kind of sit-ups really make it MORE prominent? Were low-rise pants designed specifically to create a small, uncomfortable shelf for it? Do other women have similar bellies and just disguise them more effectively? Why, oh why, will I never look like Blake Lively in a Herve Leger bandage dress?

I fretted and stewed, moaned and groaned, cursed my lot and tried my damndest to change it. And yet, through weight fluctuations of more than 50 pounds, my tum has remained. I’ve been a size 6 and a size 16 and everything in between. The tum abides.

And I can say with confidence that focusing some intentional love and affection toward the body part I hated most was KEY to moving myself further down the path toward self-love and acceptance. It wasn’t until I forced myself to celebrate what I’d spent so long loathing that I felt capable of continuing my own body image journey. Writing posts about minimizing my pooch, and very intentionally including some tips for clothes to enjoy when minimization is NOT a priority, was therapeutic in ways I can barely express. I don’t gravitate naturally toward tum-highlighting styles, but incorporating them intentionally (if sporadically) has proven both rewarding and fun. I feel more in-touch with my physical self, more alive, more grounded now that I have taken this step toward accepting my body’s organic form. And although I still experience the occasional burst of frustration at it, and although I certainly dress to conceal it more often than not, I now feel almost protective of my little belly-pooch. It’s got staying power. It defines me. It’s a very natural part of me, and attempting to eradicate it is both futile and foolish. It is mine.

I will admit that making peace with my tum has caused me to redirect my personal body scrutiny elsewhere: I fret about my upper arms more than I’d like to admit, and still struggle to give them the same loving grace as my belly. But every summer when the temps rise and I let the panicky exposed-arm thoughts creep in, I am better able to push them out again. I may still be working to love my arms, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to suffer through a hot, humid Minnesota summer in long sleeves in an attempt to disguise them. And I know that’s because I spent some serious time and energy breaking down my hatred for my tum. It’s not a done deal, but I’ll muster up some arm-love one of these summers.

Forcing yourself to love what you hate most about your body is a tricky task, and may not work for every woman. But my personal experience has led me to believe that many of us focus a good 85% of our self-loathing on one specific body part. Dedicating some energy to creating a better relationship with that body part may not be a cure-all, but it certainly can’t hurt. And that kind of intentionality makes room for untold personal growth.

Do you have one body part that bears the brunt of your frustration? What makes you hate it so much? Do you think forcing yourself to reevaluate its worth and importance to defining you could help you heal that rift?

Image is Venus of Urbino by Titian. Give me some flowers and a blonde wig, and this is me, people.

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  • I like this idea for tackling body image hang ups. Facing them head-on seems more constructive than pushing them away all the time, and I’m definitely with you in the “my belly is my worst feature” camp. Thank you for sharing.

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  • LinB

    I have long felt that my skin is my worst feature. As it is impractical for me to completely cover my skin, all the time, everywhere — and as my religion does not demand that I do so — I just throw on stuff that covers up the naughty bits and keep on keepin’ on.

  • Texas Aggie Mom

    Isn’t it funny how we see our own perceived body “flaws” in such a magnified way? If I was asked to describe your body, based on your blog photos I would say something like “Sally has a cute, curvy figure that is very proportional, and everything she wears looks amazing on her!” Not a word about your belly (which we’ll have to take your word for – can’t see it in your pics!) or your arms.

    Whether I’m a size 6 or 12, the upper half of my legs has always been my “problem area.” Even when I successfully trained for and ran a half marathon in 2010, they were still large and lumpy, covered in cellulite and very disproportional to the rest of my body at 5’9″ and 130 pounds. What helped me was to focus on what my legs could do, rather than how they looked. I really tried to appreciate that those fifty year old thighs could propel me an impossible distance of thirteen miles, and to be grateful that I had functional, healthy legs; after all, so many people don’t. But I still hate how they look, unless they are encased in black Spandex. (Thank goodness for Nike running capris – they’re magic!)

    Wish I could say I just love my legs to pieces these days, but I’d be lying. With warmer weather on the horizon and a winter weight gain of more than 10 pounds, I’m already stalking my favorite stores for good deals on capris, cropped pants and my favorite skirt length, the midi, which seems popular again. Please keep writing about maintaining a positive body image – it’s a lesson that isn’t learned easily, but maybe someday I’ll get there!

  • Kristy Johnston

    I do weights to make me feel better about my doughy upper arms. They are still doughy but they don’t saq quite as much as they used to. Plus, I know that there is muscle hiding under my fat.
    The poochy belly thing is normal for women. Those flat abs are not the average. Even for the girls that seriously work out. Even bikini waistlines use to be high enough to not give the tummy a shelf.

