Shame, Love and a Bare Belly: The Power of Forced Self Confidence

Shame is a weighty word.  When you hear it, even if you aren’t feeling it, it creates a physical reaction, that pit in your stomach, head turned down.  Shame is a powerful feeling and one that can alter our state of mind.  We will often do anything to avoid shame, even if that shame, is self induced.  Shame isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  It can stop us from doing, or repeating, stupid behavior.  When it is at the expense of self worth and self confidence, it is then that shame becomes dangerous and can stop us from true happiness and contentment. 

I have a question for you.  Are you ashamed of your body?  Not the body you hope to have in the future, or the body you once had.  I mean, when you look in the mirror, in your birthday suit, are you ashamed of the body that reflects back at you?  If you asked me this question a couple of weeks ago I would have said, without a second thought, “of course not!”  I would have said this because I know how amazing our bodies are.  Just think how intricate and spectacular just the act of moving our fingers without real thought is.  The problem is that what we know, isn’t always what we believe. 

It has been a hot summer so far in New York.  I love the heat being the California bred girl that I am, so I am okay with it, but it does make for some rough runs while training for my September race.  A few weeks ago I was out on the trail, sweating away as the sun beat down on my shoulders.  My tank was entirely drenched with sweat and as each foot hit the ground, my shirt attached itself to my wet back.  Although I was generally enjoying myself, I wasn’t particularly comfortable.  A woman ran by me going the opposite direction.  She was only wearing a sports bar and her shorts.  No tank stuck to her back like mine.  Her blond hair was pulled into a pony tail and through her cap, bouncing about with every step.  She looked comfortable. 

I initially thought to myself, “that looks nice, but I can’t do that,” automatically dismissing the idea of going shirtless because my body wasn’t tan and toned like her’s.  I continued to jog, allowing my mind to drift as it often does on my runs.  It finally came to one very scary thought, “why can’t I do that?”  Now, I have never been one to expose my stomach.  I often joke, but it is probably true, that my stomach hadn’t seen the sun until about two years ago.   Honestly, that was only a few occasions with me mostly walking around, arms crossed in fear of someone noticing the fact that I had a stomach. 

Of course a litany of excuses railed through my mind of why I couldn’t possibly run without a tank top.  It was as if my mind was arguing with itself.  With each excuse, came an equal response. 

“It would jiggle.”

Response: “Who cares?”

“It would be uncomfortable.”

Response: “To feel the cool breeze hit your skin? It probably won’t be any less uncomfortable then you feel now.”

“I’m like the opposite of tan.”

Response: “You can’t get tan without the sun taking a glance at your skin.”

“I need a cuter sports bra.”

Response: “You have a million sports bras.  This excuse is just stupid.”

The next thought stopped me in my tracks. 

“I might offend someone.”

Response: “Oh sweetheart…”

I talk a big talk about body confidence and loving the body you have.  I truly know that is the foundation of healthful living.  I know that my body is incredible and just as impressive as that woman running without a tank top, but what I learned that day was that I didn’t believe it yet.  Not deep down, not for myself.  I was ashamed of my body.  So ashamed that I thought my body might be offensive.

At that moment I knew I needed to make a change.  I needed to shock myself into believing, not just knowing, how incredibly spectacular my body was.  It wasn’t something to be ashamed of, or hide, it was something to be proud of.  So I decided to do the unthinkable; I would run every run from here on out, as long as it’s not cold or raining, without a shirt.  I would force myself to show off the body I have and be proud of every single roll.  So every day since then, and I run at least five days a week, I have ran without a shirt on. 

Sure, the first time was a little weird.  When I got out of my car, bare bellied, I worried about every glance.  With my stomach being about as pale as a piece of paper, it felt like a target that was bound to steer every eye, but I reminded myself that if I look up, they probably will too.  With a deep breath, I started.  I could feel my midsection move about each time my sole hit the pavement, giving me a lurch of insecurity with every jiggle, but I trudged forward, head high, determined.  And you want to know what?  The longer I went, the more lost in my run I became, the less I noticed the wiggle or anyone staring.  In fact, it seemed that no one actually cared, and instead of a jiggle in my midsection, I began to feel more of my abdominals as they pushed a pulled, keeping me stable and strong.  Then, that blessed breeze came, grazing my back and cooling each cell as it ran by.  I was comfortable, or at least as comfortable as I could be, running in 87 degree heat.  More then anything, I was proud.  I was a the type of girl that ran in only a sports bra. 

I have been doing this for almost three weeks now and I often wonder why I hadn’t done it years before.  It’s so much better then running with any sweat wicking shirt.  It’s funny, now I am downright brazen about it.  I have gone to wearing shorter shorts and not even wearing a shirt walking to my car in my apartment complex, as I head to the trail.  I even posted a few photos, sans shirt.  I figure this is my body, like it, don’t like it, I don’t really care, but I am not ashamed of it.  I can say that with real clarity now.  Pretending to be confident enough to wear only a sports bra has made me confident enough to wear only a sports bra.  So if you are like me, and maybe feeling a bit ashamed of the body you have, believe this: your body is spectacular.  It deserves to be shown off, and the more you show it off, the more you will notice people staring at you in appreciation, not disgust. 

Last week I saw that girl again, we nodded at each other and smiled in what felt like understanding, with both of our bellies bared for all to see, both beautiful and unique.  I no longer saw her as the goal to become, but rather my equal.   Your belly too, or your thighs, or your arms or whatever, are beautiful and unique.  In fact they are remarkable, just as you are.  Every jiggle has purpose, so be proud.  Show off that incredible body of yours, heck, be brazen about it.

Talk soon,


PS: Me and my bare belly.

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