Many people are taught about the "right" kinds of body fat and the "wrong" kinds of body fat from pretty early on. Existing at the top of the hierarchy of "acceptable" fat would probably be big boobs, possibly followed by curvaceous buns. Fat stomachs and visible belly outlines, known in fat acceptance circles as VBOs, are generally not included.
But why? Bellies that fail to conform to aspiration tropes of flatness are regularly deemed problematic by lose-the-flab-now propaganda, waist training ads, and fat-freezing procedures that promise to ice away your dreariest rolls. All the while, the imagery young women are presented with that's meant to represent "beauty" very rarely represents wobbly tummies at all.
It's for these reasons that embracing a fat stomach seems to be especially difficult for so many humans. Many deem the tummy the truest sign of whale-status; the most undeniable proof that one's body is fat and subsequently failed. Thankfully, an increase in body positive rhetoric and plus size acceptance narratives have helped shift this internal conversation of VBO self-hate for a lot of people. Rather than hide their bellies away, these seven women choose to embrace and show love for their stomachs — flab and all. And this is why they feel doing so is important.
1. Ratna Manokaran
For plus size style blogger and Adevi Clothing founder Ratna Manokaran, self-consciousness over her belly was the hardest "to let go" of. She tells Bustle that thanks to being conditioned to believe that a fat belly was "the bad fat," particularly in comparison to her breasts, her internal norm was to shame and conceal this part of the body for quite some time.
As she became more immersed in body positivity, however, all those moments of being told how beautiful she'd look if only she could "lose a little of [her] stomach" began to mean less and less. It took a long time, but the key reason she took the plunge of acceptance was simply that her VBO "is part of me and it's not going anywhere."
Manokaran also got pretty tired of eschewing clothing she was interested in because of "how protruding [her VBO] looked from the side." These days, she says, "I now embrace it and wear anything I want," refusing to shy away from tight jeans or crop tops. Cool threads are for anyone who wants them, after all.
2. Holly Manuel
Plus size babe Holly Manuel's go-to hashtag is #YayBellyOutline. "I think it's important to embrace everything about your entire body, regardless of how the world sees you and interprets your worth," she tells Bustle.
She follows plus size communities online pretty closely, and has qualms with her observation that "lots of women are still concerned with hiding [their VBOs] with clothing." "If most of us have this VBO, why is it still so taboo?"
Because Manuel believes in combatting harmful beauty standards, she thinks being unafraid of the visible belly outline as a plus size person is crucial. Only by sharing real, unretouched, uncensored pictures of fat bellies can we begin to normalize them.
3. Emily D. Whitaker
Plus size fashion and lifestyle blogger Emily D. Whitaker of Chubby Mannequin's reason for embracing her VBO is simple: "It's vital to embrace my VBO to take back my power of feeling insecure due to the unreal pressure from the fashion industry," she tells Bustle. Like many women, the imagery Whitaker most often saw in mainstream fashion and media at large framed beauty as being rooted in thinness. But thinness simply wasn't part of her own story.
"I've always had a soft stomach," she says. "I've [also] had two babies and my belly is proof of that." Because our stomachs are often capable of quite a lot of magic — baby-making included — Whitaker believes there's simply "nothing to be ashamed of."
4. Debz Aiken
Debz Aiken is the blogger behind The (Not So) Secret Diary Of A Wannabee Princess. For her, embracing the VBO is all about demonstrating rebellion. "When we see bodies in the media, even via social media, they're Photoshopped and filtered," she tells Bustle. "We're used to seeing smooth bodies, hourglass shapes, and dresses that cling in only the 'right places.' As someone who is super fat, you can be left wondering if your body is abnormal because when you're dressed, you don't look like other bodies you are used to seeing."
As an unapologetic fat woman, showing off her belly in its full authenticity is a means to debunking the myth of "flattering" and normalizing the many ways bodies (and plus size bodies in particular) can look.
"My VBO is part of me," she adds. "We've been through a lot together, so although hiding it away can sometimes feel like the easier option, it's denying part of who I am." By bringing attention to her "lumps and bumps," she not only helps herself feel more comfortable in the body she's in, but hopes to remind others that feeling good in a plus size body needn't be limited to those whose flabbiest bits are tucked and sucked in the "right" places.
5. Sam Roswell
Fatty Boom Tatty blogger Sam Roswell doesn't own any shapewear and regular chooses to wear tight-fitted clothing. "I often get the, 'Wow you're so brave, I could never show my belly off' response," she tells Bustle. To that, she asks, "Why not?"
When we really stop to consider why a fat tummy seems to be able to spark so much fear and disgust in people, it's incredibly difficult to come up with a logical explanation. It's just a part of the body: A part of the body that's not hurting anyone; a part of the body with soft beauty that doesn't deserve to be ignored.
"My belly is all part of me," Roswell adds. "And embracing it has done nothing but boost my confidence because I see past it. I hope others do, too."
6. Breanna Ducat
Spinsters Studios producer Breanna Ducat tells Bustle that her visible belly outline was the hardest part of the body to accept (a common sentiment among many women). "I constantly tried to hide it, make sure it wasn't visible," she adds. "I'd wear shapewear with everything every day."
So what changed? "Once I got to a certain point with my body acceptance, I was able to just say, "To hell with it, I don't care what others see or think!"
To reject external opinions can be easier said than done, of course. But when you realize that the flaw is not with your body, and rather with those who are making you feel badly about your body, doing things like "wearing bikinis, tight clothing, the works" should become more doable and less frightening.
7. Amena Azeez
Founder and Chief Editor of Fashionopolis Amena Azeez believes that embracing your VBO can take many forms. Sometimes it's a journey that starts internally, via a re-programming of sorts of the brain. Sometimes it's a journey facilitated by applying a giving-zero-effs attitude to fashion, via tight clothes or crop tops. Whatever the method, however, she feels that learning to love her "big fat belly" has been of utmost value in her own body positivity. And, hopefully, in the body positivity of others.
"We need to show the next generation that it's OK to have a big belly and VBO and there is nothing wrong in having one and it being seen," she tells Bustle. "If we want the next generation to grow up with a more body positive approach, we need to normalize all bodies and not just those that media considers pretty, fit, and healthy."
One of the best days of Azeez's life, she says, was when she realized that she will never have a flat stomach. No longer does she have to suck her "tummy in while clicking pictures," or be afraid of showing it off in a bodycon when the mood strikes. Most days, she loves its softness. And she loves the fact that she can now accentuate it, or not, without that feeling of affection wavering.
Whether you choose to embrace your VBO in baby steps (perhaps by quietly mouthing self-affirmations like, "There's nothing wrong with my fat belly. My fat belly is a lovely, soft, jiggly piece of magic") or going all-out in ensembles that show off every bit of its wobbles, there's a lot to be said for the practice.
It's not always easy to celebrate a part of the body that you've been taught to believe is wrong, ugly, or a fixer-upper. But to do so is to take a little slice of power back. To do so is to rebel. And to do so is to commit yourself to a life free from the burdens of totally unnecessary and nothing-but-harmful body hate.
Images: Courtesy sapphiresplendour/Instagram; Courtesy Interviewees