Our stretch marks, ourselves

A new blog asks mothers to share photos of their bodies during and after pregnancy in hopes that the female form will be demystified -- and honored.

Topics: Broadsheet, Pregnancy, Love and Sex,

Most of the mothers I know get all wistful when they talk about parts of their pre-pregnancy body, waxing rhapsodic about their formerly tight vaginas, pert breasts and flat, scarless bellies. Their descriptions of their postpartum shape, however, are usually vicious and unforgiving and almost never acknowledge the fact that their bodies have undergone dramatic changes for a pretty good reason: incubating a life for nine months — then pushing out that life, or having it taken from your body — tends to shift things around.

Whether this self-torture is a result of the ludicrous standards set by a new generation of Hollywood moms who employ a pit crew of trainers and nutritionists and plastic surgeons to shrink their bodies back into their Us Weekly-ready size 0 jeans just weeks after giving birth, or occurs simply because most American women tend to use a great deal of their mental energy punishing themselves for what they don’t look like, I’m not sure. What I do know is that a new blog, the Shape of a Mother, may be one small way we can make headway in this endless battle we wage against ourselves.

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The brainchild of Bonnie Crowder, a stay-at-home mother of two, the Shape of a Mother has a very specific and honorable purpose: A “post-pregnancy body is one of this society’s greatest secrets; all we see of the female body is that which is airbrushed and perfect, and if we look any different, we hide it from the light of day in fear of being seen,” she writes. “Sure we all talk about the sagging boobs and other parts, but no one ever sees them. Or if they do, it’s in comical form, mocking the beauty that created and nourished our children.”

Bonnie’s stretched-marked abdomen is the site’s logo, and has been joined by dozens of images submitted by readers of their pre- and post-pregnancy scars, bulges and marks. Some of the site’s visitors unload tragic tales of body loathing, and ask how they can protect their baby daughters from suffering similarly. Others talk about illnesses and miscarriages and the mental scars incurred before they even became pregnant.

If the dozens of letters pouring into the site are any indication, this kind of forum was sorely needed. “I used to be SO ashamed of my stretch marks, and loose skin after my two c-sections,” wrote eatcrayons. “I still panic if my shirt is lifted up and I look around to make sure no one has seen my stomach  I want to be proud of it.” Like many of the women posting on the site, I was blown away by the photos and didn’t realize until I viewed them how much distance there is between women when it comes to our physical selves. We often hide from each other because we’re ashamed of our so-called imperfections, but that just perpetuates our warped ideas about what we’re supposed to look like. What we need — and this site is a great first step — is a dose of reality.

Lori Leibovich is a contributing editor at Salon and the former editor of the Life section.

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