Honey, I Shrunk My Stomach

People

Honey, I Shrunk My Stomach

Illustration: Sushant Ahire

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Sunday morning a few months ago, between a set of lunges, death-defying planks, and a round of pilates, my fit-fanatic “friend” purred something in my ears that I have trouble shutting out to this day.

“My flat stomach has to be better than yours.”

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She must be joking, I told myself, immediately dismissing her veiled threat as a severe case of carb-withdrawal. Moreover, I was just a temporary companion on her fitness odyssey that day, fairly nonchalant about the pleasures of abstaining from the joys of fried food for the greater good of a toned body. Surely, she didn’t think of my tummy as a competitor.

As I soon found out during breakfast – a healthy and fulfilling meal of a glass of the reddest carrot juice for her – I was wrong. She genuinely did think of my tummy as competition. It wasn’t me, it was her, she explained. That it was her battle-cry, something she kept reiterating to herself to rouse herself through the 6.30 am gym sessions, a diet that included more superfoods than actual food, and faking a lactose and gluten intolerance with utmost dedication.

My flat stomach has to be better than yours.

If that very thought weren’t ridiculous enough, there’s also the fact that she wasn’t the only one believing it.

While the country collectively outraged over #RightToPrivacy concerns, uncontrolled lynchings, and the renewed nepotism debate, millennials, the most misunderstood species of our generation, have quietly been focusing their time and energies on waging another, far more important battle – that against the existence of tummies.

Once considered a completely natural body part, tummies are now the mortal enemy of crop-tops and Instagram timelines. Just like women from a couple of centuries ago, millennials too, want to do full justice to their overflowing wardrobe. These crop tops, cropped at every possible place imaginable to best highlight the elusive flatness of a stomach have pride of place in every woke millennial’s wardrobe – even as their FB and Twitter feeds are full of chants of “body positivity!!!” and “stretch marks are cool”. We’ll fight tooth and nail in support of plus-size models, and yet, continue to loathe the little dimples on our resting bellies; continue to long for a body type perpetuated by the very media and advertising companies we are unafraid to criticise.

We’re strong believers in body inclusivity as long as our own bodies aren’t involved. Because our stomachs aren’t meant to be round or house love handles, they’re meant to cause envy.

All roads now lead to the mystical millennial land of the flat stomach. But citizenship here is wrought with onerous challenges.

Flat stomachs are then, the greatest unrequited love known to any millennial ever.

Urban Dictionary may define a flat stomach as a “state of crazy hunger”. But in the woke age of detox cleanses, everything sprinkled with generous doses of quinoa, and unparalleled #wanderlust, flat stomachs have become an accessory – one you must flaunt in order to attain nirvana. Gone are the days when the only way to sport a flat stomach was if you were born with it, or if you were undeservingly blessed with good metabolism. For millennial women, a flat stomach is like the vote for suffragettes: We don’t have it yet, but by God, are we going to wrest it.

And, even then, it’s not enough. They’re not just fighting against manipulating their own bodies into submission, but also against every other unrealistic flat stomach that adorns their Instagram timelines or stands next to theirs at a hipster music festival.

Flat stomachs are then, the greatest unrequited love known to any millennial ever. Much like an obsessive lover, we’re willing to go to any lengths to win it over, to tell it that we’re worthy, that they’ll never find anyone as loving as us. We spend sleepless nights dreaming about how they’d look on us. We go on a journey of self-discovery; sign up for yoga and spin classes, and hope against hope that we’ll get it to “palat”. We compromise and add probiotics to every meal we pretend to have. We pine, and long, with such passion that it’d put the manchild in Ranbir Kapoor to shame. We’re ready to leave behind plates of delicious fries, and peace of mind if it means having an ironed tummy by our side.

But no matter which strenuous diet we seem to adopt, one wrong move, and we end up pushing our flat stomachs away. A classic case of loving someone too much, too soon.

Even when we do end up torturing our stomachs to look flat, it’s never a permanent union. It’s almost always laced with insecurity and tension. I remember a friend who developed a strange habit of suspiciously watching her stomach while she took bites of her food. She had conditioned her appetite to such an extent that the moment a tiny bulge appeared, her meal was over, while another would go off solid food indefinitely to preserve the rock-solidness of her stomach. A flat stomach is ultimately the kind of love that needs to be earned, and one that leaves no stone unturned in making you acutely aware of your failings in earning that love.

Every generation is defined by a great struggle or tragedy. For some generations, it might have been apartheid or dial-up internet, but for us millennials, it’ll be our inexplicable greed for a flat belly.

A few months after our odd gym date, I warily met the friend again for breakfast. She came in her gym clothes, and called for the same carrot juice, but there seemed to be one improvement. She had a new workout chant, she told me, beaming.

“With great starvation, comes a great flat stomach.”

It’s a great tragedy indeed.

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