Human bodies can act in unique and sometimes weird ways. In the wise words of John Oliver, “Frankly, I am embarrassed to have one.” However, since I am stuck with this body, I want to actually learn to live well with it, even if I struggle with one of its basic reactions to life: bloating.
For many years, I have become accustomed to my stomach bloating on an almost daily basis. I stopped feeding it so it had nothing to bloat with. I tried sucking in my stomach so that it would always look flat. But recently, I had a change of heart. What if instead of hating my bloated tummy, I learned to love it and appreciate it? It’s hard work, and it’s taking a long time, but I’ve learned that we need to learn to love a bloated tummy. We are in desperate need to learn this lesson because we live in a society where loving your body is an act of rebellion. Our society celebrates skinny, able bodies while discriminating against any and all other body types. Learning to love and appreciate bloating is a change we need to make in order to progress in our mission to love and respect all bodies, regardless of what they look like.
Noticeable bloating is not experienced by all bodies, and bodies that experience this type of bloating tend to be bodies that are not considered “fat” by society. This is an immensely important reason we need to learn to love, respect, and appreciate our bloats.
In terms of judging our bloated tummies because they become associated with fat, well, even if it were true, it wouldn’t make it bad. Every human being has fat on their body, or they would be dead. This fear of gaining fat leaks into fear of bloating because we are afraid people will see our tummies and think we gained weight and categorize us as fat, which is a category we have been taught to fear. This turns into intense oppression of fat people, who have to live every single day acutely aware of the fact that society does not accept their bodies. This oppression is found every day, whether it’s through having to worry about seating in public transportation or about finding a store that carries their size. Fatphobia has worked to make the lives of fat people immensely difficult and has oppressed them in different, horrible ways. We’ve stigmatized the idea of being fat to the point that some people (myself included) are willing to starve our bodies to the point of exhaustion in order to avoid being seen as fat. We live in a world that works to shame fat and fatness, which seeps into our consciousness and ends up harming not only the way we see others, but also the way we treat ourselves and our bodies. We try to escape fat through destructive means when we could all just work to understand fat is normal and should not be harshly or negatively judged.
When I was a kid, I always had a bloated stomach. It never stopped me from flaunting my stuff in bikinis and pretty dresses and just generally feeling good about myself until my mom joked that I looked like I was six months pregnant. Even though the joke hurt me more than I can explain, I laughed along, being too young to feel like I had any right to shut down the offensive joke. For the next fifteen years of my life, I heard that joke often enough that it was the first thing my mind jumped to when I looked at myself in the mirror: “Do I look pregnant? Should I just wear big T-shirts and distract from my stomach?”
Since then, I am acutely aware of bloating, whether it’s my own or someone else’s. In the past year, though, I’ve come to understand and appreciate why we bloat, and why we need to love a bloat, rather than hide it.
Bloated stomachs can be a result of many things, such as eating a very good meal, medical problems, eating high amounts of salt or carbs, eating too quickly, or menstruation. It’s a normal process, just like a scab forming over a cut. I hear tons of lighthearted jokes about food babies, which have negative effects on how we interact with bloating. This is because society has convinced us food babies are only acceptable once in a while. If it happens more often, a food baby becomes shameful. So suddenly, your once celebrated food baby is judged in a negative light, and you feel the need to hide it away in order to stop the judgement. It’s absurd that we can’t accept the normal reactions our bodies have to life. Or that when I google, ‘why do I have a bloated stomach,’ the first articles that come up are about ways to prevent bloating and Women’s Health exercise regimens rather than medical articles about why I might be bloated. This stigmatization occurs all the time, even if your body is perfectly healthy. Everyone’s body is different, and weight or size are not indicators of health. Bloating is just the way our body reacts to different stimuli we experience day to day. Our bodies are so much more than a bloated tummy, and to be honest, I see it as a cute reaction my tummy has to being fed well or a reminder that it’s that time of the month again. Bloating is my body interacting with me, trying to communicate what’s going on and whether it’s doing well, and it should be celebrated. I refuse to hide it away or treat it as something shameful — rather, I live alongside it, just like I live alongside the various scabs I received from falling down in front of way too many people. I’m proud my body has developed and sustained healthy methods of dealing with life, and I think that’s what we need to lift up, rather than the unrealistic beauty standard that tummies should all be flat. We must love, respect, and appreciate all bodies, no matter what shape or size they come in. We need to love a good bloat, because there’s no good reason we can’t.