  • jan.4987

    I don’t know if I have a disliked body part; I don’t know if I don’t let such thoughts into my head or if they’ve taken up such permanent residence that I don’t notice the sway they hold over my clothing choices anymore.

    However, I can relate to stomach issues. Mine won’t flatten either. I’ve been told that it’s because of the size of my ribcage, I don’t know how much truth there is in that (I think the idea is that a large ribcage and hips will result in a bridge of muscle between the two that stands out further; possibly nonsense but I don’t know). If I could reliably stand up straight without a support garment, which I can’t due to health problems, I’d bare it a lot more these days. That is because since giving up on flattening it, I’ve noticed women who have a wee bulge not being afraid to bare it and realised that I think it just looks *so* cute. That little bit of fat protruding above a low waist looks so cool and earthy and laid-back.

    Maybe I never disliked it, maybe I was just scared of possible reactions of people to me being ok with it. Women who aren’t neurotic about their appearance aren’t exactly approved of anyway, but one going as far as baring a part of their body that is the opposite of how culture says it should be… backlash over that could be bad. I find it easier to say “screw those people” now I’m older though, there is that..

  • It’s hips and thighs for me. They’re the first place I put on weight, and for years I convinced myself that I could not wear a pencil skirt or skinny jeans because it would just emphasize that area.

    I tell myself repeatedly that no one else is noticing them. I still catch myself making a face sometimes when I walk past store windows, but most of the time I realize it’s all in my head, and I wear all the skinny jeans I feel like.

  • PolarSamovar

    That picture is me! Tummy, short wide waist, long rise, short legs. Except that I also have quite a long neck. In Morse Code, I say ENN. 🙂

    I owe my realization of this fact to you, Sal, and your recommendation of the book “The Triumph of Individual Style.”

    Previous to doing the exercises in that book, I thought I had long legs, because, well, because I have long forearms and my dad is tall. (Really!) The fact that I needed *all* my pants taken up didn’t even clue me in. I guess that was denial. Taking a good solid look at my true proportions was an eye-opener. So that’s why the things that look good on me look good!

    I started collecting art images of women with my proportions, to train my eye to see this shape as beautiful instead of “off.” While I believe in dressing to suit ourselves and not primarily to please or attract men, I also know that plenty of guys rather like a rounded tummy; it’s feminine. And a woman who embraces her body type is typically going to be sexier than one who fights it.

    I never really hated my tummy, but I always pretended it would go away if I just lost a few pounds. I’d dress as if it weren’t there – not a good choice, BTW. 🙂

    Now I regard it with affection, as one of the two “anchors” of the look that makes me not like all the other girls – long neck, long, rounded rise. Instead of looking a bit dumpy in pants and a sweater, I feel comfortable and pretty in dresses that flatter and even emphasize my shape. Hurrah!

    • PolarSamovar, it warms my heart to hear this! I know that sounds cheesy, but it’s true! And I think we all have a trait or two that we get stuck on based on our own assumptions or something a family member or friend said in passing once, and it can be SUCH a revelation to rethink our bodies and their proportions. So glad that you feel like you understand and are connected to your own, and that you’re enjoying dressing to your unique figure!

  • what not

    My belly is distended due to health issues. As much as I’m trying to fix that, I’ve also learned to use totally different vocabulary to describe it: What was once “ugh, my horrible belly” is now “aw, my poor belly.” Even though I often still see my belly as a discrete part of me (it’s hard not to, since it’s uncomfortable), it’s something I care for rather than something I resent, and that increased level of self-compassion has been invaluable.

  • Jessica Schiermeister

    I recently gained around 10 pounds during my final year in school (Hello, stress eating!) and I gotta say — I LOVE my new larger thighs. I LOVE my new larger hips. I’ve always been naturally short and thin (never weighing, until this year, over 100 pounds) but I’ve always, always had a tummy pooch. Even when I was in my awkward junior high phase I had it.

    I’m struggling a bit to love my new tummy, too. It’s gotten bigger and it’s annoying because barely any of my pants/shorts fit anymore and I can’t afford to shop for more. I’ve turned back to skirts and dresses for comfort but I find myself looking at my unclothed body in the mirror and wishing my tummy would go away but the rest would stay.

    I’m not a fan of dieting, either. So I’m trying to have my cake and eat it too (usually literally) but I’m really trying to love my new tum. My mother is also currently struggling with a weight gain and it makes me so sad to see her struggle with it.Thank you for this post. It’s helped me re-fuel my tum love again.

