Jessica Popp: Learning to Love My Belly

Let's get real with a new type of yoga challenge! #ILoveThisBodyTribe

In the second blog post for our #ILoveThisBodyTribe challenge, Jessica Popp talks about learning to love her belly, the commercialization of yoga, and the beauty in celebrating the functionality of your body.

Jessica Popp - belly love

What is your trouble body part – that is, the body part that you criticize most? And why is that body part actually amazing?

I'm definitely most critical of my belly. Despite my best efforts not to, I can be down on myself about the size and shape of my belly. I look at it in the mirror and I see two things simultaneously – an imperfect "part", riddled with stretch marks that frequently changes size and shape – and a perfectly normal and healthy place, where food is digested and babies have grown. I can't help but let go of the criticism then. My belly is soft and stretched from childbearing and just living my life. It is what it is. I am trying to be mindful of my self talk around my the feeling and appearance of my belly. The stomach is the physical center of personal willpower. It's a place of transformation.

The stomach is the physical center of personal willpower. It's a place of transformation.

What does #ILoveThisBodyTribe mean to you?

Real talk is exciting to me. And it's the only kind that yields room for growth. It's hard for me to admit that I am critical of my own form as much as I can be. It's something I've denied for the most part. I've grown accustomed to it without being too aware of it. But there is so much room for improvement. I love the idea of a campaign and community that celebrates the beauty of the body's functionality. And creating and sharing in concert with one another is crucial.

Real talk is the only kind that yields room for growth.
Jessica Popp - body love

Do you think yoga can contribute to negative body image? And how can yoga heal it?

Oh my god, YES! Look at all the pictures. Fancy, demanding poses, hyper-flexible bodies, perfectly proportioned people. How intimidating! No wonder people think they need to be flexible to do yoga. Look at all the popular conceptions. And yoga is also super enmeshed with the mainstream fitness world. Yoga is definitely related. It belongs in the gym for sure. But it also belongs in public schools, hospitals, women's shelters, police departments... you name it. Yoga is so much more than an exercise regimen. It's a means to making peace with yourself, to getting comfortable in your own skin. It's a tool to better regulate the nervous system. Yoga can be made accessible to any body, and it should be made so. When more people start to better understand how yoga may help improve their lives, we'll see more examples of body, racial, and gender diversity in yoga. And that will be a turning point in terms of our cultural obsession with perfect body image.

Yoga is so much more than an exercise regimen.

What do you love most about the Eat Breathe Thrive program?

I love that the content is grounded in science, and the information presented is relatable and accessible; the program creates space for healing and peer support.

Do you practice what you preach? Has helping others with their body image helped you accept yourself, or are you still critical of your own body?

Do I practice what I preach? I would say that I do, for the most part. But really only since I started preaching! For the most part, I have a really positive relationship with my body. I do get to feeling self conscious about the weight I carry on my belly and hips, and I feel way less confident exposing these parts to the summer sunshine. I recently put on six pounds (my weight tends to fluctuate for many reasons), and I considered wearing a tank top over my two piece to hide my body a little. When I realized that this was what I was doing, I reminded myself of the value of accepting my belly as it currently is — of not feeling shame or disgust over perceived imperfections. I went on ahead and rocked that two piece!

What do you think is the most important factor in learning to love your body?

That's a really good question. I think it's about letting go of impossible standards. It's about finding value in the body as the container for experiencing all there is to love about life. I have a really intense love affair with life; my body provides me with the means to connect to other hearts, other bodies and minds. Maybe we've learned to take the functions of the body for granted. We shouldn't. Health and wholeness are not a guarantee. The body strives for both, and we could be its biggest ally.

Find value in the body as the container for experiencing all there is to love about life.
Jessica Popp headshot

About Jessica Popp

Jessica Popp is a graduate of the UWM School of Education and Blue Mounds Dharma Center 200 Hour Alignment Yoga teacher training program. She enjoys offering yoga-based programs to diverse audiences, and operates in the spirit of accessibility and sustainability.