I was brushing my hair one morning when my son came in to the bathroom. He hugged me around the waist, then lifted my shirt and poked my belly.
“Why do you have a big belly and not a small belly like my friend’s mama?”
I love questions from my son.
I was prepared for this one. I’ve been preparing for the last seven years, since he was born, since I realized, some months after his birth, that this was the body I was going to be living with. It’s not so different from the one I’ve been living with my whole adult life, not so different from the one I had ten years ago, or fifteen. It shouldn’t have been a surprise, this waking up one day with a round belly, dimpled thighs and little purple lines on my calves. I’ve lived with, and loved, women who have the exact same shape my whole life. And I look like them now.
We have an open-door bathroom policy at our house. We never wanted our son to feel that there was anything to hide about our bodies, and while he could ask for privacy in the bathroom, we have generally allowed him to come and go as he pleased. There is the assumption that as he gets older and becomes more aware of himself and his body, he will both ask for more privacy himself and will wander in to visit with one of us with far less frequency. So, starting from birth, my boy has been in and out of sight of me nude for his whole life.
How does this make me feel? I had to decide how it was going to make me feel. I had to decide, to determine, the answer before a wee boy with no qualms or tact decided to ask me why I didn’t look like my slender friend. I had to decide how I was going to feel about myself long before there was any situation that could put me in shock, could eke from me a response that was at odds with my open and unashamed bathroom policy. Historically, I have been ashamed about my body, but if I wanted to raise a child who would not judge others by their topology, I had to stop judging myself with the same unkind eye.
So when he asked me that day, “Why do you have a big belly and not a small belly like my friend’s mama?” I had an answer ready. I told him, “Mamas come in all shapes and sizes. Some are short and some are tall. Some are dark-skinned, some very pale. Some have small breasts, some big. And some have round squishy snuggly bellies, and some have flat ones. And in between ones, too.”
He looked at me. “Okay.”
Did I believe this? Does it matter? Yes, actually, eventually it does matter. Because when I say these things, I am saying out loud that my self–skinny legs, round belly, soft breasts and sloping shoulders, flat face and big eyes, all of it–is a welcome guest. It is an acceptable iteration. It is one of many possible combinations, but it is as viable and real and lovable as any other set of attributes is. I’m saying to the universe that this is how I am. This is likely to be how I stay. And it’s just fine that way. Hopefully, I will come to believe it as much as my son does. One day recently he stopped in the middle of crossing the street and again threw his arms round my middle. He looked up into my face and cried, “I love your squishy belly, mama.” I was overwhelmed by the love in his statement. He never once qualified it. He never said anything about me losing 10 pounds or not being as pretty as someone else.
Then we walked on.
Someday, I will think of myself the way that my son does now. Fully present acceptance, never qualifying the statements of affirmation by wishing I had someone else’s stomach or butt or legs. The journey from here to there is made of small steps, each one a small statement of fact: My self is one of many possible combinations, it is lovable and welcome. This is how I am. And it’s just fine that way.