I was six the first time I remember sucking in my stomach. I soon learned, however, that holding in my breath was not a sustainable way to look skinnier. But I never felt thin enough. I suffered from anorexia and bulimia from ages 15 to 18 and then again at Last year, at age 27, it occurred to me that my ab-clenching was perhaps my last symptom to go.
When I took a vacation to the clothing-optional resort Desire , I was more self-conscious about my stomach sticking out than I was about my breasts, butt, or genitals being completely bare. People of all sizes and body types were present. Naomi Wolf argued in The Beauty Myth that making women obsess over their looks is a way to keep them from thriving and effecting change in the world.
So, this year, when we returned to Desire, I decided I would not suck in my stomach. At all. Not even a little bit. So, the best I could do was push it out as much as possible. It looked like I had a bowling ball in my stomach. Even if I was pushing my stomach out deliberately, I was allowed to exist with a stomach like this. The next day, there was a belly-dancing class out by the pool, where women put jingling belts around their hips.
I jumped in and shook my butt, intentionally expanding my stomach as I wiggled it back and forth, smiling at my boyfriend, who was in the pool. I half wondered if everyone was thinking about what a big stomach I had. As I disproved time and time again that anyone was judging or even noticing my stomach, I stopped feeling so self-conscious about it.
On my last day, I told another woman about my efforts to stop sucking it in. She said that while sucking it in like I first did as a kid can squish in your internal organs, clenching your abs is actually OK to an extent. But when I showed her how I did it, she said I was contracting my muscles in a way that made me slouch. My physical therapist said that gently engaging your ab muscles is actually good for your back. I practiced doing this in a way that allowed me to stand up straight instead of folding me over.
I felt bigger as I walked down the street, literally and figuratively. Now I know that I need neither clench my stomach tightly nor puff it out. Life is hard, but it's better when you're not alone. Sign up for our newsletter and get our Self-Care and Solidarity eBook just because we love you! Suzannah Weiss Erin Khar. Content Notice.
I was working to please my own eyes. Curious if my stomach-sucking was indeed a gendered thing, I asked my partner if he ever did it. My stomach, clearly, was not just a stomach. It was a symbol of all the qualities my society had taught me to look down upon. My attempts to reduce my apparent size really had affected how much power and confidence I projected. If you like this article, please share it! Your clicks keep us alive! Articles You'll Love.