A recent post-yoga conversation between me and two students went something like this.
One woman purchased a new top; the other admired it. The top was a sports bra, but over it was a flowy shirt that covered up the midriff.
"I've worn just a sports bra twice to class," said a lean, fit mother of three. "I got here late and couldn't find a shirt."
"That's two more times than me, sister," I said.
"There's no way I'm wearing just a sports bra in there," said the purchaser, who has a beautiful, strong yoga practice.
We laughed about it, but the next morning that conversation haunted me. Three healthy women who take care of themselves still felt embarrassed of their less than perfect bellies - what is wrong with this picture? Plenty.
The image of the "perfect" belly is so ingrained in us. I skim past photos of said bellies every day on Facebook. Usually it's just a torso, and the woman (minus her head) casually is lifting up her shirt to show a well-defined midsection. The headline urges me to click for five ways that I, too, can achieve rock-hard abs. I don't click anymore. Maybe I used to, but now it just seems silly.
There are about a thousand more important goals I could be working toward than a six-pack. And then I briefly wonder how long it took to Photoshop those lines in that woman's belly because, honestly, how many people in real life do you know with abs like that? Maybe three? Me too, and I teach and practice power vinyasa yoga where we work our core muscles until kingdom come. Boat pose, anybody? Plank? Side plank? The list goes on.
I'm not afraid to tell you my belly lacks defined contours. I eat well and exercise every day, yet feel fairly confident that I never will bounce quarters off my solar plexus. And that's OK. I don't think most of us, especially women, were designed to have that kind of abdomen. We have body fat. We carry babies. And, hey, our torso sure comes in handy to store all these vital organs.
Of course, I'm not suggesting we should throw caution and good health to the wind and grow our bellies and our waistlines into unhealthy shapes. But I do believe in some self-forgiveness if, no matter how hard you try, you can't develop abs you could grate cheese with.
The whole belly shame conversation made me want to offer a new class: Imperfect Belly Yoga. We come, we wear sports bras, we do some core work and then we send good juju to our midriffs, where potbellies keep us warm, our scars tell stories and those dimples make us softer to hug.
Mulson's column appears biweekly in Health and Wellness. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.