  • marsha_calhoun

    Two points of encouragement that made all the difference for me: When a friend (later my husband) once responded to my self-deprecating reference to my belly (I was young then and knew no better), “What are you talking about – it shows you’re a woman!’ And, years later, my yoga teacher (and a former beauty queen in her native country), remarked that she could not understand why in America we seem to think that a woman’s belly is “supposed to” be flat – just look at the art and sculpture of the ancient East, or even Europe (hello, Venus!) and you can see that a woman’s body often and beautifully includes curves beneath the breasts.

    Me, I think that the various objections are sustained by the diet industry and the clothing industry, both of which have much to gain from women’s dissatisfaction with themselves, and as far as the clothing industry goes, it’s much, much harder and more expensive to accommodate a curve than a straight line (I’ve been a sewer for too many years not to be acutely aware of that). But are those good reasons not to appreciate the beauty of a curve? No, they are not.

  • Nomi

    Yeah, try loving extra boobs in yer armpits. Or severe accident scars, or amputations. There’s a difference between “loving” stuff in the range of normal and dealing with something the world universally perceives as grotesque.

  • Charlotte Peck

    Thank you! I used to think sometimes ‘will I really go my whole life without the body I want-one with a flat belly?’ Then I started telling my belly that I loved it and the somehow it seemed smaller-I know it wasn’t but it felt like it. That is when I knew I had such disorted thinking about my body. Do I really, at almost 50 need to keep focusing on this ONE thing? I would let it ruin my day and yet I have a perfectly healthy body that does what it is asked. I am trying everyday to remember to love what it is, Life is a journey-thank you for this post.

  • DorothyP

    I found that once I improved my posture (by abandoning the “chest out, shoulders back!” stance of childhood), my once-prominent stomach didn’t seem as poochy. Tucking my pelvis under and letting my shoulders relax a bit resulted in a smoother line.

  • Apparently in the Middle Ages, small breasts and a rounded stomach were considered pretty damn fine. I think it’s really interesting to remind ourselves that definitions of beauty have changed a lot throughout time.

    When you look at paintings of these past ideals, you can see that the painter was emphasizing this part of their body and felt positively about it – much like the picture you’ve got at the top of this post, where you can see that the womans curves (especially her stomach) are being celebrated rather than criticized. As a viewer, it makes me feel so much more positive about that part of the persons body. So the way you see something really does depend on your outlook.
    Thanks for reminding us of this, Sally!

  • crtfly

    Sally,

    This has noting to do with body image but it does have to do with the painting. Maybe I will have to look up a discussion of the painting. Maybe you know. What on earth is going on with the people in the background? To me, it looks like the (kid) person (kneeling?) on the floor is puking into the furniture while the woman standing up is standing by until the kid gets done puking.

    It looks too much like my old days when I drank a lot. I often would be on the floor, bent over the toilet, while a friend stood by with a towel.

    Chris

  • 33

    I’ve learned to not hate something I can’t change, my shorter arms. This creates a shorter upper arms. No matter how thin I am and how much upper body weight bearing workout I’d do, my upper arms will NOT look long and lean.
    Other than upper arms I am very OK with the rest of me. I consider self lucky that I am proportionate, easily toned (no belly pooch), and healthy.

  • Hah! I hadn’t even looked. Wikipedia says those gals are maids, apparently looking for Venus’s clothes. Which is hilarious to me. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Venus_of_Urbino

  • Veronica

    I can’t say that I actually hate any specific part of my body. I don’t care for the fact that my belly is poochy, but I’ve had 4 kids so it’s kind of awesome.:) What’s funny is that when I see myself naked I think it all looks fine, but when I’m dressed is when things start to look not so hot. I do practice self love on the bits that are annoying me at any given time. My upper arms are a bit flabby but they’re still capable of picking up my kids, doing girly pushups (which I couldn’t do very well at all before), my tummy has grown 4 babies and has the stretch marks to prove it. My thighs rub together, which is more uncomfortable than anything else, but they can carry me anywhere I want. I like that I have hips and thighs.

    Side note: My oldest is named after that artist.:) We just changed the spelling of the name.:)

  • Jessicawnc

    Very good topic and very well stated. Thank you Sally. I got a little down in the dumps the other day when I put a skirt on without tights. My knees are just chunky. There. I said it. I hate it. I wish I could love it. My upper arms are not my favorite either and I check out other ladies arms to see how mine stack up. Surprisingly we are all about the same! Ha! What am I so worried about?? Lol
    But I’m glad you wrote this because the side view is something that is so hard to deal with for me. I’ve got underwear that have the built in tummy panel. I don’t wear them everyday but if it’s a slim dress then yes!

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