After no pregnancies, an appendectomy when I was eighteen, and several months without my accustomed yoga/Pilates and belly-dancing classes, my stomach at 38 looks closer to Zhoen’s at 45 than Leslee’s at 48. In an era when super-models are emphatic exclamations, the women in my family have always been shaped like inverted question marks: small on top and curvy at bottom. (Hat tip to Dave, who once on-blog or off- used this punctuation analogy to describe his preferred feminine body type.) Although at insecure, mirror-scrutinizing moments I crave Abs of Steel as much as any girly-girl, at 38 I’ve come to realize I’m constitutionally Soft in the Middle, just like the nugat-filled candy bars I relished as a kid…and which now go straight to my stomach, butt, and thighs.

In terms of pop culture, I’m more JLo than Lohan, more Beyonce than Tyra. If you’re old enough to remember Madonna’s pre-Pilates “Holiday,” you know that she, too, was once softer than her current well-chiseled bod would suggest. I suppose if I ate less, worked out more, and generally made it a point to become an exclamation point, I too could have a flat and well-toned tum…but what precisely is the point? My belly’s soft because it’s flexible, expanding and contracting with every meal and every breath. Would I want to have a taut and sleek figure if it meant living a life that’s constricted in several senses of the term? Or do I love living a life that relishes food, luxuriates in laughter, and appreciates the way meditation encourages you to let it all hang out as your belly rises and falls with every breath?

Although I’m not tall, blonde, or busty, I’m slender enough that I could, in theory, have a Barbie Body if I worked hard enough…but I’m not enamored with working hard. Why would I want to work hard to be hard? Rock-hard abs are, in the end, rock hard: isn’t it enough that life itself is hard? Allowing myself a little bit of softness in the middle, I think, is the seat of compassion: allowing myself a little bit of slack and sag means I needn’t demand perfection in others, either. If old peeling paint has a certain appeal, why can’t beauty be a belly that has learned to go with the gravitational flow rather than insisting on being perpetually and unnaturally tight? Isn’t there a reason, after all, that we call an obnoxiously rigid person a tight ass?

These days as my belly gently rounds and sags, I’ve come to adore the line in the Song of Songs where the speaker describes his lover’s belly as looking like a heap of wheat set about by lilies: a round and even somewhat dumpy lump whose softness presages a garden of delights nearby. These days, telling someone their stomach looks like a heap of wheat would earn you a slap…but for the herd-keeping Israelites, wheat was a precious commodity, and a heap of it was as precious as gold. Barbie’s well-toned tum bears the price of plastic: hard currency that’s a dime a dozen. Those of us who have made peace with our inverted question marks know that booty is a stash of precious goods, there being something more valuable than junk in this trunk.

They say a mind is a terrible thing to waste, and I’d go a step further. Those nugat-filled candy bars I relished as a kid were unspeakably sweet, and so is the wisdom that knows a waist is a terrible thing to mind.

    If you want to join the Belly Roll, shoot a picture of your bare stomach, post it to your blog, and tell Mella that she inspired you.