I've always hated my stomach. It's the one part of my body that I just can't accept and I'm so tired of the intrusive thoughts telling me I won't be good enough until it's smaller. What steps did you take to let go of your belly hate?
I've spent the majority of my life believing that a flat stomach was non-negotiable. That chiselled abs were a requirement for any kind of body peace and that spending weeks, months, or even years with crunch counts as my only life goal was the best I had to offer the world. If you'd have told me back then that my soft, rounded stomach would one day be the part that I felt most at peace with, I would have stared at you blankly and then done two belly blaster sections of my workout DVD back to back.
Turns out, our ideas about which bodies are good bodies are malleable. I used to dream about moulding and sculpting my flesh into what I thought was the perfect body. I didn't realise that it was possible to mould and sculpt my idea of the perfect body, instead. And in the end, dismantle it altogether so that every type of stomach – soft, rippled, round, flat, firm, or scarred – all became my new idea of perfect. Including mine.
Here's how I began dismantling:
Recognise that the reason why we hate our stomachs is because we've been bombarded with a singular image of what 'beautiful' stomachs look like for our whole lives.
Every ad. Every make-over show. Every photoshopped magazine cover. Every cartoon princess or protagonist. Every music video. Every fashion runway. Every doll we were given to play with. Everywhere. And even now that bigger bodies are being represented in more mainstream media, you can bet on every sit-up you've ever done that 9 times out of 10 they'll still be the kind of 'curvy' that's accepted precisely because their stomach is still flat.
You cannot exist within that ab-storm without comparing yourself and coming up short every time, which is exactly what we're supposed to do. The narrative that a flat stomach is a pre-requisite for beauty, and that beauty is a pre-requisite for happiness makes money, honey. Just think of all the core-targeting exercise plans we've bought and all the magical fat burning pieces of fabric we've paid to strap round our middles. A flat stomach has been part of our cultural beauty ideal for so long because it's one of the most unattainable physiques for most of us, which means we'll spend endless money striving for it. Do the math.
Our obsession with blasting our bellies has been created for profit, maintained by a fatphobic cultural narrative, and keeps us in a perpetual state of never feeling worthy of happiness as we were. In other words, it's fucked up. And you need to be remembering that every day.
Actively work to undo that conditioning by changing the body types that you're seeing every day.
You'd be surprised at how powerful simply seeing bellies of all shapes and sizes being embraced is. Here are some glorious humans to follow who regularly celebrate their VBO and remind me to have no shame in my tummy game:
Start being softer with your softness.
Train yourself to relate to your stomach in a more gentle way, whether that's touching it, thinking of it, or speaking about it.
Take time to sit or lie with your body letting your hands explore your belly gently, noticing how pleasing softness is to touch, giving yourself a little tickle or massage. No more harsh pulling or poking.
Interrupt those intrusive thoughts with affirmations (out loud!), that this is where your body wants to be right now, and you're deciding to trust your body more than made-up rules that have only hurt you in the past.
Practice gratitude – thank your body for carrying you through the day, thank your stomach for the role it plays in helping you function. Remember that your stomach is only ever trying to perform its biological role in keeping you alive and well, it doesn't understand why it also needs to be completely flat or why you would hate yourself for how it looks. Your body is doing the best it can to shelter you, it doesn't deserve to have you warring against it.
It might take a while for your conditioned beliefs about how stomachs should look to rewire, because it's taken you a lifetime to get to this point of tummy hate. But it's possible. So go forth unto your belly-loving future, there might even be a crop top out there in the distance...
Love & bopo,
P.S. If you like this column and want more advice like this, I wrote a whole book of it! You can find Body Positive Power here.