How Endo Belly Impacted My Body Image
Editors Note: This article references body image, weight stigma, and bullying.
Last month, I was scrolling through Instagram when a post caught my eye. The photographer was taking a mirror selfie, shirt hiked up over what appeared to be a baby bump.
A man gently cradled her belly, smiling at the camera like a proud father-to-be. The candid shot looked like so many other posts from mommy influencers.
But the caption stopped me in my tracks: "I was rubbing my #endobelly thinking to myself how badly I want it gone. How I want this entire situation to be over, acknowledging the fact it never will. My fiancé got silly and grabbed my endo baby."
This bloating is what caused the photographer's 'endo baby bump.'
Selfies like this help raise awareness about how endometriosis can change our bodies. Because many women face the pressure to fit certain beauty norms, they may feel insecure with their bodies if they bloat during a flare.
However, for the past several years, #endobelly has been a social media platform for women to share pics of their unfiltered bellies: stretch marks, muffin tops, surgery scars, and all.
The importance of the #EndoBelly movement
If I was able to see #endobelly selfies when I was a teenager, I may have felt more self-confidence. But I didn't have a social media account, and I had never heard of endo belly.
So when I started noticing my body changing, it took me years to realize that some of these changes were not normal. When my belly began to bloat, it wasn't a normal part of puberty.
My doctor and my school nurse reassured me that all young adults have "growing pains," and they encouraged me to start dieting to lose weight. I cut calories and skipped meals, but my stomach would still bloat.
One day, I passed by a group of my classmates in the cafeteria. They laughed and said, loud enough for me to hear, "Shame that Laken's put on that weight. She could be pretty if you look at her from behind, but I don't think she could suck in that gut."
Many young women are teased for their weight. But when you're struggling with endometriosis bloating, this bullying can feel especially cruel.
Why? For me, I knew my body was changing, and I knew I was in pain.
Bloating and blown off by doctors
I did not understand what was happening to me, but my doctor shrugged off my concerns as the complaints of a chubby, insecure teenager. So I continued to struggle with cramping and pain while also being repeatedly told that I would feel better if I lost weight.
When the bloating didn't go away, my doctor assumed that I must not be trying hard enough to diet and exercise.
These thoughts run through the minds of many young women who gain weight. A study from the University of Alberta found that people have harsh stereotypes about others they perceive to be overweight, like thinking that people with larger bodies are lazier and less ambitious than people who have thinner bodies1.
63% of overweight teen girls report being bullied every day in school2. Young women who have bloated bellies may be bullied by their peers.
These biases lead to real-life consequences for young women who have endo belly3. My endo belly, my physical pain, and my self-esteem got tied together in this confusing knot that made me feel like I was undesirable, unworthy, and undisciplined.
For several years, I covered up the mirror in my bedroom, wore baggy t-shirts, and closed my eyes when I took a shower so I would not have to see the stomach that I now hated.
Had I known about endo belly, I may have been less critical of my body because I would have better understood what was causing those changes. That's why #endobelly is such a powerful tool in the endometriosis community.
How I've embraced my endo belly
As I write this article, I am wearing an outfit that would have made my teenage self squawk in horror. I'm wearing a cropped tee with bicycle shorts.
Because I'm sitting at my desk, I can look down and see the roll of my tummy peeking from the hemline of my short shirt. I am not ashamed.
When I bloat during a flare, I know that my body needs extra love because it's fighting a battle against inflammation. My belly doesn't need me attacking it with insults, too.
If you're struggling with body image because of endo belly, know that you're not alone. Here are some suggestions to maintain your confidence when you're bloated:
- Wear comfortable clothes with stretchy waistbands.
- Even if your endo belly may not make you feel cute, try to make an intentional effort to wear something that makes you feel strong and beautiful: a piece of stunning jewelry, your favorite color of lipstick, that pair of heels that makes you feel powerful, etc.
- When you're feeling self-conscious, try to list the things about your appearance that you like. Write down at least one thing you think is beautiful about your body.
- Consider following endometriosis advocates on social media so you can see other people, like @inmarie.warrior, who are stunning with and without their endo bellies.
- Think about consulting with a counselor or therapist about your body image. A mental health professional can help give you the tools to be more compassionate to yourself.
Has anyone ever said the following to you about your endometriosis?