What’s eating you?

Today I wore a long purple dress which I rather like – it’s comfortable, and looks nice. It has one drawback though – it stretches over my belly, and from some angles it makes me look pregnant. My belly is not as flat as it used to be, but in truth flat is a word that has always been particularly associated with my stomach in the negative. I’ve been wearing this dress a fair bit in the few weeks since my hysterectomy, in part because, although it does define my stomach rather too well, it’s not actually tight around the sore bits.

As I rode home from the school drop off this morning, on my beautiful Christiania bike, another parent commented at how well I was doing, riding my bike. It could be my paranoia, but she seemed to indicate my belly for a moment – I’m not sure whether she actually thought I was pregnant, or she meant to indicate that I was working on getting fit, or if it was entirely my imagination, but it started to eat at me.

Every time I walked into the toilets at work, I glared at my belly in the mirror. When I walked I became super conscious of how far my stomach was sticking out. I am only 8 weeks post op, so I’m rather proud of the fact that I regularly take the kids to school on the bike, and I have even started riding to work as well. I am getting fitter, building up my strength, and ultimately I will probably lose weight as I get more active.

But why should I care?

My belly is quite round. After 4 pregnancies resulting in two babies, the youngest of whom is 5, how could I expect it to be flat? Sure, I could be thinner, but I actually care more about my fitness than my overall weight, and I’m getting noticeably fitter all the time. I am very active – in fact I am now known for it. (something that would startle my school PE teachers, if they even remember me. If there was any excuse to weasel out of physical activity at school, I was on it. “Sorry, can’t do any exercise today, I’ve just had the braces on my teeth tightened.” Oddly enough it worked. I think they were as keen to get rid of me as I was of them.)

Nonetheless, by the end of a very long and tiring day at work today, all I was thinking about was how fat I looked, and how depressing that was.

The other day my 9 year old started to complain that her butt was huge. This is the same 9 year old who would make a string bean feel all self conscious about its weight and try to tuck its tummy in. A friend recently referred to her as a “pull through model”. You could slip her under the door with room to spare. In fact I must remember that if I ever forget my keys. She has no butt. None at all. A friend of hers is apparently very worried that she will never have a boyfriend because she is “huge”. This is a gorgeous girl with a solid build, but she is fit, active and healthy, and a million miles from obese. She is stocky, and at 9 she is worried this means she won’t find love.

What the hell are we teaching our children, and indeed ourselves? That the only good stomach is a flat stomach.  That curves are something to be ashamed of. That we can, and even should, judge ourselves and others by our body shape, not by who we are or what we do.

We’re teaching boys that their ideal girl is a stick. We’re teaching girls that they don’t measure up and never will. I wish I could say that I ended the day saying “Damn the torpedoes!” and being proud of my round belly, but the truth is that it still embarrasses me.

Now that’s a shame.

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7 thoughts on “What’s eating you?

  1. Joe

    Our 5yo sometimes spouts lines she’s heard from peers or adults at school, even though she personally holds no attachment to the thing she’s saying, such as foods she doesn’t like (even though she does) or what clothes she “should” be wearing this week.

    If a healthy 9yo is actually attached to the “butt too big” question that’s a worry. But she might just be echoing someone else’s thought.

  2. lindamciver

    I’m pretty sure she is just echoing it, Joe, although it’s an idea that keeps resurfacing, so she doesn’t entirely disbelieve it. But she shouldn’t be hearing it at all – and certainly not from other 9 year olds. They may be echoing older siblings etc, but this is where the ideas take root. How sad that these are the ideas we are planting, feeding, watering and encouraging to grow!

    1. Joe

      btw this is why we don’t even own a tv, and the kids get no video time at all. The school has been using “Never Ending Story” in slices as a fill in for recess for my daughter’s class on rainy days. They finished it today.

      Tonight, she complained when she closes her eyes she can’t help being scared by the wolf from the movie.

      This is a *sensible* response to this kind of sensory over-immersion.

      The *subtle* messages, ones about role models and what humans expect of humans and unwritten ideals of personal images, are much more dangerous. Like “Spud” in Bob the Builder who demonstrates attractive behaviours for a child to imitate and always ultimately comes off fine no matter how … narcissistic … his interactions are. Similarly the “foil” character in practically any “kids” show. Or all the “men” in Australian or American tv… clearly I will never be one of these “men” so where does that leave me, as a male with no possible adult personification? (I’m in my 40s, and still not a “man”. Hmph.)

      At least after Never Ending Story I can point out to my daughter that (a) there are no wolves in Sydney and (b) REAL wolves run away when there are humans around, they just look good for making up stories. She thought about that for a moment, and a few minutes later she was asleep.

      “Is her butt too big?” Look thoughtful, peer at it for a moment, and say, “no, honestly if anything it’s not big enough. Of course, you haven’t hit puberty yet so not only is your butt not finished yet it’s not even relevant. Let’s get out a board game.” :-P

      1. lindamciver

        We are very selective about what our girls watch, and I’m pretty confident that this message is coming home from school, not from any media she accesses. But, to be honest, she is also getting it from me, when I fret about the way I look. I think she has tried on the “my butt is too big” whinge and got nowhere with it, and has now appropriately discarded it. But it’s only a matter of time before these messages become intensely personal and harder to discard. As, indeed, they are for me – 40 years old, happily married, with great friends and a great life. Nonetheless, my body shape is a source of stress. And it should not be!

  3. Sandrine

    Be proud of the wonderful person you are and you’ll transmit your good values to your girls. But you’re right… Shame on us, women, we are always embarrassed by our physical.

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