March 9, 2014

The belly question

"Mommy, why does your belly look like that?"

My 3-year-old son, Felix, asks me this question while I'm getting dressed. He puts his little hands right below my belly button and gently pushes, perhaps to see if it's as squishy as it looks. He giggles. He has no way of knowing that he just focused on the most vulnerable part of my body.

I have one of those shapes in which excess weight immediately and stubbornly attaches to my middle. I've grown accustomed to strangers inquiring about my due date. I couldn't even catch a break when I was pregnant; the day before Evie was born, a woman tried to convince me that I must be carrying twins because no single baby could occupy so much space.

I have built up my defense mechanisms. I avoid empire waists, and I embrace Spanx. My internal monologue shouts "Suck it in!" when I'm posing for a photo or standing in front of a crowd. I laugh off the pregnancy questions in a self-deprecating but friendly way, and it's invariably more embarrassing for the person who asked than it is for me. 

I have no clue how to answer Felix's question.

Should I tell him that my belly is bigger than most people's because of hormones, nutrition, and the genetic legacy of apple-shaped Eastern European women?

Should I tell him that the whiskerish pink stretch marks are a reminder of the times when he, and his sister before him, were residents of this space?

Should I tell him that my belly is floppy because losing weight through healthy eating and exercise has left me with more skin than I need?

Should I tell him that my belly is pale because it's winter, we live in Minnesota, and none of our skin has seen the sun in a good, long time?

Should I tell him that I'm trying to fix my belly and that's why I go to the gym and why we don't eat at McDonalds?

Should I tell him that my belly is a sensitive area and that he shouldn't touch it or talk about it again?

Felix is 3 years old. His understanding of women's bodies, what they look like, and what that means begins with me. I want to raise a son who sees the beauty in all people. I want to raise a man who can love a soft-bellied woman, valuing the size of her heart and not the size of her body.

As he grows up, our society will tell him that women should be ashamed of big bellies and jiggly thighs and anything that deviates from a rigid, unattainable ideal. He doesn't need to hear it from me.

I look down at my little boy with his big brown eyes and I answer his question without shame or unnecessary qualification: "That's just how Mommy's belly looks."

"Oh!" He says. "I think it's nice."

Thanks, little buddy. You keep on thinking that.

1 comment:

Dorothy Morrissey said...

I just love your approach to life - I just felt good after reading your approach and comments about boys, women's body and the direction you are sending Flix, your son - it should be a message for all mothers