Until this past October, I always wanted my stomach to be smaller. My physical self-awareness has been characterized by the balance between Skinny and Fat, Acceptable or Not, Small or Big.
As a first-grader, lining up next to other girls, I took note of the way their bodies and my body fit into our uniform skirts. Some girls seemed barely able to keep their skirts up, they were so lithe and slender; others, whose shirts bagged a bit around the waistband, seemed to need some extra room. My belly wasn’t the biggest, nor was it the smallest, but I noticed that, depending on how I stood or sat or sucked in, I could fall on either side of the divide.
Looking back, I see a happy, healthy little girl whose eyes were so bright, no one was looking at her belly.
In junior high, I used to do two hundred crunches before bed each night, hoping to trim my tummy for that future occasion when I might bare some skin in front of my peers. The glances of guys and the acceptance of other young women – who, I presumed, would only want someone attractive near them – motivated my efforts.
Looking back, I see a twelve-year-old in the throes of early puberty, blossoming into a curvy woman. She is so tender and beautiful, she defies the dimensions of any midriff.
College brought new confidence in everything I was – that is, everything outside the solar plexus. I still did not ultimately trust myself; I could only trust others’ judgments of me. My core remained weak, and I only held criticism of its softness. I learned true vulnerability in the arms of my future husband. He felt the full circumference of my spirit and ever encouraged me to expand.
Months ago, something happened inside of me that brought fundamental change to my life. In darkness and mystery, in the very center of my being, a new life was born. He is still small enough to hold in my hands; I will have to wait until June or July to finally look into his eyes. The center of my world has shifted to rest on this child, my child, a person I have never even met but with whom I am already desperately in love. This recalibration of my consciousness colors everything differently.
My body has begun to follow ancient maps, written in a language I will never know, that direct the growth of my body as it makes way for this new life. The transformation has brought challenge, but has overwhelmingly beckoned my enchantment. The beauty of this evolution has redistributed the weight of importance in every part of me.
Namely, my stomach. I once longed for it to be small and flat. Now, I want the whole world to notice its protrusion! Once upon a time, I reflexively sucked in air when a friend reached for a hug; now, I stick out my middle in hope that someone will touch it and exclaim with excitement. I once worried about the ways my diet would improve or worsen my appearance; now, my concern is to increase the number of centimeters I measure so that my baby is healthy. For the first time, I am happy to take up space in this world because it is for such an evidently precious purpose.
What a shame that I have not always recognized that I take up space for a precious purpose: to walk the planet as a beautifully embodied, abundant gift that anyone should be grateful to receive.
Already, I have let old patterns slip into my passing thoughts. Will my uterus shrink quickly enough so I can fit properly in a bridesmaid gown? Will applying lotion daily be enough to prevent stretch marks? I am not yet perfect in my perception of myself. But I am trying to teach new habits through the marvel of this miraculous time. I proudly post pictures of my baby bump. I gently hold my stomach as I speak tenderly to my baby, to myself. I focus my questions on how I’m feeling, not how I think I’m looking, and determine my well-being according to this standard of health. I look at pictures of women who, standing courageously naked in the face of Judgment, bare their stretch marks and sagging breasts, their bony shoulders and knobby knees, their soft stomachs and big booties, their slender torsos and love handles, their straight lines and their curves, their breadth and their depth…and I take note that I am awed by their beauty. I rarely look long at what they may deem to be flaws. Instead, I am captivated by their radiant smiles, shining eyes, and the wonder of their whole being, rounded and full, taking up just the right amount of space. I can even begin to gaze at myself with such effortless grace.
And when my baby comes into the world, crying and longing for his mother, he will not notice that my belly is too big. He will nestle into the wonder of flesh against flesh, basking in the warmth of coming earth-side. He will find my receptive arms a perfect cradle, my breasts an ideal resting place, my belly the center of all comfort and care he has ever known. The balance between Acceptable and Not will be perfectly achieved in my relinquishment of striving for it. When my stomach eventually recedes to a newfound waistline, I wish for my ontological focus to expand indefinitely. The radical acceptance of Who I Am, for the sake of my child, myself, and the world, will be the self-awareness that centers me most fully.