Oh hey there, Belly. Tummy. Stomach. Gut. Abdomen. Whatever you call it. Learning to love this part of my body has been a real doozy for me. The two parts of my body that I hated the most were my thighs and my tummy. Ever since I had the awareness to recognize it, I have been sucking in my tummy to make it look flat, or in order to look thinner, or to hide its soft curves and gentle rolls from other people’s gaze. I totally admit it. This was an area of my body that needed a major makeover – not even physically, but I mean in the way I talked to it, what I expected from it, and how I related to it. Because our bellies are part of our bodies, and our bodies require kindness, compassion, and understanding in order to go through this life with us and help us truly thrive. I was not doing that, friends. So years ago, I realized: it was time to learn to love my belly.
How do you treat your belly?
I want to start by saying this: learning to love anything, or repairing a broken relationship takes time. So I’ve taken MANY beautiful steps toward loving my belly. And yet, we’re not exactly on “I love you 100% all the time” terms, either. I’m on this loving journey with you. I’ve become aware (in more ways than one) of how much I hold in or flex my belly. It’s become especially obvious the more that I meditate! When doing a body scan or slowly going through my body from head to toe, bringing awareness to each part and allowing it to relax, I almost always notice that my tummy is clenched. When I let it go, and release the hold, I feel more at peace, am able to breathe deeper, and have a more expansive feeling.
So why am I sucking in my gut so often? How in the world have I become conditioned to do so? It comes down to how I see myself, and how I perceive others view me. OK, so legit, my past self was SUPER worried that if I had a less than perfectly flat tummy that other people would think that I am ugly, unhealthy, unfit, and unattractive. All those “u” words. Logically, I knew this wasn’t true. But a big voice whispered loudly all the time: “suck that in or he’ll think you’re ugly”! or “don’t let them see you’re bloated today – they’ll think you don’t take care of your body!” or “Better not wear that shirt, it will show your belly and that thing is NOT cute. And you need to be cute to be loved.” For real, this is what it came down to. Sound familiar?
Even if it doesn’t, you may be able to recognize the pressure in our society to have a firm and fit abdomen. There are countless workout videos dedicated solely to this part of the body. Glossy magazines obsess over it. Articles are written about how celebrities get their tight tummy back after having kids. And women everywhere compare their self worth to the size of their pants or the inches it takes to go around their belly. Having a six pack or a toned tummy is lovely, and it’s also not the only “good” way to have a tummy and means nothing about your true worth.
Listen to Your Gut
Don’t get me wrong, plllllease. A fit and healthy tummy is a big hurray! Taking care of your body in a loving and respectful manner is so so so good. And getting to that place takes compassion and understanding. It takes listening to your gut – and I mean both in the metaphysical sense and the literal sense. Trusting your gut and intuition becomes easier with practice, and is only possible when you lift any tightness, anger, or resentment of that area. And having a healthy gut and stomach is key for overall health.
Here’s something to consider: my gut was screaming at me for years, and I didn’t listen. I was diagnosed (that feels like a strong word, but I suppose that’s correct) as lactose intolerant at age 9. And it was a pretty intense. Like, if I had just one Hershey’s Kiss I’d be sick for hours in the bathroom with major cramps and diarrhea. SO I took lactase enzyme pills with my meals. For years. Even with the pills, I still felt like poop (literally), and needed a bit of “recovery” after very dairylicious meals. But I kept at it. My body had tried whispering, gently: “Hey there, Kimmay. I don’t like it when you put dairy in me. I feel pain and discomfort and inflammation. Did you notice that?” And I would cover that voice right up with some pills, and tons of other things going on in my life. Who has time to reevaluate their dairy intake and create a new eating regimen when they’re working full time and going to school full time and falling in love? Honestly! So, that whispering turned into a pleading, and then yelling, and then screaming at the top of its lungs. My stomach had had it with dairy. My whole body was very sick, and the doctors couldn’t figure out why. So when I finally sat down and listened, the most obvious thing occurred to me: “Kimmay. Cut the dairy. Your stomach isn’t happy with it. And when your stomach isn’t happy, you are not happy. Work with it. Trust it. And give it only what it wants and needs. Not what it doesn’t.”
That was 2013 or so. And I’ve been dairy free ever since. And my tummy and I are having a much better go of it. And just like in any relationship, I keep checking in to see what it needs, what it craves, what it could do without. I used to say “Ugh, my stupid stomach is upset!” Now I’m no longer cursing it for being in pain. In fact, if I’m ever sick to my stomach, I usually apologize. I say “Ooooh, tummy. I know I shouldn’t have eaten that. I’m sorry. I will do better next time so that we both don’t feel this way. You deserve good nourishment and health.” Yes, I talk to my tummy and my body. After all, we’re in this life together.
