A Love Letter to the “Visible Belly Outline”

How often do you see beyond your imperfections? 

I had a long conversation with a friend recently about visible belly outlines. For the unfamiliar, a visible belly outline (or VBO) is the line that shows through on garments highlighting the size or shape of your belly that even Spanx can’t hide.

There’s currently a huge divide in the plus-size community. Half of us don’t mind a little VBO and half of us choose outfits that flatter/conceal our VBO as best we can. I’ve always been in the latter camp — Refinery29 said it best, “There is only one rule to plus-size fashion: show the good stuff, hide everything else.” 

But here’s the thing: hiding my VBO doesn’t change the fact that I’m a plus-size woman. I don’t magically lose four sizes just because you can’t see the outline of my tummy. Struggling and sweating to fit into shapewear, wearing empire waist dresses, buying a-line skirts, I would do anything to hide my belly. But oftentimes I don’t end up feeling any better about how I look even though that VBO is hidden.

 

 

I had a revelation earlier this year and finally came to terms with my VBO. I was watching Good Trouble (Freeform’s spinoff show from The Fosters), and during S2 E4, one of the main characters, Davia, wrestled with whether she should Facetune her VBO out of her Instagram photos. After going back and forth she eventually decided — fuck it.

I took it a step further and wrote a love letter to my visible belly outline: 

 

Dear visible belly outline, 

 

I would be lying if I said I didn’t hate you sometimes. At first glance, you’re the reason why the airplane seatbelt never fits just right, or why I always show up to restaurants early to make sure my party gets a table and not a booth. You make me feel ugly when I wear tailored shirts or structured dresses. Sometimes even cute sweaters aren’t safe from your uncontained size. You’re the reason why my selfies are always bust-up, why I never have any photos of me from my travels, and even why I get nervous about my appearance in interviews. In short, you’ve messed up a lot of things in life for me. 

But what if we took a step backwards? What if we re-framed all the problems you cause into external problems that are no fault of your own? You’re not the reason the airplane seatbelt doesn’t fit why can’t seatbelts be longer? You’re not the reason I get to restaurants early — if they didn’t pack their tables and booths so tight I wouldn’t have to. You’re not the reason why tailored shirts or structured dresses look ugly on me, because who said a visible belly outline is ugly? A little bit of belly never killed a photo, so why am I avoiding precious memories from my travels? If a company chooses not to hire me because of my appearance, I simply wasn’t for them — because let’s be honest, a visible belly outline is the least of their concerns. Aren’t my tattoos and nose rings worse? 

Visible belly outline, I refuse to let external opinions and pressures about your appearance limit what I wear, how I act, or what I believe in. To me, you represent precious memories. Memories of the most incredible and stressful times in my life, memories of the incredible pasta I ate in Italy or the Jeni’s ice cream that brightens even the worst day. 

 

Visible belly outline, I love you.