Embodied: Hilary’s Story
Introducing our brand new blog series, Embodied: Letters to reclaim the whole. An opportunity for anyone and everyone to re-claim their most hated body part and share it with the world. We believe this is how we can create change for one another. Our hearts long to have the layer of shame seen and lifted. Our bellies, thighs, calves, and arms want to be felt and experienced. Our bodies want to be whole. And the world needs us to reclaim. If you’d like to submit your story, check out our submission guidelines. Your willingness to share your body story, your journey from belly, butt, thigh, or arm hatred to body respect, will be a gift to our community.
The first in the series is from Be Nourished’s own Hilary Kinavey where she shares an achingly beautiful letter to her belly.
I learned to shrink back, get quiet, and be good at something else. Overcompensate. Fix. You, belly, became evidence of not belonging, of being broken.
To my belly-
I have been blaming you for all kinds of stuff for a long time. You are a place I have been a bit obsessed with. A place I have been stuck. Stuck in what if, in trying to hide, in loathing, in attempting to fix and trying to cure.
The first time I really noticed you was in my 2nd grade class picture. You were roundness pushing out against my plaid catholic school uniform, bigger than all the other bellies. This was the first time I remember connecting to what I now consider to be the most horrible feeling. As I looked at your image in the photograph, I thought “What are you smiling about, ugly? ” I felt worthless, maybe for the first time, and these feelings moved in and set up camp. I learned to shrink back, get quiet, and be good at something else. Overcompensate. Fix. You, belly, became evidence of not belonging, of being broken. I could try to be good enough, to fit in, but there would always be something (like you) to hold me back. This became familiar pain, really a part of who I was. Parasitic for years.
I began to equate you with plans to change, cycles of restriction and then giving up. I wholeheartedly believed I could and probably should work to make you smaller. The promise and possibility of fixing you allowed me to avoid experiencing what it was actually like to live in and with you. The possibility was not introduced that this is how I (and you) are shaped, meant to be; that the shape of Hilary is a good shape, a healthy shape and a desirable shape. I wanted to be Hilary but be in the body of a flat-bellied girl. I assumed I would then walk around unencumbered by body shame and everyone would see me as whole.
I see now how I threw you, my maligned body part, to the wolves. I thought that your inherent value was housed in the approving or disapproving gaze of everyone else. I did not know that I had to make you my own if I wanted to play bigger in my life, live unapologetically or just stop hurting myself.
It is painful to notice all the ways the culture, even amongst the helpers, reinforce norms about how my body and you should look that aren’t really norms at all. In my thirties I was diagnosed with PCOS and was encouraged to see the shape of you as an expression of a hormonal roller coaster ride with a weird name. This was reinforcing of a pattern of fixing I had already tired of. But, I tried new plans such as eating lots of protein, taking lots of supplements, thinking about blood sugar, fearing my own adipose tissue, worrying, “being good” for the future of my health, fertility worry (more fixing), expert ideas and plans, restriction, more worry, all secretly buoyed by the hope that you would become smaller. This was a slippery slope that had the potential to separate me more from you through seeing you as expression of a malfunctioning body. It took initial fierceness and anger to move me through the impact of this diagnosis, finally finding a more kind and neutral way to care for myself. You have much preferred this path too. When I do this, you get to tell me stuff and I get to listen. How it was meant to be.
Despite my good self-care and good health, today, you are bigger, rounder, more front & center than ever. You have carried three pregnancies for me, my babies’ slow transition to consciousness and life on earth happening in you. During each of my pregnancies my baby boys had a place in you they especially liked to hang out. They found home in you without complaint. When my second pregnancy crushingly ended at 24 weeks, I found that I could experience the bittersweet combo of grief and connection to my lost baby by remembering the feeling of him nestled into the right side of you, just to the side of my hip. I doubt that this sensation will ever leave my felt sense. That sweet, small connection disallowed shame to re-enter my belly significantly for the first time. Respect opened and became permanently housed in me. Sweet relief. Wholeness. Integration. My truth won over pleasing the eyes of the world or hiding away.
The truth is that I really do like you.
And then, unearthed, was the surprise, the secret, the hidden fire that has been tucked away since I was small, that all this fixing and loathing had buried. The truth is that I really do like you. Really. I find you adorable. I find you to be very “me”. A specific part of me always has. In secret. The same body part that was a source of enormous yuck, shame and disgust is really very cute. I like myself naked. I like how you fold and hang. You are me. You always have been. And this is the point of it all. All of the pain and self-loathing has really been a quest for permission to like you. I think I was sadly embarrassed to let loose my hidden love and acceptance of you, belly, that has been alive in me since day one. As I read this aloud, this resonates as real. You are the place that has also held my wisest truths, tucked away and held safely.
This is mostly a thank you letter, to a belly that has held my truth even when I wanted it to disappear. You, belly, are full and round with my presence, compassion, and with me. I am now no longer apologizing.
Hilary Kinavey, MS, LPC is a therapist and co-founder of Be Nourished. She encourages conscious and authentic living, with the courage to love yourself anyway.