Sucking in my stomach: from childhood to adulthood

I hate my stomach.

My disdain for the rolls on my stomach has been one constant in my life and I am confident it will continue—unless, I undergo liposuction.

I was ten years old when I became acutely aware that my body type was undesirable, unflattering, and unfitting for certain fashion trends—at least, that’s what my father had drilled into my impressionable mind. My father is not a villain; he is the product of his environment and culture: a culture that praises women with slim figures and rebukes those who have curves. A myth that my father firmly believes in is that “larger” people are unhealthy; they do not take care of their health or monitor their weight. I do not blame his toxic view on the human body but I cannot forgive him for how his attitude towards female bodies has negatively affected my relationship with mine.

I have been sucking in my stomach for as long as I can remember. I have one particular memory of when I was in the fifth grade, wearing a tight sky-blue long sleeve and struggling to breathe because I didn’t want my classmates to see my stomach, round and untoned. Since it was a tight shirt, I was conscious of the fact that in a seated position, my muffin-top was visible. I remember telling myself that the bell would ring and I would be able to run into the nearest washroom, relax my tense body, and breathe, comfortably taking in the air I'd denied myself in hopes that no one would notice my stomach flab.

Sucking in my stomach has become second-nature to me; a natural part of my day. I subconsciously suck in my stomach in part because I prefer to wear form-fitting clothes when I leave the house and go about my day. Now, I rarely find it difficult to breathe with my stomach sucked in so intensely; it’s almost as if my lungs have adapted to the decreased oxygen intake. It is unhealthy on many different levels but breaking old habits, especially if they have been ingrained into your sense of self, is difficult and overwhelming.

I am the most confident I have ever been with my weight and yet, I am still extremely self-conscious of my less-than-toned stomach. I still have stomach rolls. I have sucked in my stomach for so long that the lines between each roll have become permanent. I have come to accept them, and my fantasy of achieving a completely flat stomach as wishful thinking. In fact, achieving a completely flat stomach is impossible—even the most toned bodies have stomach flabs. Body image, concerning my stomach, affects my intimacy in a negative way. I struggle to become physically intimate with a man for fear of rejection: because of my untoned stomach, or his disgust for stomach rolls. Perhaps my revulsion will diminish, but it is something I am slowly dealing with and trying to un-condition myself from cultural, parental, and personal influences.

Label this issue of body image as a product of internalized-anything, but it is crucial to understand that I have been conditioned to believe men desire skinny, petite women. As an educated feminist, I know and believe that it is toxic to generalize people based on gender, and participate in discussions that encourage misogyny and sexism. It is an easy trap to fall into—blaming men for setting up impossible standards for women, that men are superficial and only care about a woman’s physical appearance—and it is something I struggle with everyday. Before becoming intimate with a man, I have to remind myself that while shallow men exist in the world, men as a social and political category are heterogenous in values, beliefs, and thought.

I may never feel comfortable or vulnerable enough to allow others to see my stomach. I may never stop sucking in my stomach. While I contemplate how achieving a flat, toned stomach will put an end to this daily routine, I am certain it won’t. My stomach will never be flat enough or toned enough, never good enough. For me? For my peers? For anyone.

I accept my untoned stomach but I don't love it. I have learned that acceptance doesn't necessarily equate to embracing and loving something. Whether or not I will completely love my body is unknown, but my journey of simply accepting my imperfect body parts has been rewarding. For now, I am content with how far I've come in dealing with body image. 

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