It was my last full day on vacation down the Jersey Shore -- a vacation where I indulged on piping hot donuts and buckets of fries on more than one occasion. My partner and I decided to check out Cape May. I dressed for the occasion in a white and grey striped dress that clung to me like a koala to a tree.
Waiting for my guy at the local coffee shop, I encountered a man, about 40. He looked at me and smiled.
"You look great," he said, his teeth made even whiter by the bronzed glow of his sun-washed skin.
"Thanks," I said, leaning against the counter in a somewhat slumping manner. You know, the kind where your belly pushes out...
"When are you due? " he asked.
"Umm, due for what?" I asked.
It took a moment for me to catch on. He thought I was pregnant. I wasn't. I corrected my posture and sucked my belly back into place. The man put his bronzed foot in his big mouth. My partner, meanwhile shot me an "Oh shit" look and stayed out of it. Smart man.
I left the coffee shop and watched as a flood of various emotions (all triggered by my ego) rose to the surface. First I was confused. I've taught yoga for twelve years, eat healthy, drink a green smoothie every day and have a metabolism like a racehorse.
And this is where you stop reading because you refuse to read about a fit women complaining about being fat. Don't worry, that's not what's happening. Keep reading.
Then I got annoyed at this silly man who seemed to be ruining my day with his dumb comment. Of course, he could only ruin my day if I let him.
Then I felt insecure. This surprised me because I have always loved my shape. My body has filled out over the years and yes, I feel unsure from time to time but I have never really struggled with body image -- something I know is rare. Yet, for the first time in 34 years I was tying my jacket around my waist to cover up what one man thought was my pregnant belly.
Then I realized something. My strong body image was a direct result of feeling validated by society. I felt good about my body because for many years it fit a stereotype. Men and women would validate my body and I soaked it up. So while I was confident, it was merely based on external factors. And if you ask me, that type of confidence is treacherous. When things change, and they always will, that confidence crumbles because it was never real in the first place. True confidence comes from the inside out.
Where did this flat belly standard come from anyway? There was a time when women's bodies were celebrated for being round and juicy and voluptuous and in many parts of the world this is still the case. However, in the West the flat belly seems to rule. Over the years I have seen beautiful women with shapely, healthy bodies stuffed into Spanks, hiding this very precious piece of themselves -- their bellies.
Not only is it uncomfortable, it is also energetically constricting. During a six-week stay in India, I was told to sleep without any elastic constricting around my belly so my energy could move. The energy of this area connects to our sexuality, money, pleasure and our ability to flow. For women, this area is the sacred center where we hold life and yet it seems we have been conditioned to not only cover it up but to suffocate it.
While I have no problem with wanting to get in shape and lose some belly fat, I also believe it is vital to connect with the "why." For me, witnessing the array of emotions I felt without trying to get my partner to validate me was really empowering. I knew his validation wouldn't help. We need to validate ourselves first. We need to embrace our bodies. But we also need to be honest with ourselves in the process and honest with each other, especially when we are in leadership roles.
As a yoga instructor, I know people look up to me and my body. If I am feeling inadequate about my body but decide to come off as confident, I am no longer serving them but instead I am giving them a false and unrealistic impression. As someone people look to for guidance, I know my honesty is one of my biggest gifts. Most of us have someone who looks up to us, whether it is our children, students, coworkers, employees or friends. I think it's important to consider how we want to show up for them.
As we continue to integrate in a world that so often tells us how to feel, how to look, and has a very precise definition of beauty, it is so important for each one of us to check in and see if we agree with these standards. It is time for us to create our own standards. For me, this begins with speaking our truth, loving our bodies and rocking our bellies. We are certainly seeing this more as certain celebrities speak out about Photoshop and musicians write music about redefining beauty. But we can't rely on celebrities. We need to create change within ourselves.
After some time and a few breaths, I smiled and unwrapped my jacket from my waist. I decided to let me little belly be. I wasn't confident the whole time, but I was honest. And if you ask me, honesty is damn sexy.