It all started during a brief foray into the world of ballet. I was ten, just on the cusp of puberty, and approximately as graceful as a toddler. It didn't take long for me to notice how unlike my body was to my classmates, the winsome, delicate creatures who shared the floor. These other girls were whisper-thin visions of grace. They glided. They floated. They were long-limbs and knock-knees and bony elbows and protruding hipbones, pre-adolescent teacher's pets in pastel pink leotards. I wore florescent fuchsia and always had holes in my tights. And, even worse, I had a stomach. A stomach that jutted forward, straining the seams of my leotard. A stomach that tattled on my penchant for soft-serve ice cream cones. A stomach that stared back at me from the dance class mirrors defiantly, taunting me, comparing my tubby body to that of the lean girls around me.
I hated my stomach. I hated it for existing. I hated the fact that I couldn't suck it in. I hated that I couldn't wear crop tops. From then on, my stomach became the source of all my body hatred. This thing, this foreign sycophant-like thing, attached to my body, this thing I could not get rid of despite countless sit-ups. This stomach.
Over the years, as I plowed through puberty and adolescence and womanhood and post-pregnancy, my stomach became the first thing I'd check in the morning, and the last at night. The condition of my stomach defined my mood. If it was flat, I felt elated, confident. If it bulged, I felt defeated. During my darkest days of anorexia, I would lie in bed at night, hands rubbing my hipbones. They jutted forward emphatically, visible underneath my clothes, like two sharp handles. I was proud of those bones. But even then, malnourished and dehydrated and emaciated, my stomach seemed too big. I'd go through boxes of laxatives and diuretics to shrink it, eat minuscule amounts of food to eradicate it, and make it flatter and flatter. It still wasn't enough.
In the last two years, I have gained 30 pounds. This weight gain was necessary to restore my body back to health and reverse the heart damage twenty years of starvation caused. If I was going to live, I needed to gain the weight. And because I made the conscious decision to live, I gained. And, predictably, much of the weight traveled directly to my stomach
Here's the thing I've learned during the course of my recovery: Hating my stomach all those years didn't change a damm thing. I am not destined to have a perfectly flat stomach. I am never going to be one of those long-limb, lean creatures I see in pilates class, striding confidently in their booty shorts and sports bras. If I was going to recover, I had to let myself just be. I needed to accept my body just as it was.
Therapists call this the paradoxical theory of change. According to the Gestalt Therapy Page, “the premise is that one must stand in one place in order to have firm footing to move, and…it is difficult or impossible to move without that footing.”
In a lot of ways it makes perfect sense; when I hated my body so much that all I did was focus on changing it, it led me to beat myself up in ways that destroyed the intended effect. But when I started accepting my body as is, it allowed me to show my entire self – including my stomach – kindness and love. Which led to greater self-care.
If you had told me five years ago that I couldn’t change a thing until I fully accepted where I already was, I would have tried to get you some psychiatric help. But today I know better. I know that in my life, change doesn’t come from a place of self-hatred, but rather from a place of self-acceptance.
|Rodarte for Target lace dress; Forever 21 lace crop top; Lucky Brand wedges; thrifted vintage bag; Charming Charlie bracelets; Michael Kors rose gold watch|