center of the universe

Women and their stomachs.

What a sacred and special area of the female form. Holding life, holding power. It is our center and according to the chakra system, the place that holds our self esteem. And yet so many of us attack it. Hate it and feed it with negativity. Engaging in consensual suffocation, rocking Spanx under clothes. Starving and spinning, hoping it will go away. Or laying on cold metal tables, turning to the knife for a more permanent change. 

Recently my attention has been pulled towards this body part. I see friends getting pregnant, watching their bellies grow and witnessing the miracle that is a baby. And then I see others pulling up their jeans, sucking in and saying mean things to the mirror. I thought trips to the plastic surgeon's office would start in our 40s, but I'm watching my peers do it in their 20s. I believe women are free to do whatever they want with their skin, but there seems to be an issue here. Why do we hate our natural form so much? 

Since I have had my own (hellish) journey with the body, I wanted to explore this topic more. So I asked a handful of women I know, between the ages of 25-40, to describe their stomachs and how it makes them feel. Here is what they said:

"Literally speaking my waist is my center. Energetically, it is my source of creativity. My celebrated body part in my youth, it's dutifully maintained its hourglass shape and it's evenness serves to accentuate the width and fullness of what resides beneath. Just to the left of my belly button is the home of one of my two favorite freckles on my body. It probably deserves to be named..."

"My tummy is fairly small, but i have a short torso and no boobs so it looks relatively square (not a good thing). I have mixed feelings about it. Most of the time it gives me confidence and pride at the work I put towards keeping it fit, but for a week out of each month I can't do enough to cover it up. I treasure my stomach like I do any other part of my body, and I know it will be the place where my future children (hopefully) will grow."

"My stomach makes me feel fat and sloppy. Unmanageable. Unfixable. Not perfect."

"I hate my stomach. Even when I'm so thin my hipbones protrude, I still have a pocket of fat under my bellybutton. And I pinch it compulsively."

"My stomach is my least favorite part of my body. It's stubborn yet soft and looks nothing like JLo's in her 2004 get right video, which is my ideal ab situation."

"Shape... I like to say a squiggly line. I have love handles that will take a whole lot of work to get rid of. Wasn't naturally born with muscles there, which I think is genetic because my mom and brother have similar stomachs. Even with all the working out I do, core strength is really hard for me. I definitely can't rock a crop top, maybe in a few more months. But besides my arms, my stomach is one of my biggest insecurities."

"I was super skinny growing up and I'm still pretty thin, but I have a little pouch of fat right around my lower tummy area now that I'm older. I kind of thought it wouldn't happen to me but it did. Working out only lessens it. It seems impossible to get rid of. I don't know if it's modern foods or just my diet, but it's there. It's definitely one of the only things I judge myself or my outfits about."

Here is my version- My stomach used to be my thing. Small waist, bubble butt. I was all about Britney Spears, that perfectly tanned and toned tummy. And I sort of had one. It was something that people complimented me on. And I expected it to stay that way forever. But it didn't. I now take a medication that keeps my weight higher than normal. My stomach is no longer perfectly flat. Everything takes way more work these days. I love good food. I also love good clothes, but can't partake in the dressing room war anymore. If I had a wand, would I change it? Probably. Do I think about it without clothes on? Yes. Will I stop putting a huge scoop of almond butter in my morning smoothie? Not likely.

I knew that asking these questions would provoke a lot of feelings. Some of the women I approached didn't even want to give me a quote. One friend has been modeling since she was young and just realized that she has been holding her stomach in for over 10 years. She is now in the process of letting go, releasing all of the tension stored in her core. Another friend seemed uncomfortable, which surprised me because her stomach is "perfect."

Regardless of how one's tummy looks, we have to remember how valuable this area of the body is. If we want and can have kids, than shouldn't we prepare this space with love? And who doesn't want to feel great naked? It's such a shitty feeling to be in bed with someone, focused on how you look rather than the moment. But SO many women I know do it. And then we wonder why orgasming is difficult. Or why our partner says we aren't present. 

So how do we change this? For me, it's an ongoing process. I make time and space to connect with my body in a conscious way. I place one hand on my heart and one hand on my stomach. Always skin to skin. And I breathe. Feeling into my body as I inhale and exhale. I try practicing acceptance, realizing that I am lucky to have a body that works. A stomach that will one day hold children if I choose that path. And I no longer allow myself to degrade what I see. I try to be loving and kind. And if I can't do that, I step away from the mirror. I'm careful about what I follow on Instagram- model only feeds don't always make me feel best. I also surround myself with powerful females, women who love themselves. Simply by being in their presence has changed the way I relate to my own body. After all, we are who we hang out with. 

If you happen to have a negative relationship with your own stomach, I would suggest carving out time to change that. Get cozy in the sun or quiet in your room and do what I spoke about above. Laying down and feeling your stomach move up and down. Making it a practice to think and speak only kind words towards your form. Your thoughts and feelings may not change right away. In fact, I can almost guarantee that it will take time. But we must start somewhere. Slowly changing the inner dialogue. Simply observing this area of the body, feeling into the softness. The vulnerability. The strength. And over time, cultivating a feeling of awe and appreciation. 

The path to body love is not easy. For me, it has been quite a challenging adventure. One that I will write more about in the future. But the small efforts and commitments to changing my ways have made all the difference. We are all in this together. And together, it is easier to remember that we are magic. 

Photo: Nitsa Citrine

HealKenna Conway