The High Cost of Low Self-Esteem
“I think it would be nice if hating the way you look weren't so good for the economy...We know, too, that women in ads, knockouts to start with, are artificially perfected beyond human emulation. We know, but we forget.”
Your skin is too dry. Your hair is too flaky. You can pinch an inch. You smell “not so fresh.” Your clothes are out of style. Your pimples are huge. You have bad breath. Literally hundreds of industries depend on your believing all that. There are the primary offenders: the people who make shampoo and mouthwash and diet sodas. Then there are the secondary offenders, the accomplices: the people who make their money from advertising said products. That’s ad agencies, television stations, newspaper, radio, and magazines—and all their shareholders. A lot of people are depending on you to hate yourself enough to pay to put their kids through college.
And along the skin highway between two favored recreation spots is a much-overlooked delight. The belly.
“The ideal shape tends to be whatever is most difficult to achieve during a given time period. If too many women were able to meet the ideal, then standards would have to change for the ideal to retain its extraordinary nature.”
—Pauline Weston Thomas, Fashion-era.com
Circa 24,000-22,000 BCE, the Venus of Willendorf was the hottest chick around. Literally the oldest representation of a person, Ms. Willendorf is the ultimate BBW. Beautiful round belly exposed; the figurine is carved with attention to detail, right down to her fat dimpled knees.
Something happened between 24,000 BCE and 1800 CE and bellies got the worst of it. The Victorians, (so sexually uptight they covered up furniture legs as too suggestive!) may not have invented, but certainly perfected the corset. The “new ideal woman” was plump of hip, butt and breast but belly-bound. Restrictive corsets caused a variety of health problems with breathing and digestion; forcing the fashion victim’s internal organs to migrate as they were literally squeezed out of the belly in favor of the “hourglass” figure.
I, Belly: Present Tense
“Loving yourself in a world of hate is the most radical, the most political thing you can do.”
—G.L. Morrison, from Weighing Desire
I am a SSBBW. Super-sized, Big, Beautiful Woman. My belly would make Ms. Willendorf gasp with envy. And yes, I do own a bikini or two. (I prefer to swim nude but so few pools accommodate that. We took over the hotel pool at NAAFA fat feminist conferences to go “chunky dunking”—that’s big girl speak for “skinny dipping.”)
The past is not a blueprint for the future. I am committed to live my life the way I want and to create the world I want to live in. So far, my influence hasn’t extended to ending war or world hunger, but I personally have helped hundreds of women love their belly bumps... and get jiggy with each jiggly roll.
I’ve read my happy fat poems all across the country, and women of all sizes come up and thank me; and tell me stories of struggle toward self acceptance. I have had dozens, possibly hundreds (who has time to count?) of lovers whose big, beautiful bodies are reflected lovingly in my eyes. I tell them what is sexy often enough they believe it, know it. Together we are making a “new ideal woman” for the future. She is full of herself. She has a belly full of fire. A big, beautiful belly.
Every day isn’t a hailstorm of self-applause. I have moments of weakness and intolerance. Weird moments in the mirror; not recognizing who I see there. Flashback 1982: First trimester of my pregnancy, I rubbed lotion into my scar-free skin every night. The routine waned as my belly waxed: huge, pale as a full moon. By week 30, my belly was an angry melon someone had attacked with a fork. 2010: Red, swollen welts like tire-tracks still cover it.
An important part of self-love is surrounding myself with good mirrors. Love is the best mirror. I don’t accept lovers who don’t love me big and delicious as I am. It’s impossible to watch your lover trace your scars or wide curves with pleasure and fascination and not catch some of his/her enthusiasm. How can you scorn something someone you love worships?
Belly, Belly Well
“Lifting belly fattily. Doesn’t that astonish you.
You did want me.
Say it again.”
How do I love my belly, when billions of dollars every year is spent teaching me (and others) to hate it/me? Just remembering: This is my body, not their billboard. I live here. I love here. I feel what’s right “in my gut.” I hold days and thoughts and certain hours in every cell. History is etched in my DNA. My history and the history of every big-bellied woman in my bloodline back to the big, fat dawn of time. My body remembers all that; it stretches with what I fill it with. My ample hip remembers the lips that lovers pressed there while their kisses traveled the generous road of belly. The rippling belly swells to remember my last lover, my first child and a hundred dinners (breaded crab on a jazz-blasted balcony in Bourbon Street; the cheap magic of chili dogs; dim sum one New York Sunday; all-you-can-eat sushi Sundays in Salt Lake City). There is hardly room for the memories I am storing there. There is no room for self-doubt. And when some creeps in, I crowd it out with all the good belly stuff. Chase it away with a heart-felt belly laugh. Gertrude Stein used “lifting belly” as a euphemism for lesbian sex. Belly, belly well.
I am a SSBBW. I am also a writer; I am also a poet. I was inspired at a workshop taught by Susan Stinson, (author of the award-winning novel Fat Girl Dances with Rocks and a poetry book Belly Songs). I realized my poetry in praise of women’s bodies was too vague, too non-specific. I spent too much time decoding the love of fat women in other people’s poetry. Adrienne Rich referring to her lover’s “generous thighs;” Neruda calling his wife “luna caliente”—translation: “hot moon,” i.e., a woman round as the moon and on fire within. I had been writing in the same poetic code when I wanted was to scream, “Fat girls are delicious!” in a way that those in the know could throw up their arms and shout: “Testify, sister!” and unbelievers could shake their heads slowly, waking from a hazy dream of thinness and deprivation.
For Susan, who I would have bedded on the workshop table, I wrote “her belly” as an anthem for all the women I had known and loved who starved, mutilated or simply hated themselves. You can hear me read it here.
It was sex not politics, I was thinking about when I wrote the following lines for fat pioneers like Marilyn Wann (author who autographed my copy of Fat!So? with lipstick and her phone number) and Susan Stinson. Girls, you have my number—in every way imaginable….
...my fingers and eyes
lewis and clarking their way across
the magnificent landscape
her mountain of belly...