I started sucking in my belly when I was 10. Around this time, my father started calling me fat whenever I was overly rambunctious and he wanted me to simmer down. I have this memory of dad yelling at me to get down from a carport gate where I was monkeying around, because “you’re too fat! You’re going to break it!” he yelled. I ran into the house, where my sister started poking at my stomach and teasing “suck it in, fatty.” These memories mark the beginning of becoming an awkward and self-conscious teenager, after having been a feisty little girl. That is one clear moment that I can pinpoint where I started to shut down my power.
After that, I’d never go back to being a kid with a relaxed belly, naturally expanding on the rhythm of my breath. I learned to suck it in from my older sister. One day we were walking past a store window and she told me to “suck it in,” pointing to our reflections and how much better she thought we looked with flat, sucked in stomachs. After that I tried to remember to suck it in anytime I was out in public. Eventually this became my normal way of moving through the world, belly tightly sucked in. Store windows and glass doors became witnesses to my constant vigilance, lest that shameful protruding belly dare to show itself.
I don’t tell this story to talk shit about my family or to point out how awful my childhood was. It wasn’t. I tell this story because I carried those memories along with a ton of shame for many years, and because I know that I’m not alone in this.
As I became more self-conscious about my body, I wanted there to be less of me. All that exuberant girl-child energy turned toward dieting and obsessing about my newfound terror of getting fat. Getting fat became synonymous in my mind with not being loved. For years, my body hatred focused intensely on my belly area. Even now, anytime I start to feel down about my body, my belly is the first place my attention goes. This is not a quick-fix topic. To learn to love our bodies, whatever our “problem areas” might be, means confronting all the woman hating messages we’ve absorbed, and all the shaming of the feminine and of women as sexual beings.
In fact, the seeds for much of the work that I do now as a women’s coach were planted in those early days when I learned to hate my body and by extension, my femininity, and myself. I believe that healing our relationship to our body builds the foundation for self-love and self-expression.
How we feel about our bellies is a great barometer for how we feel about ourselves. How we relate to this part of our body makes all the difference in how we see ourselves, and yes I see it as both a vulnerable and a radical act to choose not to suck it in. It’s radical because it says “fuck you” to the notion that your beauty comes from fitting yourself to the culturally accepted norms. It’s radical because by choosing to stay tuned in to your body, your feelings, your in-the-moment intuition, you are much more powerful as a woman. Instead of sacrificing all that power for the sake of some cultural stamp of approval, it means choosing to be sovereign in your own body and life. That is radical. Just imagine what would happen to Madison Avenue and the massive diet industry if women chose the stance that our bodies are perfect and beautiful.
Loving your belly is radical. Loving your belly is also incredibly vulnerable. You take the risk of being judged harshly by other women who will project their own body hatred onto you. You may run across men who judge you for not fitting with their pornified ideals of a woman’s body. You will begin to see just how much you have internalized the fear and hatred of women’s bodies. So, why put yourself through all this? Why not keep sucking it in and worshiping at the altar of flat-as-a-board, six-pack abs? Because…
Hating your belly is really hating yourself.
When you suck in your belly you lose access to your feeling center, intuition, solar plexus center of power. Your breath becomes shallow and you develop patterns of rigidity in your body as a whole. There is a feeling of not being at home in your body and if you can’t be at home in your body then where the hell will you ever truly feel at home? Besides, every time you look in the mirror with critical thoughts, you’re sending your body the message that she is wrong, bad, unloveable.
As you deepen your connection to your belly, you’ll notice that it feels so much better to be relaxed, open, to have strength and solidity, which has nothing to do with your belly being rounded or flat. It’s way harder for us to achieve that “hard body” ideal than it is for men. A truly strong and developed core is not the same as a hard, numb core.
I tried on and off over the years to stop sucking it in. It hasn’t been easy. I understand the feeling of being super self-conscious about your body. The pressure to mold one’s body to the flat-belly model is really strong. But it’s worth practicing. The benefits of an open and relaxed belly are profound and immediate and totally worth it.
