I’ve been thinking about accepting my belly.
It actually feels taboo, to actively choose to not aspire to a six-pack, to be okay with the dips and curves of what my best friend calls my little pouch. However, I’m so tired of dangling the ‘perfect body’ carrot in front of myself, waiting for that magical moment when I reach my goal and finally start living at my full potential, dripping in glitter and unicorn tears. Or whatever. I remember being sixteen and making a deal with myself that I’d be ripped and totally flexible by the time I was nineteen. I’m twenty-four now, and the other day, I looked at my stomach and realized that it’s looked the same nearly all of my life. So I asked myself- what exactly is the point of not accepting this?
I’ve learned to accept my body in segments, especially as I grow within my gender identity. I started loving my wide shoulders because men’s t-shirts hung well on them. I’m grateful for my narrow hips because they’re pretty unisex, and I came to terms with my baby butt because, well...it’s cute? Let’s go with that. I considered top surgery to get a flat chest until I realized I didn’t want a male chest but rather, a gender-ambiguous one. So I’ve got a little bit to go before I get all acceptance and kumbaya on my chest, but I’m actively working to change that body part so dysphoria doesn’t fuck up my mental health.
My belly, on the other hand...I’m not really experiencing crippling discomfort over having a soft tummy. However, I’ve been conditioned to think that only a lack of discipline is standing between me and that seductive V that would entice people past my worn leather belt and into my awesome UNIQLO slacks. Instead, I still have my teenage stomach which my sister aptly described as looking like a capital B from the side, without even the booty to balance it out. Even though I know my body is capable of having flat abs, I’ve never actually gotten there. Now, I’m not sure I want to. I was talking to a friend of mine who said they actually don’t find flat abs attractive on a woman, and that they like the pooch. In that moment, I felt comfortable with my stomach and then it hit me- I’m still letting other people define what sexy/attractive/awesome is for my body.
See, I wanted to have potato biceps friends would coo over when the tequila hits, I wanted to have muscles of steel covered in velvet skin, I wanted to fit into that mold of androgyny that is so prized in our community. I was intending to grow up to be ‘that queer’, the mysterious hot boyish one with locs down her back, stretched ears, tattoos, and the V of seduction leading into her pants (perhaps because I’d be attracted to myself at that point, haha). Now, I’m wondering if and why I want that, if my gender expression really needs to fit into that box. I’m trying to think about my body without external factors influencing me- do I really want a flat stomach or am I just going by what I think people will find attractive? Why can’t I be hard shoulders and soft belly? Legs for days and chubby hands? Flat feet and baby butt?
It’s terrifying to think about that, but I remind myself that I’ve made great strides in how I view my body. It’s pertinent to note that how we see our bodies is deeply personal- I didn’t care how many people told me I was skinny in college, that didn’t stop my anorexia. In the back of my head, I stay alert so I don’t slip back into that disease. I stopped watching the number on the scale and I let my size be an indicator of strength. I remind myself that my body reflects my gender as I choose it, and that no one else can dictate that except me. I’m shifting my focus from what my body looks like, to what it can do. Although my stomach might not be able to hold a plank for very long, it can definitely bust out some sweet bellydance moves, for example. My body lets me dance, bike, play capoeira, twirl around a pole, and it is healthy #wetenkGod.
Now, if only I could touch my toes.
How does your body image intersect with your gender expression/identity? What has your journey of body acceptance been like?
Akwaeke Z Emezi Born and raised in the south of Nigeria, Akwaeke Z Emezi is an Igbo and Tamil free love advocate, genderqueer Nutri-C addict, and natural hair aficionado. Currently pursuing a Masters degree in International Public Policy and NonProfit Management, she intends to work in the field of sexual orientation and gender identity. As a queer writer, blogger, and artist, Z believes that in knowing and accepting ourselves, we can be free. She currently lives in Brooklyn with matching orange tabbies, and moves to break silences while propagating love. www.thefeeloffree.com