Learning to love my belly

I have a confession. At the weight I’m currently at, belly fat sits on my bladder, and it easily gets inflamed. This started happening when I was twenty-four, after my first adult weight gain, and I went to a urologist who diagnosed me with something like stressed bladder syndrome.

Particularly, when I overeat or under-sleep, my belly turns hard and bloated. Often, I’ll feel like I have constant bladder infections when I don’t. I’ll feel the urge to pee every five or ten or twenty minutes. I even store up gas easier. It’s easy to feel gross. On a good day I can suck my stomach in or even wear jeans without pain. I’ve given up on almost all tights, hose, or pants not made of stretchy materials. In the past, when I’ve lost weight, this problem has gone away. But I’ve not been able to lose the weight I gained three years ago when I applied to grad school, and I’ve allowed myself to continue feeling like a failure.

So when my belly cries out that it’s in pain, I feel guilty. And loving my body has felt like loving my wrongdoings. I thought I would be foolish to love my belly. I’d be like a pampering parent ignoring bad behavior.

I saw my growing belly, a little softer every year, as the evidence of my lack of self-control and my penchant for overindulgence. Its mass is composed of every café scone I don’t enjoy much but order out of habit. Or the fourth, fifth pieces of pizza consumed even though I knew they’d make me sick. My “what the hell moments,” my I’m too tired to care moments, but then I do care and care and care. For so long, my belly has represented years of choices I haven’t fully owned. And I’ve wondered, how can I love how my body looks when I don’t like how it feels?

I wrestled with this question: how do I love myself enough to change instead changing to love myself. I thought if I truly loved myself, I’d learn to change my behaviors, not just my perspective. But it’s problematic when change is a requirement for love.

Months ago, I thought I’d given up. I’d been fighting the same fight for too long. I decided I’ll never be the type of person to choose the apple or the nuts over the muffin, and my body will always look like a muffin-lover’s body, and accepting this felt like giving in to self-contempt.

But I knew that I was better than that. If I can’t learn to love myself, I can’t encourage others to love themselves. So I chose to not give up.

Something unexpectedly changed when I started thinking up better questions starting with: whose logic was I using? I’ve been afraid that loving my body would keep me from positive change, but not fully loving my body was getting me nowhere either. What would happen, instead, if I allowed myself to simply just love my body, specifically my belly?

And why was I so afraid of being wrong? I’d never trusted my own opinion of my body because it goes counter to so many beauty standards and because I’ve been afraid if I fully embrace being beautiful and someone I desire disagrees, then I’ll feel that much more rejected. What would happen if, for the first time, I gave myself the power to choose my own idea of beauty?

One night, lying in bed, I took off my shirt and took a good look at my belly, ready to love it, but I didn’t like what I saw. Years of fear and judgement are hard to erase.

But neither did I give up.

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I read this post at a party and asked my friends to write loving messages on my belly. This was the result.

A couple of days ago, I walked into the bathroom in a bra and panties and saw myself in the mirror. And for the first time started to find the fullness of my belly pleasing. I can’t say exactly what happened except that slowly I’ve been giving myself permission.

My choices in life, even if they sometimes lead to pain, also lead to richness. My body is a rich body. My body is my evidence of a lived life, of hours spent at coffeeshops doing one of the things I love most: writing, but also evidence of hiking, and my love of butter pecan ice cream, and the wonderful combination of a dark movie theater and popcorn and Reese’s Pieces, and half-assed yoga, and long walks on the beach. I love my life. So I’ve decided I’m going to love the body that lets me lead it.

I’m going to love how my body looks because when others like it too, my self-love lets theirs be a gift and not an obligation.

I’ve decided I’m going to love myself in pain and pleasure, because guilt and shame don’t lead to the change I want. If I lose weight in order to feel better, I’ll be happy. But I’m going to love my body regardless.

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