By Ellie Herman
What caused your eating disorder? It's a question that others ask but also one that I ask myself. The answer is not known with any degree of certainty, but I do know that in my desire to become a healthier eater, I wanted to have a stomach that I "was proud of," and that sort of tummy was flat, thin, and toned. Few things bothered me more during recovery than the new feeling of my stomach touching the waistband of my pants.
Why was this the stomach I thought would result in pride? Because that is the stomach we are shown on today's ideal bodies. Skim through a magazine, flip through TV commercials, walk through a department store (if it's swim season -- even better!). You'll notice that the models exposing their mid-rifts are all displaying planes of muscle behind taught, (spray-)tanned, blemish-free skin. Oh! So that is the type of tummy healthy people should have. This was my disordered thought process, and it's been one of the hardest thoughts for me to reconstruct in recovery.
There is a movement among our body image leaders to display, with pride, all bellies. A recent article by Bustle's Hilary Phelan agrees. In doing this, we'll be administering to ourselves the Mere Exposure Effect, and we'll begin to feel all bellies are worthy of display. The Mere Exposure Effect is a psychological phenomena that states that the more we are exposed to something, the more inclined we are to like that thing. There are hundreds of easy examples to note here (did you like the taste of coffee the first time you sipped it?), but the one I'd like to reference is our exposure to bellies... or lack thereof. We are exposed only to one type of belly, and that leaves all others feeling inferior and vulnerable.
I have pondered for years why my belly became such a focus to me during recovery, and I do think the influence of seeing washboard abs was a contributing factor, but there is something about the stomach that can, pun intended, make one queasy. For me, the stomach is a place of change. It's where I gain weight, often where I lose weight, where I pierced my navel, where I have a small freckle on the side, where I'll first know if I've eaten something my body didn't like, and where I feel eyes greet me too often. But, if you think about it, a belly is all of these things, yes, but it's also where you were created.
Your umbilical cord connected you, your tummy, and your mother. Without that belly, you wouldn't be here. Your stomach is the home of many vital organs. It takes in what you put in to your body, and it, magically, turns that food into usable energy. And, uniquely and importantly..... ALL STOMACHS DO THIS. Every tummy -- the flabby, muscled, wide and thin, the freckled and tattooed, round and flat, bulging and sunken, and the pasty-pale ones - works hard to process food so that you can breathe, eat, and sleep. It can be a pillow for a loved one's head, a shelf for something you're carrying. It can expand and contract, bend and twist, and yet it holds you together.
Your stomach's feats should be celebrated, not shamed. And therefore, the stomach should be displayed with, yes, I'll say it, pride. It's still a body part that I need to remind myself to love and appreciate through eating disorder recovery, just as we need to love all tummies to help our society learn to appreciate them.
This was originally published on Proud2BMe.org.
Ellie M. Herman grew up in Selinsgrove, a small town in central Pennsylvania that boasts about its cows and high school football records. At present, she is attending Albright College in Reading, Pennsylvania, and will graduate with a B.A. in Psychology with a minor in Women's and Gender Studies in the spring of 2015. She hopes to pursue a career in counseling psychology, perhaps after attending graduate school. Cars and sports are two of her other interests.
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Are you struggling with an eating disorder or do you know someone who is? Call the National Eating Disorders Association's toll-free helpline for support: (800)-931-2237.