Tuesday, February 02, 2010

The Shape of This Mother

On Sunday, I read Rixa's post, It's a water birth at home for Gisele Bunchen where at the end she mentioned the obsession of getting back to pre-baby weight. At the same time, yesterday's post about birth nudity was already scheduled and on my mind. The juxtaposition of the two posts in my head made me realize that I forgot to mention an important thing about birth photos: you see me naked.

Naked is not slimming. My arms aren't toned, my butt is round, my skin is stretched. I wondered how much of the uproar about my birth photos was about, "You're naked!" and how much resulted from our fat-phobic society which likes to assert, "I shouldn't have to see that. How disgusting!" or in kinder terms, "Your birth pictures challenge my views of what a sexually-active 20-something-year old, white, college-educated, middle class, American woman should look like."

Well, according to the radio advertisements I hear, she's not supposed to look like this:

My "pre-baby" pic taken the day we found out about the current pregnancy. 12 dpo.
What? No abs? Stretchmarks?! That's not what I saw on the cover of People!

Last week in my Taking it from the Top post, a couple of women commented concern about pulling down to breastfeed while sporting large breasts. I commented,

Large breasted women have quite the catch-22. If you have a smaller waist, then your breasts are extra-sexualized, and if you have a thicker waist, then your entire body is considered "disgusting." Our culture needs to get over both the sexualization of the breast and the fat-hate.

If you follow the breastfeeding-related tweets on Twitter, you'll notice a pretty regular pattern: people complaining about "fat" women breastfeeding in public. Sometimes they are ridiculous enough to assert, "I wouldn't mind breastfeeding in public if the mom was HOT." Excuse me?

How sexualized is the woman's body? Very. A friend of mine once pointed out to me that our bodies are so sexualized that even listing the body parts of a woman is erotic. Try it: back away from the computer, close your eyes, and list off things like hair, lips, breasts, hips, thighs, legs. Now do it while associating those body parts with men. Which time was more neutral to you? Which was more sexual?

Non-toned arms. Picture taken at 37 weeks pregnant with Margaret.

I'm not the thinnest woman out there, I know. And pregnancy emphasizes that in my body. Even last Saturday when I posted my belly shot, I thought to myself, "Wow, my face looks rounder than normal." And I was a little self-conscious. Of course, when your body doubles your blood supply to support a baby and when you don't do your hair that day (it makes a big difference) then it's expected. And normal. I have a round face.

Speaking of those belly shots. Here's the one I didn't post because it emphasized the size of my butt. McKay replied, "But it shows more belly!" He's right. I shouldn't have got hung up on my butt.

I'm not immune to looking at myself and thinking, "fat," but I am trying to act as if I am immune for Margaret's sake. So often we both hear, "Margaret looks just like you!" and I don't want her to think, "If I look just like Mom, then are those things she doesn't like about her body the same in my body? Should I not like that part of me?" When I look at Margaret, I see her round belly and her chunky legs and arms and I know some people might think she's too "fat" already. But when I see her, I see that she's perfect. Even if she is "fat" when she's 10 or 14 or 20 or 50, she'll still be perfect to me. I think that's how God thinks of us too. He's never repulsed by our bodies- they are in His image. Why are we repulsed by them? Why are we ashamed of them?

Margaret and I with our guts.

So to add another reason why I think birth and breastfeeding images are important in our society: we need to see what we look like. Without photoshop, without airbrushes, without mockery, without sex, without repulsion, without shame.

Also, see the blog, The Shape of a Mother, for a collection of pictures of mothers from all walks of life. There are even categories for women who've had multiples, surgery scars and others.


  1. That was beautiful.

  2. Good point. I've already stopped Photoshopping away my imperfections, at least for general postings on my blog.

    Love the orange wrap in your pregnancy photo!

  3. I've been through this, am still going through this. Thank you for being so genuine.

    I also hesitated to share some of my belly pics because they weren't the beautiful, perfectly rounded belly that's the ideal. And by the end of the pregnancy, there were stretch marks galore! But it's so important not to pass these hang-ups on to our kids. I have a boy, but I still feel that responsibility. He's beautiful, even if he looks just like his dad and me. Which means we must be beautiful, too.

  4. I admire your confidence! I believe all those things that you have said, but I have a hard time showing that I believe! It is especially difficult for me this pregnancy, because I was in maternity clothes at 6 weeks! None of my other clothes fit! I know it is mostly just bloating and stuff, and that makes me feel very self conscious. I often find myself thinking that I can't wait until I look pregnant, and not just fat.

  5. The only thing that hesitant about in my stretch marked belly is that if I ever get henna done for a mother's blessing, I'm afraid my belly might be too ripply/bumpy for a design to sit neatly on it. Sigh. :)

  6. Thanks for bringing attention to the topic.

    Also, thanks to your post on birth photos I went ahead and put up some of mine on a recent post.

    Your courage encourages us! :)

  7. I almost commented the other day that I think it's awesome you post pics showing your stretch marks. Like Hobo Mama said, we have all seen picture of the Beautiful Pregnant Belly tm. Perfectly round, not stretch marks, no other flab on the mother.

    I've seen Shape of the Mother so I know there are many other women who don't have that idealized belly, but showing that doesn't seem acceptable except on a format specifically set up to show the "ugly truth".

    I am fat (really, not just my perspective) and prone to stretch marks before pregnancy. I started seeing stretch marks at around 20 weeks. I think because I already had stretch marks from puperty and weight gain, I was expecting them when I got pregnant, and I reveled in them. They are awesome.

  8. As a person who has not had any children of her own, I think you look fabulous. I work in a particularly fertile school building (8 pregnancies in the last school year, 3 in this school year so far that I know of) and have seen I think every shape of pregnancy and then so have all the 1,100 students there. I think that is a good thing too, that the students have seen these women grow, each with unique bellies. Also, for the second picture that you think looks less appealing, I think it is the camera angle.

  9. I used to be ashamed of my stretch marks. I envied the few friends I had who emerged "unscathed" from their pregnancies and had those perfect, unblemished bellies. Then one day, I was thinking about scars and how proud people are of them sometimes. It seems like every scar has a story behind it, and people always want to tell those stories. I realized that my stretch marks are just scars, and they tell one of the greatest stories of my life: one of carrying and giving birth to another human being. They are evidence to me of God's eternal plan for me and of His infinite power. It truly is a miracle that a woman's body was made to grow and change to such a degree. I haven't been ashamed since.

    Thank you for this post. I admire how articulate you are on the subject. And, the picture of Margaret holding her shirt up for the fetoscope is adorable!

  10. Body image is so hard in our society. I'm trying to love my thighs and my stretch marks (and stretched out belly!) I think you look great. And I'm glad I'm not the only one who doesn't always do her hair...


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