When I was 16, my mom was preparing me for a life outside of my hometown. She would tell me stories about what it meant to be a grown up. In truth, I felt like I had grown up before my time. I am sure most teenagers feel this way. I was one of them but I still listened.
The most striking of those words and conversations involved the, “Make sure you get your “nari” fixed when you get there” — Mom.
Nari means “outie”. For most of my life, I had an outie and for a good part of my teenage years, I remember being very conscious of it. My mom often said with regret, “I wish I had taken good care of your nari when you were born”. She felt as though it was her fault. “I wish I had taped a coin to your nari every day” — she said. That’s apparently how you fix an outie in Africa. The constant pressure of a coin makes it go back in if it’s done for 30–60 consecutive days post birth.
I took this “defect” in my body very seriously. Lucky for me, there was not a lot of times and places where I would have to expose myself fully. I grew up in a Muslim home which mostly meant being covered head to toe. Even if that meant, going to the beach in tees and tights in 34-degree weather. No one ever had to see my outie, except for me and my mom.
Back to my mom’s comment about fixing my nari when I got there (Canada). See, I was leaving for Canada at 17. Her last few words stayed with me and as soon as I got to this new country, I religiously started googling clinics that would “fix my nari”. I quickly realized this thing had a name. It was called an “umbilicoplasty”. I found a few clinics and I had booked a consult. It was the top priority. It would set me back about $4K but I was determined. I did some math and I said, I would wait a little longer to make sure I was picking the right clinic etc. Six months later, I got cold feet. I had some money saved up but that was strictly for tuition. Was I ready to spend all this money? I shortly after got sucked into some web forms where people had bad surgeries. Some of them were left with scars, some ended up with worse looking belly buttons than what they had initially gone in with. This made me nervous. I searched the web for images of other women with outies for inspiration, I couldn’t find that many and instead I found more and more women with outies talking about how ashamed they were of it and how they thought it looked so ugly. A lot of them being teenagers. I felt worse about my outie. It also explained how I had rarely ever met another person with an outie. Was it because they didn’t exist or because they just hid it the way I did?
After a little bit of back and forth about the umbilicoplasty, I decided to not go through with it. At that time, it was for three reasons: 1. I couldn’t justify the cost. 2. I was worried that if something went wrong, I would be in a much worse situation. 3. I could just cover it up for the rest of my life. I was now 18.
I let some more time pass. I grew a little older. My relationship with my body changed. Luckily, I never realized I had a body image issue because I didn’t grow up in a community that paid a lot of emphasis on body image issues. You couldn’t comment on someone’s love handles if you didn’t see them, same went for outies and stretchmarks. I also sometimes wonder if talking about body image issues existing gives it more voice and power, but that’s a dialogue for another day. When you are naive to it all, you don’t have a lot of time to fixate on that very thing, that very inadequacy. It’s not non-existent but it’s also not as prevalent.
Throughout my 20’s, I still thought about my outie often. Sometimes I would poke it back in and look myself in the mirror and wondered what it would feel like to have an innie. I avoided bikinis as much as possible. I’m pretty sure very few of my friends have seen my belly button. I just didn’t talk about it or draw much attention to it. It lived in my mind as a defect and I tried to give it little meaning but it still nagged away at me.
I grew older. I dated people who expressed loving my outie. They gave it names, “Olivia, Moomoo”. Every name had an “O” in it, to signify it’s presence. I stopped giving disclaimers before I took my top off. I no longer said, “Hey, just an FYI — in case you haven’t seen one before, I have an outie”. Many times, I was misheard and a couple of them assumed, I was saying “Audi” because they responded with..”GREAT! That’s awesome”. It wasn’t long before they realized I didn’t own a fancy car.
I hit late 20’s. I got better at dealing with my outie. I wore bikinis. I didn’t hide in change rooms. I didn’t turn my back on other people when they walked in a room. I stopped googling clinics that would fix my “outie”.
Today, I write this because I love my outie. People who love me love my outie. It’s really pretty. I am not ashamed of it. It’s a part of me. It’s not a fuck up that was my mom’s doing because she forgot to tape a coin to my belly button when I was born.
At 32, I have also realized that understanding how you view your body and to fully appreciate your body takes time. It takes years. It doesn’t happen overnight. What you can however do is self-reflect. If you have an issue with how you look or a particular part of your body, try and look back and see what those triggers are. Who said something to you that hurt? Who expects your body to be a certain way? Is it a parent, a lover, a friend? Find that link. Forgive that person. Trust me, it’s really not their fault. They are filling the gaps and their own inadequacies.
And then find the people that will love you for your imperfections. They will kiss your imperfections and admire you and your body for what it is, for what it does. And when you can fully appreciate every nook and cranny of your body for the beauty that it is, life will start to fill a lot more fuller, more beautiful and yours. It will start to feel like yours. No one else’s.