Bellies & Battleship
Cuddling used to feel like a game of battleship. The man whose arms I laid in was my opponent, and the parts of my body that I felt ashamed of were the ships I prayed he’d never find. Unfortunately, my biggest insecurity, my five-pronged battleship, has always been my belly - and it’s pretty hard to hold someone in your arms without letting your hands graze their stomach. So when his hands would, inevitably, reach for the part of me I felt most ashamed of, I’d instinctively swat him away.
But it was more than cuddling and hand swatting. It was not buying clothes I loved because you could see the outline of my belly through the fabric. It was grabbing a throw pillow to cover my stomach when I sat on a couch. It was hiding my body behind a friend in group photos. It was owning zero crop tops. It was wearing low-cut shirts that emphasized my breasts in hopes of shifting attention. It was everything.
And then I moved to Los Angeles - a city that I was sure would make me feel more insecure than ever but, to my surprise, increased my ability to love myself ten-fold. Before living here, I thought that LA was home, exclusively, to stick thin models and blonde-haired surfer boys with washboard abs. And while there are certainly a lot of those here, the stunning people walking the streets of the city of angels come in all shapes, sizes and colors.
Since moving here, I’ve fallen in love with my body by actively choosing to celebrate all the parts I used to hate and by surrounding myself, online and in real life, with women who choose to celebrate their bodies in the same way. I’ve been lucky enough to become friends with strong, gorgeous, curvy women like Ashourina Washington, Elise Gordon, Taylor Rhoden and Aliss Bonython - and these friendships have been transformational for me. When I walk down the street with Elise or into a club with Ashourina, I can’t help but notice the way heads turn in adoration. Though none of these women fit the size 0 barbie mold we grew up believing we had to squeeze ourselves into, they are each undeniably beautiful in their own ways, with their own curves and with their own five-pronged battleships they’ve learned to love.
The more I practiced loving this body God gave me - all of it - the more I realized how asinine my resentment for my belly was to begin with. We live in a society that, more and more, celebrates voluptuous breasts and hips and butts. The idea that we as women are expected to be soft in these three places without having any fat on our arms, legs or stomachs is absurd. With very few exceptions that don’t include plastic surgery, wide hips and round butts come with thick thighs. Large breasts come with soft bellies. Fight as we might, that’s just how the female body works.
Today, I buy clothes I love, even if they emphasize my belly. If I feel the urge to grab a pillow to cover myself, I resist, and challenge myself to choose to stand, or sit, confidently in the body I have. I pose proudly next to my friends, refusing to hide any part of me. I rock crop-tops on the regular. And though I still wear low-cut shirts sometimes, I wear them because I like them without consideration for where other’s eyes might be drawn.
I can’t count the number of times I’ve swatted away the hand of a man who, in an intimate moment, reached for my belly. But to the men whose hands I’ve swatted, I say thank you and I’m sorry. I thank you for accepting and celebrating me before I knew how to do the same for myself. I mean, think about it, when was the last time you’ve been cuddling with someone and reached out to touch a part of their body that repulsed you? I have never. Not once. So thank you.
But more importantly, I apologize for not seeing you in those moments. For being too wrapped up in my own insecurities to see the vulnerability it takes to reach out to hold someone and the rejection I must have made you feel, by pushing your hand away in a moment of intimacy. That’s the funny thing about insecurities - they turn you into a narcissist. You can’t see beyond your own perspective, let alone feel empathy for the insecurities of the person lying next to you. I’m sorry for responding to your attempt to pull me closer by pushing you away.
Today, I don’t swat hands - and cuddling doesn’t feel like battleship. It feels like love. Belly and all.