Belly Beautiful

From Kindle Magazine‘s March 2013 issue on reclaiming the female body.

A coquettish Maria de Medeiros, playing the moll in Pulp Fiction, lounges in bed, practically purring with a self-assured lazy sensuality. Sleepily, she fantasises about having a potbelly, how she would accentuate it with small tee shirts and how very sexy one is (but only, and she is vehement – and here I must respectfully disagree – on women). She praises the potbelly, while conceding its unfair reputation: “I don’t give a damn what men find attractive. It’s unfortunate what we find pleasing to the touch and pleasing to the eye is seldom the same.”

Who knows when the rounded belly began to be regarded as anything less glorious than the other womanly curves. The classical poets adored it; the sculptors chiseled its softness into stone. Among the customary markers of beauty were the three folds on the stomach – lines which inspired lines in religious and erotic literature. The paragon waist was tiny in comparison to the generousness of the breasts and hips, but the tummy itself ample of its own accord.  The Lalita Sahasranamam, for example, extols not only the contours of such a stomach (Sthana bhara dalan madhya patta bhandha valithraya – “she who has three stripes in her belly which appear to have been created to protect her tiny waist from her heavy breasts”), but even the down that grows upon it (Lakshya roma latha dharatha samunneya madhayama – “she who is suspected to have a waist because of the creeper-like hairs rising from there”).

There are beautiful names, too, for this hair of the stomach, which runs from pubis to navel, and sometimes from navel to solar plexus: take the Sanskrit romaraji, and the Latin linea nigra.

How intriguing that such loveliness is ascribed in language for things which, in the pursuit or only the perception of fitness or hygiene, so many shun.

Only some women have the linea nigra naturally – but almost all women develop it during pregnancy, when the protuberant belly is celebrated perhaps most of all. Baby bumps contain miracles: among all the numinous places in the body, the abdomen announces most evidently of all that there is no meaningful distinction between science and mystery.

And as a reminder of this, we have that lovely vestigial mark: the navel.

The navel is our original point of connection to anyone else. Within the lovely convex bellies of our mothers, the conduit of the umbilicus does its work, nourishing and expelling and making us whole. Our belly-buttons are almost our first mouths, allowing us to communicate and to feed.

And also like mouths, later on, how kissable they become. Prudence Glynn, who researched eroticism and fashion, wrote that the waist is the first place that a man would touch on a woman when seeking to insinuate “more than a formal courtesy”. If the waist is a suggestion, the navel is sheer invitation. Widely regarded as one of the standard erogenous zones, and said to originate from the same common tissue as the genitalia, its exposure is considered taboo in many cultures – sometimes surprisingly so. The belly-button was considered so provocative for most of the 20th century in America that there was an actual law banning its display on cinema. There is a scene in Some Like It Hot in which Marilyn Monroe wears a dress that leaves very little to the imagination – despite this, a small piece of cloth was used to cover her navel specifically. In other films, costume designers glued decorative stones into or onto the navels of actors and dancers – perhaps the first spark of the later trend for the bejeweled belly-button.

Here in India, the partially (as when wearing a sari) or completely (as when wearing certain regional ghagra cholis) bared midriff has rarely caused ruffles, provided it is displayed in traditional attire. The female navel, however, has had its moments of both subtlety and scandal. In that odd way in which Indian cinema is a vehicle of both exploitation and expression, navel-kissing was permissive on celluloid at a time when lip-kissing was not (censorship laws later changed). One thing’s for sure: the navel is seen as sexual in ways in which the tummy, the obliques and even the waist aren’t quite.

It’s also spiritual. In Amerindian shamanism, below the navel is where energetic cords that bind us to other people, particularly lovers, emerge. In yoga and other systems of mind-body harmony, it is a particularly powerful point. To “navel-gaze” is to ponder, perhaps philosophically – not for nothing did St. Thomas Aquinas call the navel “the bodily metaphor for spiritual things”.

The stomach, on the whole, is is also regarded as the site of intuition – “I have a gut feeling”, we say – or profound emotion – “When he said that, I burned from the bottom of my belly”.

