For as long as I can remember I have been self-conscious about my belly. I am a thick waisted girl whose broad shoulders and solid frame carries me through big days of hard work and tough challenges. On my good days, my physique is best described as athletic, but if I have had a busy few months, or life has seen me fall off the horse of self-care for the umpteenth time, I can get to feeling chunky and heavy set. I was like this even as a teenager. I remember choosing bathing costumes to try to do something with my body that I felt was way out of proportion. My flat chested torso lacked any real waist and was held up by the solid thighs of legs that seem to develop muscle quicker than you can say World Wide Wrestling Federation.
From Bad To Worse
Things on the tummy front really didn’t improve with the arrival of my first child, and then they went from bad to worse after the birth of my second child. My little pot belly stomach became a crinkled scramble of stretch marks that looked like a scrunched up old chip packet. A little while after the birth of my son Zac, I did notice that some form returned to my skin, but the improvement was minimal and was then smashed to smithereens after the birth of my daughter Isabelle. Over the years I have found that nothing changes the condition of my skin. No amount of moisturising, working out, skin treatments, weight loss, or even weight gain 😉 will change the fact that the fibres of my skin were stretched beyond repair when I carried my two beauties. The clock will not be turned back on this one. I will not pass go and I will not collect $200. The judge’s decision is final, and no correspondence will be entered into.
For years it was this way. It was bad when I was my regular weight, but even worse through the years that I was overweight. As you can imagine, I was self-conscious in countless social situations, like swimming, or going out to restaurants, or trying on new clothes. But even worse than this, was that I was embarrassed around my husband. Now, Alec loved my belly and never once suggested otherwise. But I struggled to be confident and to be relaxed with him. I barely let him touch my tummy, and I was instantly ticklish when he did.
Hiding Away My Imperfections
My response to every part of this life controlling fear was to hold my tummy in. Yes, I would try to wear clothes that were flattering to my body shape, and yes, I tried to be diligent with my workouts, and yes, I tried to stay fit and healthy. But the strategy that I employed every single day without fail was to suck in my belly to try to hold it tight and prevent it from showing. I tried to hide the bulge of my pot belly, and tried to make sure that the loose skin didn’t wobble.
More often than not, when I went out, I literally did this till it hurt. I would hold myself upright until my back ached. I would hold my shoulders back until my neck burned. I would suck my tummy in until my ribs screamed in pain. It was hard work, and it made going out just horrible. Getting home was like letting air out of a balloon (minus the uncontrollable zipping all around the room when you let that balloon go 😀 ).
The loss of my husband in May 2014 changed a lot of things in my life. Some of these changes were instant, while others have evolved from that starting point. One of the change journeys I have followed since this gutting loss has been in the way I see myself. One of my first thoughts as I walked in to my kitchen to find he had passed away, was simple: “How am I going to live?”
Our Power Is Constructed In Our Choices
I knew in that instant that everything that happened after that point would be determined by my choices. I had a strange, almost surreal awareness of my own power, and of the importance the steps I would take. This realisation underlined just how vital it was for me to take care of myself. I no longer had Alec to rely on, defer to, or make excuses with. The buck stopped with me.
From the very next day I continued to do my yoga and I made sure that even if I had no appetite, I would eat a morsel of something healthy to nourish myself. Maintaining my personal wellness became my top priority. I was my first resource. As a result, I lost weight. Even after the shock subsided, my healthy habits continued, because they had started from a place of self-love. I landed myself right in the middle of my healthy BMI.
But this reflection is not about my weight loss…
At the start of this year, 2017, I noticed that this old habit of sucking my tummy in was still hanging around. Even though I am thinner than I have been in over a decade, the mindset of being embarrassed about my tummy lingered. Even though I am more confident, and free in myself than I have ever been before, still this mental habit persisted. Yes, my skin is still crumpled like a chip packet, and yes my pot belly still bulges, and yes, my skin is still so loose that it wobbles. But I am free…
At the start of this year I decided to change my behaviour to align with my freedom. I have chosen that this year will be the first year that I don’t suck my tummy in any more. I have chosen to replace the self-talk of self-consciousness with the self-talk of freedom. I am free of embarrassment, shyness, shame. I am free of being concerned with the judgement or opinion of others. I am free to accept who I am and how I am. My body tells the story of giving birth to the two greatest treasures of my life. This is not something to hide away from the world. I will no longer gloss over my body shape or try to pretend that I am something I am not.
And with this, I am even more free than I was before … Unstoppable!