This weekend I saw a woman’s belly. She was showing me how the waistband of her leggings cuts into her stomach, especially when eating a lot, as we had been doing that day. I barely know this woman. Her pale belly was a surprise to me, a curiosity. I wondered: How is your belly different than mine? Are you shy about your belly?
Another woman, one who I know very well and whose belly I have used as a pillow on a least one occasion, came to me recently and talked to me about her belly. How she has seen changes in her middle, how it seems to be growing, becoming softer, a sign of aging and perhaps self-consciousness.
I’ve pondered my own belly countless times. I’ve checked it out in profile, felt it with my hands, wished it smaller. I’ve absorbed comments from men in my life about my belly, about how they like it or how they wished it was different. I’ve had my belly touched and rubbed and cradled and raspberried. I’ve most certainly had my belly tickled. I’ve also offered it as a pillow myself.
Yesterday I was taught how to breathe with my diaphragm. I was gently chastised for “not knowing how to breathe,” for breathing with my upper chest only and leaving the belly out. I was told to put my hands on my stomach and breath in, pushing my belly out. It felt challenging, like my diaphragm was weak from the years of wimpy chest breaths. This kind of deep belly breathing was supposed to message my brain that I was safe. Just imagine, the breath in my belly, a safe haven.