"I have this idea in my head that boys won't like me because of my body. I know there's a beauty hierarchy and I am not at the top of it." That's what a 20-year-old college student said to me about the fact that she hadn't had sex yet.
When I heard her say that, my mind started spinning—because I felt like I was talking to my 20-year-old self.
Back then, I couldn't fathom someone tolerating—let alone actually being turned on by—my body. It was so disgusting, so unlike the women I saw in the media (I'll never forgive Paris Hilton for popularizing low-cut everything when I was going through puberty in the early 2000s). But thankfully, over the years, I've figured out that my body has a lot less to do with why people sleep with me than I thought it did. I may have come to that realization by sleeping with half of Manhattan first, but that's beside the point.
Regardless, this girl hadn't made that discovery yet for herself. I wanted to tell her she was crazy for not making the most of being a 20-year-old studying abroad in Berlin and that she should just go out and get some action while she was at it.
But I didn't. I decided to do something else instead. I took a picture of my least favorite body parts: my stomach that will never be flat, my lumpy butt, my jiggly arms. I showed them to her and said, "I'm not at the top of the beauty hierarchy either. And I get laid all the time." She said the pictures made her feel better. Mission accomplished.
But then I decided to push the envelope a little further and do something more drastic. Not for my friend—but for my younger self.
I created a Tinder profile where the sole picture is that photo of my belly.
The picture is nothing sensual. Five minutes before I took it, I had eaten enough Thai takeout that the delivery person gave me two sets of prepackaged utensils. I'm wearing Target brand cotton underwear the color of chlorinated pool water. I'm not sucking anything in.
The moment I finished posting it to Tinder, I went into a momentary panic. My belly was out there. Thousands of men in Manhattan would gaze upon the one part of my body I'd spent much of my life hiding. My body still has muscle memory from sucking in my stomach for so many years and here was my belly now, gone rogue and taking on New York like that one movie with the Olsen twins.
I swiped pretty selectively, choosing people the way I do when I normally use Tinder as a 27-year-old woman with all her body parts intact and a not-sentient torso. It only took a few minutes before the matches started rolling in. And these weren't mouth-breathing weirdos. These were attractive, nice men. Naturally, many of them wanted to know if I was real.
And almost all of them messaged me first.
I asked pretty much everyone I matched with—close to a 100 in 24 hours—what they liked about my belly. Of the 100, only two people were bad eggs; one was overtly sexual and the other was mean (he made some dumb joke about me having rolls). Everyone else was pretty nice and polite, considering the ridiculousness of my profile.
When I wasn't busy chatting with people, I was navigating back to my profile page to stare at my belly picture. I thought of Dana at 14, who always carried her books low in front of her stomach while walking through the halls of her high school. I thought of Dana at 15, wearing a tankini at the beach (hey, it was 2003), making sure the bottom of her swim top always met the top of her bathing suit bottoms to ensure nothing, not even a sliver of skin, was exposed. I thought of Dana at 16, who got a bellybutton piercing in an attempt to beautify the piece of her anatomy she hated the most.
Chatting with all these dudes, I wish I could have had her in the room with me so she could see all the positivity I was getting. Her mind would have melted.
Ten-ish years later, I now treat body parts I don't particularly love with indifference instead of hate. Sometimes I get down on myself. Everyone does. Now, though, when those thoughts creep into my head, I remember that at the end of a single day, I got asked out six times—as nothing more than a belly.
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