The stomach is also happily practical, of course. A full breath, one that will replenish the entire system, reaches all the way down to the stomach and puffs it up. When it comes to food, taste resides in the mouth, but hunger – desire – is felt in the belly. An aching belly, groaning and beset by pangs. Eating keeps us alive – not the act itself, as pleasurable as it is, but the process of nourishing, work that takes places deep within the body and out of sight.

And how lovely is the thing in sight. Earlier, we considered how traditionally, folds of flesh, “lines”, on the stomach were markers of beauty. Equally eloquent are all the other lines and marks that also occur here. There are, for instance, the stretch marks of growth and weight loss, and the scars of Caesarean sections and appendix operations and botched piercings. Like the palms or the face, the belly is also a canvas of skin, on which stories from our lives present themselves – stories of feast and famine, stories of self-denial and self-sacrifice, stories of birthing and wrenching, stories of coveting and covering-up. Of pain and pleasure and truth and beauty and creation and craving and a hundred other things that go far beyond the objectified view.

Desperation As A Province Of The Female (Artist)

“There’s a beautiful photo of Marilyn reading James Joyce’s Ulysses. She liked Joyce and Dostoevsky and Rilke. Everyone made fun of that. Once, Marilyn was chucked into a loony bin, like Sylvia, like Mary McCarthy, like Carson McCullers, like apparently most women artists and icons. Marilyn and Sylvia and the others were always feeling lonely and unloved and un-rescued, to hear it told in history. They were mooning over sexy older men. Fame or beauty or poetry or brilliance or icon status never seemed to save them. Arthur Schlesinger described Marilyn as exquisite, beguiling, and desperate. Maybe I will someday come across an account of a straight male icon, a writer, a David Mamet or an Arthur Miller, or one of the ones who went nuts, a genius who shot himself or gassed himself, and it will describe him as “desperate.” But I doubt it.”

– Elizabeth Bachner in Bookslut

Please Help Yuki

This is heart-wrenching. I read her story and am completely gutted for her. She was abandoned by her husband five days before her sex-realignment surgery, and is now unemployed and almost homeless. Please help. Got this from Lainie. Please do pass it on.

Dear gals and pals,

I would like to bring your attention to a special cause today: a dear friend of mine, Yuki Choe, a male-to-female transsexual, is in dire straits and urgently in need of donations to support her living expenses.


Yuki is currently unemployed and living on what remains of her savings. She is also relying on some donations made through her blog but PayPal is not recognised by most Malaysian banks. She has few friends. Some are helping but not enough. Her family has turned her down as well.

She has applied for over 60 jobs but had only 2 interviews, one of which rejected her, and the other offered her a job as a mortgage and home loan provider. She is eager to take it up as a part-time job, as well as start her own business (selling art pieces), but lacks start-up capital.

She has been disqualified for state welfare. She is currently staying in a single room in USJ until she gets evicted.


(1) Donate to Yuki –
All donors will be listed at Yuki’s blog ( Donors can choose to be named or remain anonymous. Any amount will be deeply appreciated.

(2) Notify Yuki if you know anyone willing to offer her a job with a stable income –
Those of you involved in LGBT activism will know that many transsexuals in Malaysia entered the flesh trade after failing to notch a single decent job offer, but Yuki is determind not to meet the same fate. She is also the only actively blogging transsexual LGBT advocate in Malaysia. Let’s help her help herself, so that when she finally finds a firm footing, she can be a role model to all other transsexuals in Malaysia to lead independent, healthy and responsible lives.

(3) Spread this message around –
Post this on your blog, tell your friends, email your contacts – spread the word, get as many people as possible to chip in a little bit.

Please help Yuki get by, one day at a time.
Your help will be deeply appreciated.


She can be contacted at
For those who want to read about her life story, they can refer to and

Please help if you can, donations, crossposting on your blog, whichever works. Yuki is an NCC Diploma holder, well versed in administrative work, sales and teaching. More a customer service person, with good computer skills.

Cell Block Tango from Chicago

This song found its way back into my head yesterday, and I remembered that the clip below is one of my all-time favourite music/dance sequences in a film (that credit does not go to Bollywood, believe it or not!). I adore its wickedness. Female aggression — one of my favourite topics. I don’t really think that feminism has even begun to tap into it in its entirety.