Mar 11, 2016 - Physical Ed    5 Comments

This Belly


A white, fat, woman's belly

This belly is fat, and it’s mine. I own it. I earned it.

And I hate it.

I feel it around me like sandbags as I walk and sit and lie down. It oozes over my waistband. It forms doughy rolls inside my shirt. It pushes clumps of flesh into folds on my back. It rubs my skin against itself until constellations of tiny skintags form in protest. I look at tintype photos of the distortion of bone and organ caused by Victorian corseting, and I calculate how breathless I could stand to be to force that belly out of sight.


L0038404 Illustrations to denounce the crimes of the corset Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images 2 Illustrations to denounce the crimes of the corset and how it cripples and restricts the bodily organs in women. Engraving 1908 Published: - Printed: 10th October 1908 Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons by-nc 2.0 UK, see

This belly comes from my ancestors. I was never cuddled by skinny, bony mothers or grandmothers. All my people are soft and jolly and restful to exhausted children at the end of a day’s play. That gentle flesh came from Ireland’s oatmeal and Poland’s potatoes. It weathered diet candy chews and scales and low-fat, no-fat endurance tests—this softness is stronger than them all.

My mother never said a kind word about her body in my entire life. When I admired her beauty-queen crown, she told me how her thick ankles almost cost her the prize. When I asked her how she danced to the music she taught me to love, she whispered how a ‘60s shimmy with her young, large, innocent breasts got her kicked out of the YMCA dance. When I told her I thought she was the best secretary in the world, she bemoaned her broad hips and butt, shaped by years of day-in day-out office chairs and Diet Coke.

I was barely five when people started exclaiming how much I looked like my mother. Now when I look in the mirror, I see her body, the one she taught me to despise. And I do.

This belly comes from my survival. I wasn’t small as I grew into adulthood—5’10” by the time I graduated from high school, size 12 in my wedding dress at 21—but I wasn’t terribly big either. The first semester of grad school gave me crushing tension headaches; doctors prescribed an antidepressant that was supposed to help. It helped more than I knew, masking symptoms of oncoming fibromyalgia until the day the medication suddenly, mysteriously stopped working. By that time, I was 75 pounds heavier. The male doctor who prescribed it didn’t think to mention that severe weight gain was common.

Fibro triggered depression; physical and mental anguish became hopelessly tangled. The medication that kept me afloat, active, alive layered fat over my bones. The harder I have tried to be well and happy, the heavier I have grown. I’m told that exercise and getting outdoors more would help my mood, but this belly keeps me from venturing out as much as my pain does. The irony is not lost on me that the medication I take to be happier in my mind makes me unhappier about my body.

This belly comes from my children. One of my midwives told me that babies are very efficient parasites, in and ex utero. She meant to comfort me when I was in month 4 of throwing my guts up 20 hours a day, 7 days a week. I remembered it when my second pregnancy had me sick 24 hours a day for seven and a half months, when I was in the ER for fluids when I couldn’t even keep down water. I only had six weeks to balance a pint of Ben and Jerry’s on the top of my belly, between my breasts, and feel like a proper mother-to-be. I don’t have any of those sideways pregnancy pictures–they didn’t look different enough from my non-pregnancy pictures to be worth taking.

Because I was always tall and heavy, I never had a baby belly that could stop traffic as I crossed the street. Nobody inappropriately rubbed my stomach and asked questions, because none of them could be sure it was pregnancy that stretched my shirts tight. I felt like I needed to be working off my baby weight while I was still pregnant because obesity was on every list of risk factors I was given. And if I couldn’t lose weight when I was throwing up non-stop, losing that baby weight after the boys arrived seemed beyond hopeless.

And my belly comes from food, of course. Bread and tortilla and baguette and pita and bagels. Soup and stew and stroganoff, shawarma and spanakopita. Cheeses: Comté, Cheddar, Delice d’Affinois, Chèvre, Port Salut, Gouda, Midnight Moon, curds so fresh they squeak in my teeth. Pasta, pesto, palak paneer, pho. Dumplings of every gods-given nation on this planet. I adore the craft and kindness of food, its intimate introduction to every kind of culture, the warmest embrace of caretakers everywhere. If I could trade my belly for the world of delicious flavors and spices and surprises, I doubt I’d take the deal.


A fat woman in teeshirt and skirt lounging on a couch

So this is my belly, and all the things that made it. It’s where I feel things first–anxiety, relief, fear, welling joy. It presses against snuggling children and beloved friends when they accept my preferred forms of greeting and delight. It catches splashes from the pots and pans where I stir up nourishment and comfort for anyone I feed. It hikes up the back of my shirts when I bend down to garden, giving me unexpected sunburns. It rules out pretty dresses and fashionable clothing. It makes me keep the lights off if I want to feel sexy, even alone.

It’s not going anywhere, if I’m going to be honest. I want to believe people who say I’m beautiful like I am. But I don’t know that I’ll ever make peace with this belly. Like so many things about myself, I can’t love it. But it’s undeniably me.

A fat woman in a life vest, teal hair, and sunglasses, rowing a canoe


  • Once when my older daughter was young, I mentioned within earshot that I was going to try to lose some weight. She gave me the most HORRIFIED look and said “MOMMY, don’t lose your SQUISHY!” She still remembers how terrible that moment was for her–she was deeply, truly horrified. I decided it is rather nice to have “squishy” after all. 🙂

    • My 9yo calls it my “squish” too. The feel of him making himself (bony elbows and all) at home in the comfort of my lap is one of the things that make me feel better about my squish.

  • Bravo!

    I have a belly, my wife and lover has a belly, my baby does not; weight and weight-hate are a part of me.

    At Winter Camp this year, I heard this phrase a lot – “It’s complicated.” It’s not simple. My mental image of myself is never overweight. My now-50 belly sags and my skin sags in ways it hasn’t before. Yet it’s me; and my life’s journey has had that influence in it since I was young; it would not be the same life without it. And I love my life.


  • I’ve come back to re-read this post because it has really stayed with me — particularly as I’ve spent a lot of this week staring at my own fleshy belly in the mirror and trying to exhort myself to go on a diet or start exercising — even though I really don’t want to — but I should because I’ve become really sedentary — but also because I have the drumbeat of the beauty ideal in my ears — even though my feminist mind knows better — and so on, round and round. I am grateful to you for sharing your own experiences. It’s a comfort.

  • Believe the beautiful comments. You are beautiful, truly. Being unhappy with your belly is okay. I unhappy with mine but it doesn’t define my beauty nor does my wifes belly(or lack of) define hers. Beauty is in the eyes of each person and those that see you as beautiful are those that see all of you not just one piece of you.

    Not to upset your husband but, You have GREAT legs. beautiful facial structure and your eyes and beautiful as well, but that isn’t the beauty I see in you.
    You won’t remember me but you helped a disabled vet. in your day job be allowed to dream again and gave him faith in people again. I knew you were beautiful before I looked at you. Then I LOOKED at you and said Wow she is Pretty too. So give large ladies a break not every man wants to make love to a Size 0 Paris Hilton. On bad days I say who wants to make love to a chicken neck, but that is unfair to my thin sisters who have A cups(Real women have Curves) to each their own. Looks like you found a fella who thinks you are pretty special and attractive and beautiful or well those little miracles you have would not be able to curl up against the comfortable spot on mommy when they are upset, or want to show you love.

    Please know you are a comfort to more than those who see you in person. What you write is courageous and the work you do is amazing.

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