“Visible Belly Outline” And Me: A Reluctant Love Story

I am of the mind that people should wear whatever they want, when they want to. Dress for yourself, dance like nobody’s watching, be free to be you and me. I don’t care if you leave the house in a giant sheet belted with an extension cord, anchored by a fake fur you found on the street and had dry-cleaned. If that is your look, please, live your truth.

I try to embody this ethos in my day to day. I wear clothes that make me feel good, that aren’t ugly and don’t have too many visible stains on them. Mostly I wear things that skim and suggest the outline of my body rather than advertise it blatantly. I do this because it’s comfortable and because it hides the the parts of my body that I’m less than psyched about. So, when I read about embracing the visible belly outline (VBO), I was very wary. 

Women’s magazines always urge plus-sized women to put our breasts on a platter, or to show off our “skinny ankles” or “fantastic legs,” but never, ever the stomach. The VBO movement, as demonstrated by Kelsey Miller at Refinery 29 and countless regular, beautiful women on Tumblr and Instagram, is to celebrate your figure at whatever size, however it looks. The About page on the Tumblr FYeahVBO says:

There are many fat acceptance and fat fashion tumblrs out there, but even plus-sized fashion often focuses on flattening, smoothing, and concealing fat bodies. FYeahVBO aims to counteract that by making the belly just another part of the outfit, not something to be hidden or disguised.

I usually trumpet body acceptance at every turn. “Everybody is beautiful and who cares,” I bark at friends when the conversation wanders into body-shaming territory, as it sometimes does. “Just love yourself, who cares, it’s all fine,” I say. “I’m not skinny and I’m fine with it. Do you.” I’m not always telling the truth.

There is nothing I hate more than the feeling of my belly simply existing. I hate it when it presses into a table, or into the edge of my desk as it works. I hate the way it looks in photos, on view and illuminated in shitty iPhone flash photography. I hate when I can feel it pressing against and spilling over anything with a defined waist. It is the one part of my body that yields to the slightest of touches. It is soft yet assertive. I can’t hide it, really, though lord knows I try, clinging to the comfort of floppy sweaters and oversized tees. It is as much a part of me as my legs, my face, or that one really long knuckle hair on my ring finger. But, I’m ready to change.  I’m going to start embracing my body for how it really looks, not the way I want it to look in the future.

It’s a shame when it feels revolutionary to show your body the way it naturally occurs. It is a shame when it feels like a transgression to not hide any parts of your body, regardless of how it looks. It is a shame when dressing to enhance every part of your body, including the parts typically deemed “flaws,” is touted as a trend and not a normal, everyday thing, something that should draw no attention. Everyone should feel comfortable displaying their body free of Spanx or tent dresses or strategically placed, skinnier people in front of them as human shields. I am warming up to the idea of not concealing my body, because I’m done feeling ashamed. I am willing to come to an uneasy truce and to give it a try.