An ode to my belly: that little bit of squish is not the mother of all evils

The pot belly, like the smug smile, exaggerates an all-too-rare ease with oneself and illustrates an individual who takes pleasure in life

Brigid O’Dea: ‘In a world that valorises our early-rising, gym-going, stomach-crunching, super-food-munching peers, the belly is the antithesis to this culture of unattainable and unrealistic perfection.’ Photograph: Dave Meehan

Brigid O’Dea: ‘In a world that valorises our early-rising, gym-going, stomach-crunching, super-food-munching peers, the belly is the antithesis to this culture of unattainable and unrealistic perfection.’ Photograph: Dave Meehan

 

‘Why don’t you ever ask me about my body image?” I asked my therapist.

He paused, taken aback. “I didn’t think it was an issue for you,” he replied hesitantly, “you are not particularly overweight.”

As a 25-year-old, 5ft 8in female, who is a size 8 (realistically a size 10 and unwilling to upsize though it would make my hips spill less), I have, like many my age, a complicated relationship with my body.

“You are not particularly overweight?” Overweight? I’m willowy, I’m waif-like, a twig, or even a leaf. I am a petal so worryingly delicate I could be blown to oblivion with the soft sneeze of a hayfevered infant! Or so I thought . . . and so, I have decided to write an ode to my belly.

Thankfully, the nice thing about being 25, and not 21, or 19 or 16, is the welcoming of the word “comfort” into a more mature vernacular. I now understand the rationale for sensible shoes, raincoats and elasticated cotton pants. Moms in arch-supported leather sandals exude a practical confidence sturdy as their inch-thick straps, and no longer make me cringe. I have learned the Bernard Shaw will not refuse me on a Saturday night for a VPL in my white jeans, nor will my prince abandon me at midnight for fluff on my thighs.

Brigid O'Dea.
Brigid O'Dea

Equally, I have grown to understand that the little bit of squish around my belly is not, as I once thought, the mother of all evils, but is more like that familiar piece of your mom’s jammies that you rub between your fingers at night as it soothes you to sleep.

A belly is the ultimate comfort.

There is little more comforting than laying in a soft towel, skin soaked in a warm post-shower pink tint, mind drifting between daydreams and a hand (your own – or if you’re lucky someone else’s) rested on your belly.

It is the feeling of wholesome luxury.

And yet it is hard to ignore the chants of Roald Dahl’s Crunchem Hall Primary School “Bruce! Bruce! Bruce!” as you watch your belly grow in the mirror; a sign of over-indulgence, greed, laziness, and, as “clean eating” would indicate, dirtiness.

Guilty pleasure

The belly felt to me, a guilty pleasure until I had my ‘aha! Moment’ watching Tarentino’s Pulp Fiction. Maria de Medeiros was the first person to tell me that “pot bellies are sexy”. In fact, she continued, “if I had a pot belly, I would wear a tee-shirt two sizes too small to show it off”.

And in a world dominated by cameras craving “angles”, de Medeiros beautifully captures this juxtaposition when she asserts that, “it’s unfortunate that what we find pleasing to the touch and pleasing to the eye are not the same”.

And it is for this reason the belly has become an anti-hero, of sorts.

Thankfully, we are witnessing a shift. In recent times, we have seen the hollowed cheeks of the trout pout replaced with a fuller smug smile. This smug smile is by no means as flattering as the wide-eyed, lip-puckered pout but it is aspirational in its exudation of happiness, warmth and comfort.

In an age of Instagram filters and studied poses, the pot belly is the perfect bed fellow to the smug smile. No less noble than a trout pout, the pot belly is probably best accompanied by a Mediterranean balcony view, Aperol Spritz in hand and some “recommended” summer reading in shot, preferably Pulitzer Prize-winning, for those who appreciate detail.

And so, the pot belly has, or will, become an extension of this smug delight. The pot belly, like the smug smile, exaggerates an all-too-rare ease with oneself and illustrates an individual who takes pleasure in life. It says, I had a spaghetti alle vongole with a friend last night, we shared a tiramisu, my step count was only 3,000 but that’s okay because I danced with abandon to an extra 9,000 steps, after we split a bottle of guilt-free rosé just past 1am.

In a world that valorises our early-rising, gym-going, stomach-crunching, super-food-munching peers, the belly is the antithesis to this culture of unattainable and unrealistic perfection.

Instead of searching for Godot via 5:2 fads and paleo diets, take life by the love handles and learn to embrace the little pot belly.

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