I spent the majority of my life sucking it in.
Not my breath, but my belly. I used to be extremely self conscious about the appearance of my stomach through my shirt, especially when sitting down. If I was wearing jeans and folds of skin would spill over my waistband, I would be mortified, thinking that everyone around me was seeing and judging my imperfections. I would hold my breath to keep my belly flatter, crossing my arms in front of me to hide. I’d wear baggy shirts, buy pants that were too big so they wouldn’t hug my hips, and sit with pillows in front of me, hoping that if I couldn’t see the rolls, I could forget about them. I never did.
Looking back on the shame I felt about my appearance makes me so sad sometimes. I spent so many years hiding myself, hating my body, and believing the lie that because I was dissatisfied with my body, I was less valuable as a person. What I didn’t realize at the time, though, was that my shame-driven behavior was harmful to my physical health, and was actually making the belly bloat worse.
Research continues to demonstrate the importance of deep, diaphragmatic breathing — and not just during periods of stress. Proper breathing technique allows our lungs to completely fill, whereas holding in our tummies and elevating our chests to breathe prevents us from getting full oxygenation. The mechanical action of breathing also stimulates the rest and digest division of our nervous system, reducing stress in a measurable way. This improves digestive symptoms like gas, bloating, and constipation, which tend to distend the abdomen, cause discomfort, and make our waistbands feel tighter. In contrast to shallow chest breathing, deep belly breathing allows our digestive systems to work properly, which naturally makes our tummies look flatter, thereby reducing the perceived need to suck it in in the first place!
As women, we tend to have the attitude that the smaller we are, the better. We are taught to hide, believing we are the wrong shape, the wrong size, have the wrong personality, are unlikable, invaluable, unintelligent, or unimportant. But these are lies, and this attitude of shame and hiding is never something that was intended for us. In 2 Timothy 1:7, we read: “For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power, love and self-control.”
Our truest calling in life is to embrace the power placed within us to love others deeply, encourage our neighbors, and lift up those around us. We simply can’t do these things if we are hiding, covering, and shrinking ourselves. Avoiding breathing because we are afraid it will expose our vulnerabilities is a behavior that drives us towards death. We are starving our bodies of oxygen on a cellular level, causing stress, harming our physical selves, and worst of all, living out the lie that we don’t deserve to take up space.
Where our culture preys on our insecurities, driving us to death and destruction, the truth of who we are is that we are designed with a purpose, intentionally placed in time and space, and invited to take part in something big — even bigger than our own flesh and bone, even bigger than our hearts and minds can comprehend. In Christ, we are called into the expansive, transcendent plan of resurrection and redemption, and God himself provides the very breath that enables us to do so. Likewise, we are made in the image of this creator, who with his own breath spoke eternity into existence. Reflecting this in our inspirations is not a reason for shame, but for glory, honor, and worship. As beloved women of God, we should embrace our bellies. Because with every rhythmic contraction and expansion, we are partaking of life Himself.