I don’t talk too much about body image. It’s not so much that I find it uncomfortable or somehow taboo — I mean, we all have bodies and internal thoughts about them — it’s just that the topic is in the air women breathe already. Show me a woman who doesn’t have very strong feelings about her [insert body part or parts here] and I’ll show you a woman who hasn’t ever opened a magazine, looked at Instagram, or turned on the TV. She also might have been raised out on the prairie in a little sod house where there were no other people around to judge her. She is also lying.
As girls, we’re trained that our bodies are pretty much everyone’s business. As women, we learn that our bodies are ours — or, at least, that’s what we mostly learn. But a little voice pipes up every now and again to remind us that our bodies are not what they ought to be.
Mine does, anyway, especially given how much time I spend among badass mother runners, who are universally strong and well-adjusted and brave. As a rule, it’s so, so easy to compare your own insides with someone else’s outsides, even if you know that’s a fool’s game.
I am that fool.
My belly has never been a thing of loveliness. I spent my teens and early adulthood trying to stay below 200 pounds. By mid-adulthood, I had a better handle on my weight, but would never have been a flatter abs model. Now, after stretching to hold two enormous babies, my tummy is disinclined to regain any of its previous elasticity. The upper part just under my rib cage is the most vexing bit and makes a lovely little shelf for me to obsess about.
My belly is the first thing I look for in pictures. I know I can’t buy shirts that are too tailored because it’ll just make the front all lumpy. It sticks out further than my boobs when I sit down so I always sit to camouflage it when I know someone might be watching.
I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time sitting for the past week because my most favorite sporting event ever — the U.S. Open — has been on. (Plus it’s like 9 billion degrees outside and our living room has AC.) As much as I’m enjoying the tennis, I’m fascinated by Serena Williams’ belly.
As the commentators keep reminding us, Serena had a baby about a year ago. Even for the greatest tennis player of all time, the road back wasn’t easy. But right now, she is kicking ass and taking names.
She also has the same rib cage shelf I do. It’s not as pronounced, mind you — her body is an efficient machine for whacking the fuzz off of tennis balls and mine is perfect for surviving a famine — but you can see it when she’s not actively using her abs. As far as I can tell, Serena doesn’t care even a little bit what any of us think about her belly. Sitting there on the couch, I wondered why I put so much energy into caring about mine.
I wish I had some great conclusion to all of this, where I could say that I’m now so well-adjusted that local academics want to write papers about my glowing self-esteem. Yet I remain stubbornly human and have moments where I look upon my tummy and despair. Serena does, too, I suspect.
The older I grow, I have more moments like the one I had during last week’s long run. About 90 minutes in, some little bug decided to land on my thigh. I brushed him or her off and was shocked to feel my muscles working underneath my skin. I wouldn’t say my thigh was rock hard; I would say that it was rock adjacent, however.
Progress over perfection.
I have no good segue for this: we adopted a giant dog a couple of weeks back. He seems to be part husky, part polar bear, and part Wookie. Once he learns his leash manners, I’m going to see how he does on a run. What could possibly go wrong?