I was going back and looking at my blog posts from our Florida trip. I found myself looking at the one I posted of me in silhouette against the sunset, looking out over the Gulf of Mexico. I thought, “I hope my butt doesn’t look as huge to other people as it looks to me.”
I’m alarmed at that thought. I want my daughter to grow up loving herself and her body, not criticizing it at every turn. Even though I don’t say these things in front of her, I worry that I might not be modeling the healthiest body image.
A friend posted a link to Susan Singer’s post, “Loving our bodies unconditionally. Finally.” on her blog, Exploring Women’s Bodies (note: there is nudity in that first link. and a little swearing). Singer is an artist in the midst of a project meant to show real women’s bodies and to help us see the beauty in every body, including our own. She’s painting these incredible and real images of women’s bodies. I find them shocking and beautiful. They leave me feeling emotionally shaken.
The images hit home.
While I was pregnant the first time, I largely felt that my body had taken on a life of its own that had really nothing to do with me. Although my first birth shook my confidence in my body, I’d done a lot of healing, mostly thanks to the successful nursing relationship my daughter and I shared. I witnessed the amazing things my body could do, nourishing and comforting my baby, and I felt awe. With my second pregnancy, my fledgling confidence in my body helped me to experience my body differently. With this new baby growing, I finally felt like my body was mine. Or not mine exactly, not in the sense of ownership. More like I was really in it rather than just renting it for my lifetime. I was self-conscious at times about my enormous belly, but mostly I remembered reveling in it. I felt strong and capable. Instead of feeling hijacked, I felt transformed.
So, I had professional photos taken of me and my family by my friend Timbra (her business is Landslide Photography, and her photos are wonderful. If you’re in or near Salt Lake, please consider looking her up).
I sent the link to the photos to my parents and in-laws. When I asked my mom what she thought, she said, “There are some pictures in there that would be really nice if you didn’t have your belly hanging out.” I kind of smiled at that since, of course, a major point of the pregnancy photos was to revel in the big old belly. But along with the amusement, I also find that I look at the photos differently after her comment. I have trouble seeing our smiles because I’m blinded by the belly. So I hung a bunch of them up in my house.
My son’s birth was amazing and only served to enhance the feeling of power and rightness I had while pregnant. But my body didn’t go back quite so close to what I considered “normal” as it had after my daughter.
My belly pooches because even after 18 months, I have a four-finger separation between the two sides of my rectus abdominis muscle. In this gap, my internal organs press against the less sturdy tissues of my abdominal wall. I can lie on my back and watch digestion occur. It really is about as attractive as it sounds. The skin on my belly had lost a fair amount of elasticity after my daughter, but the flesh hangs even more now than it did. My poor belly button is buried in loose skin.
I try to remind myself of that amazing feeling of rightness I had during pregnancy and birth. I tell myself that these changes in my post-pregnancy body are all a part of that amazingness. It’s the same body. This is what happens when a short-waisted woman who’s five-foot-two grows and births a healthy 9-pound baby. And what an incredible and beautiful baby he is. I wasn’t planning on wearing a bikini in public anyway.
These are the things I tell myself. But I’m not really convinced. Even when my friends say, “Oh, I’ve got that same thing,” I’m not convinced because whether it’s just my perception or it’s real, their bodies don’t look to me as ugly as mine does.
I’ve thought about having Timbra come out and do another scantily clad photo shoot (I’d be scantily clad, not her. Unless she wants to photograph me while she wears a belly shirt and cut-off denim shorts. That’s up to her, though). I would do it for two reasons: first, I’m fairly sure that Timbra could photograph me in such a way that I could see the beauty of my body as it is now. And second, I like the idea of normalizing the “real” woman’s body. It’s unrealistic to have borne two children and be in my mid-30’s and still look like I’m 22. I’m tired of feeling like I’m hiding the truth underneath my clothes.
I’m not sure I want to risk revealing it yet, but I’m glad that other women are.