Wednesday, March 12, 2014
For the love of bellies.
Amaliya loves bellies.
Belly (bee-ah) was one of her first words. She gets excited and shouts "bee-ah!" any time her eye catches my stomach peeking out from under my clothes. When I lie down with her she pulls up my shirt, hugs my stomach, and gives it a little kiss. I have no idea how she knows to do this. We talk about how she used to live inside of me, before she emerged to meet the world.
In the evening you will occasionally find my husband and I sitting on the living room floor, shirts up, with our daughter between us. She slaps one of our bellies, then the other, then rubs her own stomach and laughs. I understand the fascination. These body parts we generically refer to as "bellies" are so different from each other - my husband's mocha colored, hard, abdominal muscles creating little hills and valleys; mine pale, soft, lined with stretch marks, spilling out of the top of my jeans; her's taut and round and honey-tinted. All of these are bellies? All of these are the same?
I have no memory of seeing my mom's belly as a kid. It's a body part that, like so many others, falls victim to our insecurities and unrealistic expectations. I hated my stomach as a teenager, wishing it were flat and tanned and beautiful like those I saw in advertisements. Even now I have moments, usually in the middle of the grocery store when Amaliya shouts "bee-ah!" and yanks up my shirt, when I feel embarrassed. Not embarrassed of my child, whose insatiable curiosity and utter lack of a filter I adore, but self-conscious about my pasty, scarred midsection. Those demons from my youth whisper in my ear, "Keep it hidden. It isn't pretty. People will judge you. Your body is flawed."
Marked, maybe. Worn, maybe. Lived in. Well loved. Strong. But never flawed.
My body runs miles, and walks with friends. It lifts weights and grocery bags and toddlers. It loves, and is loved in return. It grew a life, birthed a child, and carried me through the long days/weeks/months that followed. My scars and tattoos and imperfections tell the story of a life that I am proud to have lived.
I silence the demons, and am happy when my daughter pulls up my shirt to kiss my stomach. I hope one day to tell her the story of every scar and stretch mark. I hope to grow another baby, so she can see for herself the amazing things that bodies, and bellies, can do. I will never slap her hand away, yank my shirt down, or hide my body from her in shame. She will know that, regardless of what our culture holds up as the ideal of beauty, in our house we have real, lived-in, interesting, imperfect bodies on display. No shame, no regrets, no apologies. We are beautiful.