Belly Up

Welcome to Day 3 of Pauline’s Stationary Blog Hop. Today’s post is from Stephanie St. John, a singer-songwriter with a Once Upon a Time about her Mama Muffin Top.  

P.S: I will resume regular programming next Monday. Until then, enjoy the specials on the menu. May I take your order?

My whole life, I’ve had a belly.

There’s a picture of me as a baby on the changing table; there I am, Popeye and her belly.  Another photograph shows me at age four at the pool.  You can see it in our photo album: me, a two-piece, and my rolls of belly (I haven’t worn a bikini since).

 In middle school, I learned to suck it in.  I had to, because back then, we wore designer jeans so tight you needed pliers to zip them.  (They needed to have that painted-on look, that nothing-comes-between-me-and-my-Calvins look).  Don’t get me wrong—just because I managed to pour myself into my Sassoons does not mean I was ever tiny.  But the Buddha remained hidden.

I come from a long line of baby-making, D-cup, wide-hipped, short-n-curvy ladies.  But unlike my predecessors, whose paradigm of feminine form was Marilyn Monroe’s hourglass, I was competing with the Charlie’s Angels. 

Plus, back then, it wasn’t exactly easy to diet.  There was no Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s.  Pilates and yoga were not ubiquitous.  There were no abs—eight-minute or otherwise.  All we had to work with was Tab, Sweet ’n’ Low, Alba shakes, Weight Watchers pizza, Dexatrim, cigarettes, and good old-fashioned starvation.

But anorexia was not appealing to me.  My mother had an eating disorder, and she wound up rotting her teeth, losing her hair, and messing up her eyes.  My teeth, hair, and eyes are my good features.  I didn’t want to kill the belly at their expense.  Yet my attitude toward the Buddha changed.  Instead of a soft friend that gave me comfort, my belly became my enemy.

The night before I lost my virginity, I took a hand mirror to my bed and carefully looked to see what I might look like and what the best angle would be for “doing it”—the flattest-stomach angle. (Can you guess what the best position was?)  Belly As Enemy became a mindset that continued for the next 20 years—until the day I read the magic word on the home pregnancy test that I carried into our bedroom in our tiny New York apartment that fateful morning. 

We’re going to have a baby!  Inside me was a swelling.  And a sense of deep inner relaxation.

Suddenly, I found myself rubbing my hands across my belly.  It was going to get big.  I was going to get big.  My flattish (but never all the way flat) belly was now, gasp, too small!  

And I wanted it big.  For the first time, I wanted strangers to notice my belly, I wanted it to be seen and felt, I wanted it to be filled with nourishing food that would give my growing baby a smart brain and a perfectly-fused-together spine.  I was suddenly aware that everything I breathed, drank, and ate would go directly to my amazing pod inside.  Five apples and a jar of peanut butter?  To the baby!  A pint of mint chocolate chip Häagen-Dazs?  Hey, it’s what the baby wants!  

A friend of mine, who’d already had her two children and proclaimed her done-ness, gave me a teaming bin of maternity clothes at the start of my second trimester.  I opened that bin unaware of the treasures that lay waiting inside.  After sifting through several cute shirts and a scarily-large bathing suit, the most amazing creation I had ever seen landed across my lap: the maternity jean.  Lordie lord!  Where that cold metal zipper and dauntingly thick button once dug into my skin was the most glorious thing I’d ever seen: a big blue band of stretch fabric, to give room for and cradle my ever-expanding belly.  How had I not known of such a thing before?  No wonder pregnant ladies are glowing; they’re finally relaxed!  They’re finally allowed to stop sucking in their guts and let that Buddha breathe!  

My face was lean, my chin was single, my caloric intake went right to the baby….ahhh.  And unlike the other moms in my prenatal yoga class, I didn’t worry about gaining weight.  They would talk of doctors who scolded them for eating too much cheese.  My midwife knew better.  She was trying to keep me relaxed and happy so that when I went into labor, I’d just push my little guy right out (and that’s a whole other post; oy). Besides, these were petite women, not hip to the Way of the Belly.  They already worried about how their bodies would look after pregnancy.  I was too happy being allowed to have a big belly to care about later.  Breastfeeding burns 500 calories a day!  I wore maternity jeans and ate whatever I wanted and didn’t gain anything but baby. 

Pregnancy had provided me with an unexpected benefit: belly freedom. 

Six years later, with a Lego-obsessed six-year-old son and a four-year-old daughter who talks back and grazes like a farm animal, I am proud to say that I no longer wear anything maternity.  But I did for a while, probably more than what is condoned in certain social circles.  (And it’s a great day when you are the giver of the bin to another new pregnant lady who has yet to discover the wonder of the maternity jean). 

And I still have my belly, just as I did before.  I’ve daydreamed about getting a tummy tuck.  It’s tempting.  If I had the money, maybe I would.  But I don’t want to die getting a cosmetic elective surgery.  How horrible would that be, to die because you can’t accept yourself, because your hotness is (literally) a matter of life and death.  Sorry, too much to live for.   And while I recovered, I wouldn’t be able to pick up my kids and go sledding with them and lay all over the floor with them for months.  And months are the equivalent of years to the kids.  So I daydream about my tummy tuck until more important things tug at my sleeve, interrupt my sleep and demand my soft-bellied love and attention.

A singer-songwriter, Stephanie St. John has recorded three full-length albums and is the leader of the band Mimi Ferocious.  The Village Voice calls her,"Not just another damn folkie. ".  Her latest project is The Blanket Show, an album of experimental children’s music that is slated for a fall release.  A longtime New Yorker, she now lives in the Hudson Valley with her husband and two young children.