Friday, September 28, 2007

Soft And Round - Honouring Our Bellies

How often have we gone to lunch with our girlfriends and one, if not all of them confess “I should not be eating. I feel so fat, my belly is so big.”

Everyone is dieting, trying to trim the tummy. Far too many of us think of our bellies as shameful. Our culture bid us to battle “the belly bulge” with weight loss pills, regiments, exercise gadgets, liposuction and tummy tucks. We’ve bankrolled multi-million dollar industries with the notion there’s something wrong with our bellies as they are. We’ve injured ourselves with eating and body image disorders. We’ve made ourselves miserable attempting to make our bellies invisible.

Tell me exactly what is so shameful about a woman’s nicely rounded belly? Advertising for girdles — a.k.a. “shapewear” — reads like an FBI directive for suppressing foreign insurgents. Using phrases like “achieve firm control” and “obtain total control,” the hangtags on these stomach-shrinking devices announce that they are in fact instruments of social restraint.

An ample belly was actually the fashion standard once but it seems as though since the dawn of the feminist movement, the most fashionable belly for a woman has become the one that you cannot see. Apparently, if women are allowed to wield some measure of political and economic power, they must deny the power inherent in their body’s center.

In fact the belly is a woman’s power center, both as a symbol and in physical fact. I suspect our culture labels a woman’s belly as shameful because it can’t stomach the fact that the belly is the pro-creative vessel. With the feminist agenda, the pro-choice movement, is it any wonder?

Looking beyond contemporary Western culture, we can see that cultures native to every continent have recognized the belly as the site of our “soul-power” or better put ‘procreative power’. They honor and respect the belly, they don’t look at it with disgust and shame, the belly is sacred not shameful. If we keep this in mind we would neither starve ourselves nor would we over eat.

Learning to revalue our bellies can essentially save our lives. Choosing to honor our bellies takes courage — yes, guts! Our culture bombards us with instructions to belittle our bellies and cut ourselves off from our belly. Many of us have internalized the culture’s devaluation of women, unwittingly working its violence upon ourselves. We’ve made our bellies the focus of our culturally imposed self-hate. But unless we grew up without the influence of family, school, friends, advertising, television, movies, books, newspapers, magazines, and toys how could we have learnt otherwise?

The good news is we don’t have to torture ourselves any longer. We can choose to support ourselves and each other in honoring our bellies. Instead of complaining to each other about the size of our stomachs, we can encourage each other to use our bellies in ways that create a life-affirming world. We can enter into a new conversation.

When we do so, we restore sanity and self-respect to our lives. So at that next lunch date with the girls, how about this: Jane listens respectfully as Gayle confesses, “I shouldn’t be eating. I feel so fat-my belly’s so big.” And she replies: “Yes, your belly is soft and round. If you found a precious jewel — something so precious it had the power to create life — wouldn’t you place it in a container that’s soft and round, to protect and nurture it?”

Think about it.