Lady Gaga Has a Potbelly
Lady Gaga has a potbelly.
Seriously, she does. As in her belly could fit into a pot. Like this one in my son’s play kitchen. You can fit a lot of visceral adiposity into that pot, as well as the brains of the people who think Lady Gaga, whose waist circumference mirrors that of a 2 year-old, has a pot belly.
If, like me, you looked at the pictures of the fierce Gaga during her Superbowl performance last night, read the headlines about her stomach, did a doubletake on your own stomach and by comparison considered renaming it Ocean of Lard, you are not alone. Because if we’re to believe that what Lady Gaga was sporting was a potbelly our body image notions are well and truly on the fast track to alternative fact land.
Our brushes with the concept of body image, what’s healthy, what’s acceptable, what is downright offensive are the constant subject of many a rant. Remember the Protein World Beach Body ad? Was that shameful, justified, fair, oppressive? Probably all of the above depending on which stage of life you’re at as a woman born into a world of stereotypes, skewed definitions of beauty and worthiness by association.
Many years ago – ok make that my whole life – I indulged in regular, self-flagellatory bouts of body hate. It started where it shouldn’t have – at ballet class. I was 12. I was good at it. So good that one day, after being reviewed by a reputable British dance school and getting top marks, I got pulled to the side by my teacher and told I could go further. If only I lost some weight. I was already working hard at ignoring the laughs from some of my dance colleagues, the word “hippo” muttered under breaths and sneaky laughter more times than I care to recall.
“When you’re hungry just have a boiled egg and lots of water,” the teacher said. Even at 12 that sounded like bad news. Plus I liked my grandmother’s stew a bit too much and I was constantly hungry. The egg wasn’t gonna cut it but neither was ballet class. So I quit. But the seed was planted.
As puberty turned into adolescence and gave way to womanhood I gasped at the moonscape that were my wobbly, cellulite ridden thighs and spent oodles on holy grail creams – the ones that make you feel like a million dollars for about 2 hours, while you’re buying them and before you use them as hope tends to lift your butt and your spirits like no potion or surgeon ever will. I ate cake and then exercised in bursts of self induced guilt. Exercise was never an integral part of anything remotely health oriented, it was punishment. I sucked my stomach in at parties and punched the walls of multiple dressing rooms come beach season, bought diet pills called Slinky (what the actual fuck?) and embraced lettuce for about one week, until my frequent dizzy spells kind of re-routed me in the direction of normalcy and pasta. This happened in an assortment of cycles that would make a washing machine envious.
Then baby came.
I’m not going to bore you with vivid descriptions of what happens to the body of a 5ft woman when a human grows inside her _ for all accounts I had a pretty good pregnancy _ nor am I am going to pierce your eyes with details of a less than unicorns and rainbows emergency c-section other than to say that shit hurts. But during pregnancy I could feel and see my muscles separating. And sure enough, I was left with diastasis recti, a condition that leaves you with a soft gap in the middle of your stomach where you abdominal wall used to sit knitted together. It also means your insides bulge out giving you the dreaded mummy tummy even after all the baby weight is gone. Above all you now have zero core support and a destroyed back. Add caring for a newborn into the mix and you can do the pain maths. Oh and the breasts? Before a small human called them Fridge 1 and Fridge 2 for six months I remembered doing the biro pen test. You know, placing a pen under your boob to see if it stays there? I would more often than not watch as all the pens fell to the floor. Now? Well, allow me to take this opportunity to tell the makers of pens everywhere: if you ever have storage problems, you know who to call.
My body was well and truly worth gasps now and my self-imposed pressure to get back to the body I demonized for years and now deemed without fault through that magic filter of perspective was unbearable at times. The fact that I had lost all of my baby weight less than a month after he was born? Didn’t matter. The fact that I was able to fit into my jeans two months down the line? That was one month too long and the jeans were elasticated. There’s a fine line between letting go and letting yourself go, I kept thinking, all the while making excuses to keep bashing away. On some days I would say ‘this is my mummy tummy, the indelible testament that I carried and gave birth to a wonderful little boy.’ But that too felt like a cop out. Let’s face, I was never gonna be channeling Earth Mum.
Before you jump up and say you’re entitled to have a body you love despite kids, let me say I’m with you. I don’t think childbearing, something our bodies are more or less ready to do bar health obstacles, gets to define your body identity for the rest of your life. Heck, even if you’ve not had kids, nothing, no event does. You’re entitled to feel right and good about the person looking back at you in the mirror, no matter what life has done to you or what you have done in life.
The problem is what we’re measuring ourselves against when we define good. I’m at a stage right now where Lady Gaga’s belly will not make me look at my own and despair. In all honesty I never really was at a place where I consciously compared myself to celebrities, models or girls on the street. I say consciously because on a subconscious level that’s when all the comparison happens. If the message gets rammed down your throat from all angles, be it through separating food into clean and dirty, equating happiness and worthiness with Instagram feeds filled with sunsets, quinoa and downward dogs or telling a 12 year old to stop eating so she can dance that shit will percolate at some level, even if you think you’re immune to it.
I’ve had my many Protein World moments – I see you Slinky – and the closer that ever got me to being beach body ready is if the mental institution I clearly belonged in at that stage would have been located by the sea. The diastasis recti, in some twisted way, has finally shifted my gaze away from the pure exterior and into the core. I have tried and failed to work at getting better _ when you sleep a combined total of 83 seconds in 3 years, goals beyond taking a shower tend to dissipate _ but I have done it and will keep trying to do it to get my strength back so things don’t hurt and I can run after my son and show him that being fat shamed into goals or away from them was not what mum did. At least not after he pushed her apart and made her look inside. Then, when I’m on top of my game I may even try a Lady Gaga Superbowl dance move in hot pants. Because potbelly power.
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