I’ve had two rolls in the middle of my stomach for as long as I’ve been able to eat solid foods. Through maniacal sit ups and questionably healthy eating patterns, they’ve stuck with me. Sometimes they’re more faint, other times more pronounced but no matter what I do, they’re always there. I’ve gone through periods when I think about them constantly, and others when I don’t even remember they exist. I’ve both hated them passionately and felt implicitly indifferent towards them but have never, not once, thought that I could love them.
Recently, I posted a photo to Instagram of these rolls (what I call my RBF; resting belly face) accompanied by a caption that read, “I got nothing but love for you.” I didn’t mean it when I wrote it but once the photo was live, I felt curiously liberated. Truly loose.
Not at first, though — at first I felt nothing at all. I went on with my night: dinner in Bridgehampton and then ice cream in the town over. But while I sat on a bench licking at my vanilla cone, it hit me. I looked down at my resting belly face and before I could articulate what I was thinking, my husband, Abie, reflexively asked, “What now?” This was as if to once again defend his wife against her harshest and most constant critic: me.
He got a different perspective, though. I looked over at him and asked: “Why do I get so angry about these guys? They represent a lot of really great memories: you and me sitting on this bench eating ice cream on a balmy summer night. The fantastic dinner we just had with friends we feel so lucky to know. Drinking wine with our parents, who are still alive and so well. They’re an emblem of our best spent moments — all of the times I chose experience over vanity.”
So why would I get rid of that? Eliminate those memories and even more importantly the rituals — now physical anecdotes that live on my stomach — that got me there? Without meaning to, I reframed the way I look at myself. Flipped the narrative and convinced myself to salute the thing I hate instead of criticize.
It sounds so cheesy, right? And maybe it is. But it’s also quite simple. Simple enough to take seriously because…what do you have to lose?
Of course, when I checked back at the photo, what I learned was that the majority of the responses were not unique. Arms were up, ready and outraged to tear me down for referring to my “anorexic skin” as rolls.
But here’s the thing — and it’s important: We all have an achilles heel. Something we don’t like about ourselves. Sometimes we use this thing as fodder to connect with each other, but other times we’re afraid to share it because of precisely the feedback we think we’ll get.
Should I feel shame for being shamed about openly posting a photo of a physical weak spot? Of course not. But does the reader know that this is a weak spot, as opposed to a humble brag? Probably not. It’s worth trying to understand that your experience isn’t anyone else’s and that this is true for them, too. You aren’t them, they aren’t you, but that doesn’t diminish, take away or alleviate either experience.
I know I’m quite thin and that the rolls are small but everyone has their shit, point blank. And that shit deserves a chance to be unpacked — shared publicly, if desired, and celebrated because only once that happens can it be freed.
You know, maybe I’m late, but I’m beginning to realize that confidence doesn’t come from losing weight or straightening your hair or buying new clothes or getting a nose job. Those are things we do to numb our psychological demons. We think our problems will be solved by “correcting ourselves” but I wonder, is what we’re doing just trying to overcome shortcomings that have nothing to do with our features and everything to do with how we talk to ourselves?
This morning, I did a workout that kicked my ass. I’ve taken this particular class many times before, and have almost always gotten really mad at myself. For not squatting low enough or jumping high enough. For not being able to hold a plank long enough or for feeling out of breath too soon. Today I didn’t think about any of that. In fact, after the class, without cognitively searching for a positive thought, or frankly thinking about anything at all, I heard myself saying thanks to my body for taking such good care of me. And in that moment, I felt decisively at peace with myself. It was really nice.
Collages by Emily Zirimis and Krista Anna Lewis.