Here are some benefits you’ll get from loving your belly and doing less sucking in:
- A whole new level of relaxation. Your whole body relaxes. Your breath deepens on its own. This, reduces worry and anxiety, increases oxygen intake and gets your body out of fight-or-flight and into relaxation mode. Ahhhhhh.
- Experience your feelings. Not just what thoughts are running around in your mind, but your emotional state in this moment. Along with your feelings, your intuition will also become stronger as you connect to this part of your body. There’s a reason we talk about “gut feelings.”
- Know your true needs. Being able to differentiate between physical hunger and some emotional need, for example. With a relaxed belly, you’ll get accurate information. After all there is a whole other “brain” in the belly, as lots of research has revealed. Check out this great piece by Marc David here ( http://psychologyofeating.com/the-brain-in-the-belly/).
- Find your Power Center. In the chakra system, the belly area corresponds to the third chakra or “solar plexus.” Solar has to do with the fire of the sun that is like the fire of our will, the fire of our metabolism, the fire of our resolve.
- Rich sensuality. Picture the lovely, powerful undulations of a belly dancer compared to some punishing ab-busting routine. Feeling through a relaxed belly lets you feel more with your whole body so that there is pleasure to be found in the simplest experiences of the senses, from petting a kitten to feeling the breeze on your skin.
- Great sex. As your breath deepens, energy is able to move up the central channel of the body allowing you to expand orgasmic feelings throughout your body. Also, as you relax, you are able to shift your focus from how you look to how you feel. This is one of the secrets to better sex, and it makes you more attractive because instead of performing or “posing” you are simply being you while in a state of pleasure.
I could go on and on, but I’ll sum it up like this:
Not sucking in the belly changes one’s entire relationship to the body to one of sovereignty. It’s saying to your body: “I am at home here. I belong to myself.” This can change everything.
If you hate your stomach or any other part of your body, by now you may be thinking this is so much easier said than done. I agree that it’s a process. Even if you don’t fully succeed at all times, you can still choose the radical stance of loving your belly and your whole body. It’s radical to choose not to walk around holding in your power, your magic. It’s possible to not live hostage to the ubiquitous body shaming around us. To change from an external focus based on how we think we are perceived by others, to an inner focus where we move through the world from that place of deep connection to our center.
Try this simple exercise to relax and feel your belly: Take a deep breath, fill your lungs and feel your belly expand. As you exhale, allow your belly to fall naturally. Pause before the next inhalation and just feel your belly. Don’t push it out, don’t suck it in. Pay attention to your breath as you feel your belly and allow it to relax.
You may not be ready to do this while you’re posing for a picture or walking into a party. That’s cool. Try it while you’re driving, or while you’re sitting at your desk. Then notice how you feel. See what’s different. I’d love to hear what you discover, in the comments.
Belly love practices: Belly dancing is a beautiful art form that fosters a positive relationship to the belly. Massaging your own belly with essential oils or receiving belly massage such as Maya abdominal massage is excellent. The simple act of putting your hand on your belly and breathing steadily can begin to shift you into belly and body love.
Let’s talk. If you’re sick and tired of putting your life on hold till you lose the weight. If you feel trapped inside your body instead of loving who you are. If you’re exhausted with the dieting game and the constant worry and dread about food and fat. If you don’t feel like you can have love, intimacy, and connection as you are right now. This can all change. When you change how you feel about yourself and your body, you are free to change your life.
If you want to learn how to trust your body as the ultimate source of intuition, pleasure, and power, I’d love to talk to you. If you know it’s time to feel confident in your skin and begin to live fully and embark on your next adventure, let’s talk. It’s possible. What if it’s easier than you’ve always thought?
Contact me through the form below to schedule a complimentary Deep Dive Coaching Session. This is a no pressure conversation where the focus is on you and your desires. We go deep to what you want, and what is getting in the way. I help you get clear, inspired, and give you tools and practices to start to make the shifts that are most important to you right now.