I have always had a belly. Since my pre-teen years, what little fat I had was collected in my middle. As I got older, it got more prominent. Regardless of diet and exercise (even when I was going to the gym 4 times a week), my middle was always the largest part of me. People I knew would say, "You know, if you worked on your tummy you'd be really hot." People I didn't know would ask, "Are you pregnant?" or, my favorite, "When are you due?"
I never saw anyone on TV or in movies that had my shape. Even in magazines articles about women with different sizes and shapes, I NEVER saw a woman with a belly. Plus-size models were hourglasses and the text would say "It doesn't matter what size you are because you are proportional." But I WASN'T proportional. I was the WRONG shape. I didn't even know how to dress for my body type because it wasn't just invalid, it was non-existent.
Occasionally I would meet someone my age who also had a belly and I would tell myself how cute they were. "Look! Other people have my shape!" It was rare. Then, when that person lost weight a few years later, I was part sad, part jealous, and asking what their secret was.
I only started feeling validated when I became pregnant. People would ask and I could proudly say "Yes!" Then they would guess I was much farther along than I was. But at least I had responses for them. I have a short torso which makes my belly stick out more. Some people show more quickly than others.
I am currently four months post-partum and have now been asked twice if I am pregnant. I find that I care less than I once did, but the twinge of annoyance is still there. There is a great hype over "getting your body back" after a baby, and after a C-section it takes even longer. And that's okay. My body is exactly what it needs to be right now.
There are plenty of advice articles and mom forums out there to make anyone feel better about their body. But where was that validation 10, 15 years ago? It was only recently, after reading about diversity in entertainment, that I understood why I had been feeling this way:
Lack of representation.
Not seeing my body type even acknowledged gave me a kind of complex. Once I put it together, I began to see the importance of representation. There are plenty of other arguments for diversity, and I'm sure it's not the same for everyone, but this was my experience with self-image and the media. It's not going out of their way for casting directors and magazine editors to find a variety of skin colors and body types to portray. It's not for the sake of being "politically correct". And it's certainly not pity to show what different people look like. Seeing thin bodies didn't flatten my tummy. Only portraying whites in media doesn't mean minorities don't exist. Unless we're watching Star Trek, why can't we represent our reality?