Let’s talk about my stomach.
This is my stomach – I took this photo circa 5 mins ago.
This is not a photo which makes me happy. I can tell myself that it’s my time of the month and therefore I am naturally bloated. I can say, well actually I just worked out and drank a protein shake, which also contributes to the bloat. I can reassure myself that these comfies are something I threw on post-workout and are designed for comfort, not for aesthetics. But the truth is, this is just how my stomach looks right now.
This is my stomach in July 2016:
I can’t really remember, but I expect that this took a few takes, and I would have discarded all the ones that didn’t look quite right. I would have selected a filter which emphasised the tone of my abs.
Honestly, the contrasting photos aside – I don’t actually look all that different. I never focus much on my stomach, it’s a supporting muscle for most of my lower body workouts and therefore gets worked mainly as a ‘side effect’. The main difference between these two photos is nothing to do with my stomach, my focus has always been increasing the size and tone of my lower body, which you can’t really tell by looking at my abs. And yet, I do beat myself up about my stomach. I stand in the mirror and scrutinise it daily:
- ‘I look about 3 months pregnant.’ – whenever I am bloated.
- ‘I have a muffin top.’ – whenever I am wearing tight trousers.
- ‘I look square’ – most days.
I look at it front on and side on, sucked in and pushed out. I poke and prod and pinch.
It’s ridiculous, I know.
My new workout plan does include actual abs workouts each week, I usually start to incorporate more abs work as soon as bikini season approaches. However, I don’t actually want full-scale abs. I have a lot of admiration for Chloe Madeley style abs, but it’s just not a look I aim for myself. I just like having some definition and I am not very good at accepting that at certain times, i.e. during PMS or after a good meal, my stomach will not be perfectly flat.
But, I have a confession to make. Throughout my entire life, I have had a flat stomach. Bloating aside, even when I wasn’t working out regularly, my stomach was perfectly flat. I have added tone and shape through working out, but I have never needed to reduce fat.
Recently, I have started to feel quite guilty about this. For example, working in an all-girls’ boarding house, I have received comments about my stomach, mainly how I got it to be so flat. Being a young, female teacher, I am used to my body being scrutinised. I was asked how to get a thigh gap in an English lesson whilst completing my PGCE – (again mine has just always been there,) and once I also overheard a pupil say that she would ‘kill for my body, but keep her own boobs.’
This was a different situation, though, I was struggling to ‘pick a girl up’ in terms of her self-esteem. It was a non-uniform day and she was the only one not in skinny jeans, because her mother had told her they didn’t look good on her. She was lying on the sofa in the common room, telling me about how the boys had laughed at her ‘mum’ jeans and pointed out that she didn’t look like the other girls in her year group. She’s 14 years old, and was crafting a diet and exercise plan to slim her legs down. She is a fantastic swimmer and netball player and yet all she could see were problems with her body, rather than all the amazing things it could do. She was looking at me, asking how she could look more like me, and I told her very honestly that I spent most of my time trying to make my legs bigger! She was then quick to point out my flat stomach, and I had to admit that this was just the way I was naturally, which left her feeling like she had lost some sort of genetic lottery. I looked at her curled up on the sofa and started to feel guilty about all the hatred and loathing I had been aiming at my own body, albeit never in front of her. I made a mental note never to complain out loud about the body I had been given, because I didn’t want to set that example to any of the pupils in my care.
I was reminded of this video:
Now, I am not a mother yet, but I do have 65 girls looking at me every day, and that’s just the ones in house. They see me in my leggings/shorts and sports tops at registration when I am planning a morning workout. They see me in pencil skirts, blouses and blazers before I head out to my classroom. They see me sipping protein shakes after an evening strength training session. They see me dressed up before I head out on a night out, or in my comfies without any make-up on for lock up. I have been making a conscious effort to let them see me when I feel most vulnerable, in order for them to realise that it is ok not to be perfect always. I hate the idea of them picking apart their bodies in front of the mirror, and yet this is what I put myself through all the time.
The girls in my care see enough posed, ‘perfect’ bodies all over social media. I went home wanting to cry after some of the accounts they showed me, and they are absorbing this stuff all day, every day. Recently, I have started to become far more inspired by body positive, real accounts, over unachievable ‘fitspo’ accounts. How inspiring really is it to see wealthy people, who don’t work regular 9-5s and who can afford personal trainers and/or childcare, showing off their results? Or to see naturally beautiful models, posed and airbrushed? When I post a photo of my stomach, am I being inspirational or inflammatory? I would be lying if I said that I had achieved a flat stomach purely through hard work. Do I really want people to look at my photos and feel awful about themselves?
Now, I realise what Celeste Barber’s Celeste Challenge is trying to show – women don’t need to look perfect all the time, and we shouldn’t be sending these unattainable messages to teenage girls. Hopefully, by trying to teach this lesson to the young people I work with, eventually, it will sink in for me.
On Saturday night, in the pub, I heard three middle-aged women talking about my stomach.
‘I’ve never had a flat stomach’
‘Me neither, not even when I was young, not even when I was 10!’
I turned to look at them, and they smiled at me.
‘We’re just admiring your stomach, is it natural, or does that take a lot of hard work?’
‘A bit of both.’ I admitted.
What I didn’t say, was that whilst achieving washboard abs, or thick thighs, or muscular arms might be hard work, the hardest work for me is just being happy with myself. Here’s to working on that.