by jade crystal harmon
My belly. The flesh that lifts with the breath, that bubbles over the binding elastic waistband like a pot of boiling oatmeal. Springy and sourdough pale.
There are concentric rings all through this flesh, a subcutaneous history like the rings of a tree. I could run my finger across them and tell the story.
Look there, close to the center where the circles are tight together. See the child’s rapid growth? That was when I didn’t even know I had a body, when I was made entirely of inertia and imagination.
There, a few rings later, we see a wider gap when the flesh began to accumulate, attracting barbs from boys’ mouths and scorn from skinny girls. You can see the tiny white scars they left that changed the shape of the rings, a wrinkle in the perfect ovals that never went away.
See here, the narrower, earnest ring when the child chub stretched like pulled putty into adolescent limbs. I felt I was finally close to the approved template every girl in print and pixel proffered as the norm.
Ah, but see how brief that bubble was—a few rings later and I’m anxiously eating through the first years of independence that left behind rings well padded and stricken with self-loathing. Then see how they rapidly diminish from that summer’s backpacking, those narrow little rings all gristly, always eating and always hungry. We can see the pride here, and the pain of new muscle grown fast, and the ache of bones hitting hard surfaces where once soft flesh protected them. That summer strangers thought I was a boy.
The rings stabilize for a while as I routinely, desperately flit between yoga and dancing and brief gym memberships. Nothing sticks except long walks with my partner, on whatever dirt road we happen to be living on. And playing dancing video games like preteens. Then much farther out, things really change.
This ring is wide and strong, swelling as the baby grew and ‘fat’ became ‘mother’ and was every ounce justified. There are no scars here. At this time, you can see I briefly understood how to love my body as it built and sustained a child.
Watch the rings scrunch up as the milk flows and the baby magically absorbs all that perfect fat. The rings wobble back to skinny as I am eaten alive. There is little time to appreciate this default thinness. I am too tired, too in love.
Now, the glacier of flesh encroaches. One morning I pull on reliable pants and I’m surprised to find they don’t fit the body, cloth pulling tightly against sudden swells. I side with the pants. We are furious. No little boys taunt this body, they don’t need to. The subcutaneous voice is well-armed with darts and too-short measuring tapes. Down with whole milk! Damn the sedentary job! Lazy! Fat! Neglectful! Wrong!
Or fuck it.
This is my creation. I made this. I built this doing all the things I love.
So. On to the terrifying task: gripping the latest concentric ring of flesh in my fingers and knowing, knowing, knowing this is exactly right.
And the next ring is exactly right. And the next.
And so are yours.