Learn to Love
Speaking of together. What I am eating is just one way I updated the relationship with my tummy. The other was less about what I put into it, and more about my relationship with how it looks. I was such a mean girl to my tummy in the past. We’re still working on that, but gosh we have come a long way. Every time I looked in the mirror I would curse it for not being flat. Every day I got dressed I’d resent it for being in the way, and try to hide it with clothing. Each time I went to the beach, I’d try to find the best position so that I didn’t have to suck in as hard, and could trick people into thinking I had a smaller tummy. The thing is, I actually did (and do) have a relatively small tummy. Did I have washboard abs? No. But I had a healthy, beautiful body that I took for granted. Ironically, now I have more inches on my waist and years on my body, and I have so much more appreciation and love and respect for my tummy.
I realized that the way I was speaking to my belly was not serving us. I realized that the outside validation I was seeking would never add up to my inner self worth. I recognized that my stomach was not the enemy, and that my body is a God given gift and tool that I should take care of and work with so that we can go out in the world together and get shit done. I started small. I started by apologizing. I asked for forgiveness. That helped me stop comparing. And seeing other bare bellies in bra fitting rooms during my time as a bra fitter helped me see bodies with new eyes. These were not airbrushed to perfection bellies. These were real, human bellies – mothers, young, elderly, healthy, sick, supermodels… That helped me lift a bit of the resentment and fear. I started to find that loving and caring for my stomach was the road to hurray. Not cursing it, starving it, or forcing it to change.
I went from a person who would never wear a midriff and panicked when wearing a two piece bathing suit in public, to the person who travels all around the world doing photo shoots in my underwear and lingerie. I’m not saying you have to or even want to do that – but my oh my I feel such a healthy dose of freedom and a release on the self judgement now. That’s a huge hurray.
Sometimes these photo shoots land on or around my period. That’s no so Hurray. It’s nearly impossible for me to hide bloat (or my emotions) just before my cycle starts. I have done SEVERAL photo shoots with lots of bloat. And the first time made me anxious. And the more and more I did it, the more and more I realized that this is what my body looks like today. This is who I am today. I can choose to cower or I can choose to say hurray today. That respect for my body as it is today has fostered such a powerful relationship with my belly, and my whole body. Instead of going through images of myself in my underwear and thinking “ugh! That angle is so terrible!” I think “this is what love looks like. I have loved on this body, and it shows.”
I don’t want to mislead you. I still like to choose the image of me with the flatter looking tummy than the one with rolls or bloat. And sometimes in the photo shoot I’ll do my best to pose or hold my body in a way that I think is more flattering to my body – especially my tummy. I want to look and feel my best, after all. It’s the same reason that I wear pants with a higher waist or a looser dress on a bloated day. It’s not that I’m hiding my belly. I’m choosing to wear what helps me say hurray that day. And something that is digging or too tight, or shows off more than I want to that day is not the pathway to hurray for me. You get to decide what makes you say hurray. You get to determine where you are on your journey with your belly. I am committed to keeping it real. So you’ll never see an airbrushed belly on my site. You’ll also see that sometimes my belly looks different based on if I’m standing, if I’m sitting, if I’m bloated, if I’m leaning over. Bellies are like that. You’ll also see that sometimes I’ll choose the photo showcasing my soft rolls over one with the flexed tummy, and sometimes I won’t. What I hope you’ll really see, is what love looks like. Hurray!
Building a Healthy Relationship
As noted above, please keep in mind that learning to love anything – especially if there is some repair needed in the relationship – takes time. You wouldn’t expect to be best buddies with a friend you’d been fighting with for years after one heart to heart conversation, would you? Building up the trust, loving compassion, and authentic care can take some time. And just like with most relationships, it can be worth the effort. Especially when you two are connected for the long haul. Unlike a bad friend who you may need to let go of, your belly and your body are constant companions on your journey through life. So creating, growing, and fostering a healthy relationship is so so so so worth it.
Want to try a few things? Below are some ideas, stories, and suggestions from readers like you. Plus, my list of 15 simple ways to say hurray for your belly on the inside, outside, and underneath! Take a step. Start the conversation. Learn to love your belly.
From Hurray Kimmay Readers & Friends
Don’t just take my word! Here are some stories from real readers – including those of several ages, life stages, and body shapes. Chime in with your own story or questions in the comments!
I call it my belly because my first yoga teacher reminded me that your stomach is an organ and not the flesh covering it. I just try to love it as it is. It flows with however my stress manifests. I bloat easily and it’s always my belly first. I’ve learned to love that too.
