Always pull in your stomach, that is everyday life for many. But why are we actually doing this? And is it even dangerous?
When I think about it, I’ve always sucked in my stomach. I probably only started doing it in school though, sometime in my teens when the diet culture of the 2000s was booming. And I guess I never really got rid of them – the negative thoughts that this culture had talked into me about my body. No wonder: diets really were everywhere. Being thin was everything.
In the 2000s, bellies should be one thing above all else: invisible
“Weight Watchers” was the Ding, “Special K” replaced many of my classmates with two meals a day, women who dress size 12 were labeled as overweight in the press and in films like “The Devil Wears Prada”. Ultimately, all of this led me to constantly compare myself to other women throughout my youth – especially when it came to my stomach. Because, as we know, it was not allowed to exist in the 2000s.
If someone did have a few grams of fat over their hips, they quickly found someone who would comment on it. And not exactly affectionately: Terms like “lifebelt”, “love handles” and Co. were the order of the day and even part of magazine headlines. No matter where you looked, it was said: If your stomach isn’t flat, then something is wrong.
My school skirt was high-waisted, tight in the stomach, and then fell into loose folds. Basically a teenager’s worst nightmare in clothing form. Because almost every day I was fixated on my stomach bulging slightly over the top seam, while some of my girlfriends looked completely flat in the same place. I spent whole evenings practicing how to make that bulge go away by holding my breath and twisting myself completely.
Actually, I didn’t really know what I was doing. I just imitated all the women you could see every day, whether they were shopping in front of the mirror or at “Germanys Next Topmodel”: they all pulled in their stomachs and pushed their hips back so that they looked as flat as possible in the front .
And this habit continued even after I left school, when I had long since left the hideous skirt behind. Well into my twenties, whenever I wore a tight garment, I would reflexively suck in my stomach. It was like strength training or a core strength yoga session, only for hours. I sighed with relief when a table was high enough that I could sit behind it and exhale without others seeing. And when I came through the apartment door after a long day, I immediately exhaled and let my stomach sit again – a feeling like taking off your bra.
Body positivity has saved my relationship with my stomach
As the body positivity movement made me question diet culture, I gradually stopped basing my appearance on my surroundings. But it took a long time to actively unlearn those years of habits that left tummy tucks in their wake. And even today I still find myself posing strangely in front of the mirror in my bedroom before going out.
For me, the stomach is also a particularly sore point in terms of body positivity, since it is used to measure a double standard: namely between women and cis men. People with a uterus have a different stomach than people without, because organs cannot simply be “pushed in”. Also, women store fat differently than men. And: It is easier for men to lose belly fat through exercise than for women. And yet, for a long time, the stomach was the blemish for which women of all people criticized their bodies, while men and their “dad bods” were celebrated as “empowering”.
Belly must remain flexible – otherwise there is a risk of tension and weaker organ functions
Anji Gopal, osteopath and founder of the BackCare Foundation, says that over the years, many patients who have come to see her were unaware that sucking in their tummy could have a lasting impact on their health: “What is the tummy for ? It holds the organs, supports the lower body (including the back) and gives it structure. It is not flat – it is curved, especially in women. It is also there to allow the torso to move flexibly and not be static,” says Anji.