This is such a privileged problem to write about, but it’s something I’ve been thinking about for years. Living my authentic self means being open and vulnerable, even if it means admitting I lie on a regular basis.
I am very thin. I’m not particularly fit or healthy, just thin. I’ve always looked this way because I have a small appetite and get full quickly. I’ve never gained enough weight to change my physical appearance in a way others would notice.
(I have gained some weight on purpose by tracking food intake, because I wanted to gain muscle. It was stressful for me to eat over 1800 calories a day and see the extra weight on my body. so I deliberately returned to my former weight and size.)
But my eating and fitness isn’t the issue. It’s my appearance. When I gain weight, I notice it first on my hips and stomach. Fat poking over my jeans or a slight bump in the front of my shirt. Whether others notice it or not, I do. I care so much.
In the past, my thinness drew positive attention. I got comments from girls saying they were jealous of my flat stomach. They wished their legs were as thin as mine. These girls wouldn’t have talked to me otherwise. Being thin was the good thing about me.
By college, I started sucking in my stomach instinctively. I improved my posture so my skin would never bulge over my pants while sitting. I wore crop tops more often, with the intention to show off. I got my attention, from strangers, boys, and friends.
But when I got closer to my girl friends, they started praising my ‘discipline’ and asking advice. “What’s your gym routine? How do you eat so little? Can we work out together? What’s your diet like?” I gave honest replies because I saw no reason to lie: “I don’t go to the gym. I have a small appetite. I actually don’t work out either. I kinda eat whatever I feel like.”
Then I realized how problematic my behavior was. I had felt it didn’t matter that I sucked my stomach in. I was allowed to present my body in the way I saw fit for my goals (to gain attention), even if it was misleading. My body, my rules, regardless of what other people thought.
But I should really be considering what other people think, namely my girl friends. From their perspective, my ‘flat’ stomach wasn’t something attainable through actual work. I told them I didn’t work for it: no purposeful fitness or eating habits. Yet there I was, still, with my flat stomach that they thought was natural (AKA flat due to having worked to attain it). But it’s only been flat for the past five years because I’ve conditioned myself to fake it. I’ve lied and mislead people who wanted to believe they could attain their own goals.
Whether I’ve actually hurt other people or not, I’m sorry for sucking my stomach in. I’ve tried to be more open about my actual appearance, but it looks like damage has already been done. People attribute my bumps to food babies or dismiss them as anomalies.
In any case, I know I’m hurting myself. I still do it. Every day I look in the mirror to see how much to suck in, I’m reinforcing the habit. It’s still hard to accept that I can let myself be seen by strangers with the tiniest bit of fat poking out.
I’ve taken to fitness and improving my diet, though. If I want my ‘true’ flat stomach, it’s attainable for me through actual discipline: consistent exercise and clean(er) eating. Not systematic sucking in. I’m not interested in whether or not a flat stomach is an ideal long-term fitness and diet goal, however. If it keeps me active and healthier, it will do for now.
I doubt I can reverse any damage done to others’ beliefs, if any at all. But from now on, I at least know I’m working (physically and mentally) toward my best and authentic self for myself.