It’s my belly or “tum,” for sure. I have historically had neutral belly-feels: as a teen/young adult I had way more things to hate about my body than the tum 😉 One of those things was my body hair, and part of that is my prominent ridge of hair from navel to mons (pubis)…which I was ashamed of until ppl started commented on it in the positive. Now, regardless of other hair whatevers, I leave the trail; belly looks wrong without it. In my late 30s I appreciate new things about its round little swell, namely the perfect palm-sized cuppable nature of the belly. I also find it a very centering and comforting place to hold a mudra in meditation: hands near or on belly makes me feel safe.
Stomach health: stress goes straight to my intestines, so I have a fine communication system set up with the ol’ guts. It’s very matter of fact, and while I don’t *enjoy* it per se, I do appreciate how simple it is to know if my body has something to say.
My belly means so much to me. While I’ve had a love/hate relationship with it for years too long to count, once I began having children I realized just how sacred this part of my body is. My belly, my womb, the holy waters that carry life and bring it through me, from one plane to another. I look down and I see six babies who’s seed were planted and grew there, the stretching, the tumbling, the once flat and fABulous tummy is now a soft pillow where my babies and teenagers come to find peace and comfort.
My belly is also my messenger, the first place that tells me clearly that I am off balance, that I’ve not taken care of myself well or shown myself the love I deserve.
PS: I did a project on my belly in massage school and I cried through the whole thing
I call it my road map of survival! I have had no less than 5 surgeries (including a life saving kidney removal for cancer) that have left numerous scars. I still wear a two piece suit (I can’t stand a white belly). Now mind you I have extra padding that I sometimes lament. So, I do have a love/hate relationship with it, but in the end I am proud to be alive so it puts things into perspective for me. My belly has caused me much pain…labor, fibroids, IBS, burst cysts and more, but it also bore me the greatest gifts I have…my 3 sons.
Oh my belly – what a journey we’ve been on! I can still remember the first time I noticed it touching the tops of my thighs when I sat. It was on the way home from winter break during my first year of college.
Throughout eating disorder recovery, many years later, I gained weight and my belly got softer. But I started to love her more, part of that particular journey. I loved her softness. I still do.
Then…I started having severe GI symptoms. I would bloat to such a severity that it would be hard to walk or breathe, and I’d have to pee every few minutes. There are so many rules I have to follow now to keep my stomach happy now – eat slowly and at set intervals, no stuffing myself, no lying down after meals for at least 3 hours, follow complex food rules, and so on. Add on top of that severe core weakness and muscle imbalances. The issues literally run through every layer.
Nothing about it is easy, including my relationship to her. As of writing this, I love on her as much as possible but there’s resentment there too now, for the limits her insides place in me.
But I appreciate how perfect of a pillow she makes for my beau. I enjoy seeing her physical strength return (and my pain decrease) as I re-learn how to engage my core muscles properly. I’ve learned what she needs & how to care for her during bad bloating. For now that’s where we are and I know our relationship will continue to evolve, hopefully for the better but definitely not linearly!
I have stretch marks, which I really hate. And a pooch – which I can’t get rid of. But I love tummy rubs! Who doesn’t want a tummy rub? Especially after I eat too much. It feels the best.
15 Ways to Love Your Belly
Want to take a step to love your belly? Here are 15 ideas to help you learn to love your belly on the inside, outside, and underneath. Hurray!
Inside: What we put in our bodies and what’s going on in our hearts and minds.
- Eat well. Wellness starts on the inside, and your gut is responsible for a LOT of your body’s overall health and function. Choose foods that your belly and body love and make them say hurray.
- Detox. Want to find out just what your belly loves and what it doesn’t? Try working with a nutritionist, researching healthy detoxes (emphasis on healthy – not one of those starve yourself for days type of thing), or doing an elimination diet. Tune in and you’ll learn so much about your belly and what makes it happy!
- Meditate on your belly. Take deep deep deep belly breaths with your eyes closed and hands on your tummy. With each breath in, relax and fill up your belly with air. With each breath out, release your resentment or fear as the breath leaves your body. Do this again and again. You can even look up meditations, or recite mantras like “my belly is my friend” or “I love and support my tummy”. As woo woo as it may sound, you can drop in to that part of your body through meditation and ask what it needs and desires. It works!
- Cleanse your third chakra. I could go on and on about this. Your solar plexus is home to your third chakra, and it is responsible for your “self-esteem, sense of purpose, personal identity, individual will, digestion, and metabolism” according to Yoga Journal. There is so much work here to explore, and I invite you to go on a little research of how to open, clear, and work with this chakra. Working on this one can open up a whole new level of power and personal awareness. Hurray!
