11/27/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

The Female Belly: Hated Into Stillness

Sarah Brown's recent article in these august pages whooshed the breath right out of my lungs and made me shiver. Her text was: "Caring for women and girls is the key to caring for both our global society and our environment."

Juxtapose that with this YouTube clip of Belly Dancing Superstars:

What struck me in watching these remarkable women was, of course, their bellies. Part of what sets these dancers in high relief is their unbelievable control and flexibility, but the other, major portion of their grace is how much they so obviously love their womanly bodies and, by extension, their female selves.

Not one of these women is skinny. Nor are they obese. Their figures are generous, womanly, voluptuous, and they know it. They make no apology for it. None of them, I venture, wears a size 2. Size 2?! What is that anyway? Some sort of numerical torture device!

Mythology has it that Marilyn Monroe, that sex symbol of sex symbols, wore a 12 or a 14. And did you know that major ready-to-wear retailers just pick a female model off the street, and declare her a size 8? Then they add two inches for each incremental size. The day I learned that delicious little fact, I quit caring about what size clothes I wear.

Here is where Sarah Brown and the belly dancers collided for me. Because we have made slenderness next to Godliness, especially for females, we have hated our own bellies into that glorified flat state. Most of us want that. Few of us have it. Even fewer have it effortlessly. Why do we value those flat tummies? What? Do we want to be boys? We're not.

Is it any wonder that there is an epidemic of infertility, especially in Western society? Further, given Ms. Brown's chillingly referenced statistics on the dangers of childbirth, how is it possible for affluent Western women not to empathize with those women who risk their lives in giving life? Makes sense to me. Part of Western infertility is the subconscious awareness of women whose bodies know the truth -- that women all over the world risk their lives to give birth.

Holding our bellies in is a form of self-hatred, dear one. If you are a woman who has spent years or decades (like me) trying to get to that elusive flat belly nirvana, feast your eyes on the rounded bellies of these sisters of ours on YouTube who revere and celebrate their lovely bellies as emblematic of fulfilling and powerful womanliness.

If you are a woman who is ashamed by your alleged infertility, consider a gentle, revolutionary effort toward softening that holy space within your belly that could, someday, grow and nourish a new life. If you are in the West, give thanks that the likelihood you would die giving birth is less dire than in other climes.

And if you are past childbearing age, let go of those taut muscles, and let yourself have that blessed softness that comes of self-acceptance. This sort of internal acceptance and self-affirmation is a spiritual discipline. It goes a long way toward making space for all women to learn to love themselves.

Oh, and you'll have a flat belly or you won't. B.F.D.

For spiritual nourishment, go to