Poochy Belly, Indeed! Harrumph!
On May 10, 2001, I received the following e-mail from someone who had visited my web site at www.shira.net:
Hi, I have a question. Your belly is kind of poochy. Do you ever feel self-conscious when you're belly dancing and your belly is exposed? Or do you like your shape and feel confident about it? I've noticed that a lot of bellydancers seem to be kind of soft around the middle. Do bellydancers have a different standard of attractiveness than the current American standard?
Now, you might be wondering just how "poochy" my belly really is, so over to the right is one of the pictures of me that was on www.shira.net at the time this fellow sent me this e-mail. When this picture was taken in October of 2000, I was 5 feet 9 1/2 inches, 155 pounds, and a U.S. size 12. In the year prior to when that picture was taken, I had lost 55 pounds and 4 clothing sizes. As you might imagine, my first reaction to his e-mail was to be annoyed. Just who did this guy think he was to make disparaging remarks about my newfound shape and to ask me questions about my body image? Harumph!
I'm a realist about my body. In a perfect world, I'd lose another 15 pounds and work hard on my belly dance abdominal moves to tighten up my stomach. There is a little extra flab remaining there. Still, I'm very happy with my weight loss success, and I did not welcome an uninvited e-mail message from some stranger claiming that my recently-slimmed belly was "poochy".
Then I thought about it some more. I wasn't sure what motivated him to send me that e-mail, but the following possibilities came to mind:
- He had a sophomoric sense of humor and was gleefully trying to provoke me by sending me a message he knew to be obnoxious.
- He sincerely wanted to know, and was just inept at expressing himself. Surely a person who had a clue about appropriate behavior wouldn't contact a complete stranger and make personal remarks about the shape of her body!!
Didn't this guy's parents teach him about how to behave courteously in society?
So I decided to craft a response to him which would be appropriate regardless of which of the above reasons might have been his motivation for writing. Here it is:
Most women (including belly dancers) rebel against the current American standard because it fosters:
- Eating disorders and starvation, which can be fatal (example, Karen Carpenter)
- The current American standard favors women who look like adolescent boys. Most women would rather look like women.
- Unrealistic expectations. Most women have rounded stomachs because almost every woman has a uterus and needs a place to put it. Men can manage to achieve flat stomachs thorugh diet and exercise because they don't have to find room inside their bellies for a uterus. On the other hand, even a massive amount of dieting and exercise will never make a woman's uterus go away. Many women who are very, very skinny still have a bit of roundness around their bellies because of that pesky uterus.
Many industries make a lot of money by making women feel dissatisfied with themselves: the cosmetics industry, the fashion industry, and the diet products industry, to name a few. I refuse to feel miserable about my size and shape just to satisfy some corporation's desire to take my money away from me.
So. That's what I sent him. I never received a reply back from him. Not that I necessarily expected one!
Don't get me wrong - I recognize that a certain level of excess weight is dangerous to one's health and for that reason I don't validate or make excuses for obesity. Before my weight loss, I was in that danger zone myself. But I strongly believe that there is a variety of body shapes that falls within the healthy and attractive range and I think it's annoying when people like James allow the U.S. entertainment industry and advertisers to shape their attitudes about what constitutes an attractive body.
Yes, I still have some softness around my belly. I do want to focus some on toning my abdominal muscles, but not to satisfy James and others like him. I don't need the approval of people who let themselves be led by the nose by the television industry who pulls in a bundle of money from advertisers pitching expensive weight loss products. I want to do it because it'll make me a better dancer, with better abdominal isolations.
What do you think? Look at both this photo and the one above. These are a representative sample of the pictures that appeared on my web site at the time I received the message from him.
Is my stomach poochy? I always thought a pooch was a dog! I guarantee, my stomach does not bark! Admittedly, it sometimes growls a little, and maybe even begs, plays dead, and rolls over. But I don't think I'll ever succeed in teaching it to speak, play fetch, or shake hands. It has never bitten anybody.
Although I'll admit to a bit of softness in the middle, is that really a bad thing? Sculpted muscles are linked to hormones in the body - particularly testosterone. Most women do not possess the testosterone needed to created hard, cut six-packs even when our muscles are strong and well-toned.
I personally think the softness is more feminine than the hard-bodied look, and I'm not ashamed to be female. I don't aspire to having the figure of a thin adolescent boy, nor do I want the six-pack abs of a man who spends hours pumping iron in the gym..
PHOTO CREDIT: Both photos on this page were taken by John Rickman of San Jose, California.
What about that American standard of beauty that puts forward the idea that adult women should have the bodies of teen-age boys? What's wrong with having a little softness around the stomach? Do you agree with what I told James in my reply to him? Why do you think he wrote that e-mail to me? Do you think he sincerely wanted to have a dialogue with me regarding his questions, or do you think he was gleefully trying to provoke an indignant reaction? What would you have said to him?
Poochy belly indeed! Harrumph!!!
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