I would do anything for my daughter, except show her my belly button in public.
She can’t comprehend this. Why wouldn’t I want to show the world my awesome belly button?
Maybe if she smiles bigger or tickles my belly I might change my mind? Maybe if she twirls while showing her belly button?
No, none of these things work. I stand my ground and refuse to pull up my shirt and show random strangers on the streets of New York City my belly button. At the ripe old age of 2 my daughter is convinced there is something horribly wrong with her mother.
And she’s right. There is something wrong with me. It’s just a belly button. Why can’t I show it to the bus driver and make my toddler giggle in delight? I know exactly why but I don’t want to explain it to her. I don’t want to ruin her innocent and joyful love of her body. I am ashamed of my body and most of the shame resides somewhere around my belly button.
I wish I could blame it on pregnancy but I hated my belly long before I even thought about becoming a mother. I wish I could blame it on my body type but after years dieting I know that though my dress size may change my belly hate always stays the same.
I have no idea why or how this belly hate was produced. But every time a stranger tells me I shouldn’t be drinking coffee while I am with child or someone asks me when my due date is I am reminded of why I hate being a woman. Who are these strangers and why do they feel entitled to talk about my body?
I think it started in puberty. My body was changing faster than my mind could keep up with. Clothes that fit perfectly one day would be too revealing for the next day. Once my training bra broke in gym class and I had to pretend like I didn’t hear the other kids joking about how giant my boobs were getting.
As I got older and I stopped growing people still felt like they had the right to talk about my body. Teachers, friends, strangers, and family members all had opinions on my shape and what I should be doing to be healthier. They talked to me for hours about this even though they had never given me a physical or gone to medical school.
When people made comments about my body I wanted to speak up but I was so used to hearing people talk about my anatomy without permission I held it in. I kept the hate in and it flowed right to my belly button. This is a shame because, as any toddler would tell you, belly buttons are pretty awesome.
When my daughter wakes up in the morning she loves me to tickle her empty belly. But only for a second because then it is time to fill her belly up with yogurt. She can’t believe how big her belly gets when she eats. Sometimes she pounds on it like a drum. Then we get dressed which can be a challenge considering she always wants to wear belly button revealing clothes. Who cares if it’s snowing? She has a belly button to rock!
After the war of getting her clothed is over we walk the dog, go to the playground, and sometimes we even go to the grocery store. And can you guess what the most exciting part of all this is? You guessed it! Everywhere we go we meet new people who have belly buttons. Sometimes my daughter even gets a couple of brave adults to show her their belly buttons. This makes her day.
As you can see I spend a lot of my time looking at all kinds of belly buttons. I’m not just a mom. I am a belly button expert. So when I watched Lena Dunham sit naked in the shower in the “One Man’s Garbage” episode of Girls, you would think I would be used to such gratuitous displays of belly buttons. But I wasn’t. It was shocking to me. So shocking it took me weeks to understand why I cried at the end of the episode. I could care less about Hannah’s desire to have a bowl of fruit or whether the divorced doctor wanted to listen to her talk about her feelings. I cried because Lena Dunham was able to do something I couldn’t do even for my own daughter. She showed the world her belly button and her belly button is perfect.
Well, maybe not everyone thinks Lena Dunham’s belly is perfect. But my daughter would point, giggle, and tickle it if she ever saw Lena Dunham’s belly button in person. Just like she does to everyone because no matter what your belly button looks like or how many stretch marks surround it your belly button is awesome.
It’s awesome because it’s what connected you to your mother and allowed her to nourish you for nine months. It’s awesome because no matter who you are or what you believe in we all have a belly button. And more importantly, it’s awesome because my 2-year-old daughter’s face lights up whenever she catches a glimpse of a belly button.
One day in my daughter’s art class I decided I was done with the belly hate. My daughter wanted to show her teacher my belly button and I let her. She couldn’t believe it and did a happy dance. Then she wanted to paint on my belly and I thought why not? Pregnant women put henna tattoos on their bellies as a way to honor their pregnancy. Just because I’m not pregnant doesn’t mean my belly still doesn’t deserve to be honored.
So I let my daughter paint on my belly to honor the mother who nourished me in her belly, the belly that nourished my child, and the one thing that never fails to make my daughter smile; my belly button.
It tickled and the cold paint felt surprisingly calming on my skin. Whenever I felt like my belly was too flabby or fat to be out in public I just looked down at my daughter’s face. She was so proud of my belly button and happy to finally be showing it to her classmates. I asked my friend to take a picture. I hate the way my belly looks in it but I have never seen myself look happier because for a moment, I am blissfully ignorant of my insecurities and enjoying myself and more importantly my child.
If you feel insecure about your belly button, take some time to think about what your belly really is and who it connects you to. If you are still feeling down have a loved one paint on it. Then maybe you will be able to understand the simple truth that all toddlers understand but forget as they age; belly buttons may come in all shapes and sizes but all belly buttons are awesome.
This was previously published on The Huffington Post