- Write a letter. What do you want to say to your tummy? What do you need it to hear? What would it say to you? What would it request? Write it out in a letter. Journal about it. Get out what you want to say and what you need to hear on paper.
Outside: What we put on our bodies and how we interact with the world and people around us.
- Belly baring clothes. Try doing yoga in just a sports bra. Dare to wear a mid-driff or crop top. Dip a toe into belly baring clothing and try it out. This may be out of your comfort zone, so give it a try at home first if you like!
- Loose, flowing clothing. Some days your belly just wants to be free and covered and not be gawked at. On days when I’m feeling bloated, for instance, I know that a tight dress may not make me feel my best. So I wear a billowy dress or oversized sweater and just let my belly be as big and bloated as it needs to be without having to worry about whether someone else sees or loves it.
- Update your waistband. I was a low rise jeans girl alllll the way. Until I realized that my high waist and low rise jeans left my tummy feeling exposed. Plus, it cut into my gut and created muffin top. So I updated to high rise jeans and I feel a million times better. I also started to use belts. I hate it when my pants start to slip down and my belly hangs out, so I use a belt to keep my pants up and my belly covered. I also love to belt a loose dress to show my waist. Play around with the kind of waist that makes YOU feel like a million bucks. Maybe it’s the opposite of what works for my body, and that’s a-ok and hurray to me!
- Don’t compare. It is a trap when your mind looks at someone else and says “her belly is beautiful and mine is not” or “I’m glad my belly doesn’t look that way”. The people around us each have their own journey to travel with their body. Similarly, if talk with your friends start to veer toward lets-all-discuss-how-icky-our-bellies-are or it ends up being about how flat and amazing someone’s abs are. . . steer it toward less judgement and toward more love.
- Movement. Your belly may looooove some movement. Dance with it, do a body roll, try some cat and cow yoga poses. Or, amp it up and build its strength and flexibility with exercise and fun physical activities. Lovingly work on the muscles in your abdomen to strengthen and tone them with care and compassion. My favorite is yoga, and there are so many fun ways to give your tummy some fun movement!
Underneath: Our actual bodies and our undergarments or how we adorn and support them.
- To shape or not to shape? In your journey to love its natural shape, it’s OK to show your belly some love by wearing a piece of shapewear that accentuates it’s shape and lines. Try a waist cincher or corset – made of steel boning or flexible fabric – or shapewear shorts. And if this doesn’t feel good, or you feel like wearing something like this is not encouraging a positive relationship, skip it. As always, make any choice with love.
- High waist underwear and gorgeous lingerie. Dress that belly up in lace, satin, or silk and treat it well. Adorn it with something gorgeous and let it know you care!
- Oils, lotion, and massage. Find a really luxe cream or lotion, or your favorite oil and slather it on. Slowly work it over your whole belly. Work the moisture into your skin and lovingly rub, stroke, and massage your tummy area. Bonus points if you invite a lover to do this for you! Let them dote on your belly.
- Photo shoot. One of the biggest steps I took in learning to love my belly was letting her out in plain sight and letting her be photographed. It was really hard at first. And the more I did it, the easier and more exciting it became. To take a small step, work with a great photographer who will help you choose poses that make you and your body feel like a million bucks. A boudoir photo shoot is a great place to start! Remember: you can share the images with your honey, or keep them all to yourself.
- Date with the mirror. Light some candles, turn on some music, strip down to your birthday suit, and have a little date with your belly. Compliment it, admire it, run your hands over it, get to know it. Set a date and make it sexy!
Final thoughts: Your beauty and value in this world are not based upon your belly. You and your belly deserve a loving and supportive relationship. Whether you have scars and stretch marks, a six pack or a spare tire, IBS and extra gas – your belly needs your friendship. Treating your body with compassion will start the process of opening up a well of kindness within you, which you can grow and foster. When you love and support yourself, you’re more capable of loving and supporting others.
Your turn: What step or two can you take to learn to love your belly? Where are you on the journey? Reflect on how far you’ve come, and where you can update the relationship that you have. Are you comparing your belly to that of others? How do you talk to your belly? What steps can you take to say hurray inside, outside, and underneath?
Leave a comment, journal about it, discuss with a friend, or send me a tweet @hurraykimmay!
Images in this post are from one of my #HurrayVacay trips to Mexico. Photos by Becky Yee. ZERO airbrushing to my belly and body – as always. I’m wearing a combination of gorgeous undergarments and swimwear from our happy sponsors! AnaOno and Miel bralettes and matching panties, Anita Sports bra and underwear, and Cleo by Panache bikini. Thanks to Sanará Tulum for supporting the Vacay.