On the normality of bellies… from Karen

Thank you so much to each of you for coming and looking at these magnificent, beautiful bellies!  We have had a huge response so far, and are just tickled pink (or purple or blue or yellow…whatever your favorite color happens to be!).

I have been spying on some of your discussion board conversations and blog posts that link to this blog, and mostly your response has been a pretty huge, “Wow, I am actually normal!” and “Oh my gosh, how liberating!”  This idea of these images being liberating – freeing – is one I had not considered before starting the blog with my friend Christy.  But it is certainly the form that a lot of the feedback and comments are coming in.

But there has been this other group who look at these pictures and say, “See, I’m not normal!”  And I’ve been thinking about that group of women.

We’re not here to judge women or their bellies, but rather to reduce the judgment.  It is never our goal to set up a site where women come to see others’ bellies and think theirs is not as beautiful and whole and normal as each and every one that is already up.

In the initial few weeks of our project, before we had any views, we were mostly just putting up pictures of our bellies and our friends’ bellies.  So Christy and I were walking among our friends wagging our iPhones around, asking them to drop their drawers (if only a few inches) and bare more of their reproductive history with us than they perhaps had done before.  It was an enlightening experience, seeing our friends in this light.  Almost every woman started off by saying “No.”  Then we’d show her a few other belly pictures we’d already taken.  And she would waffle, because she liked the idea of participating.  They asked if Christy and I had already put our bellies up, and they were comforted when we said we had.  (My belly is actually the banner belly at the top of the page.)  Then our friends, enlightened feminists all of them, would sigh and agree with some trepidation.  Some of them asked to go somewhere more private for the momentous picture, some lifted shirt right there among the gentiles.

After I snapped their picture, I’d whip my phone around and show them their pic.  And do you know what their reaction was?  They smiled.  They tipped their head to the side.  They said, “Oh, that’s kind of cute!”

Our bellies look different to us when we’re looking down at them, or reflected in the mirror.  But our bellies are beautiful.  They are an elemental part of us, this center of our bodies.  And they are beautiful and unique, each and every one.  Yes, even yours.

So it’s not that I’m hoping our belly project will show women that they’re “normal,” whatever that means.  But rather show women that their belly is on a continuum of bellies that are each fabulous in their own way because they are our own.


Filed under From Karen

13 responses to “On the normality of bellies… from Karen

  1. Did you really mean to say lifted shirt “among the gentiles”? Or didja mean among “the gentry”? ROFL.

  2. What a great site! I only wish you all would allow people to tell a bit of their story–just a paragraph or two–about their baby belly history. Sometimes the blog post titles are a bit confusing, trying to match up the numbers.

  3. Pingback: VanderMeander » Blog Archive » Normal Bellies

  4. I am here thanks to a friend who sent me this link. I deeply appreciate the post that I just read because…. *ahem* I found myself thinking judgemental or envious thoughts as I skimmed through the bellies. Then I got to one and said “Okay, she’s brave” and felt really proud of her for baring herself. I like what you say about the continuum of bellies. It’s true and refreshing. I am constantly looking for new ways of thinking and for people who are actively working towards promoting less dangerous ways of women relating to their bodies. I am 41 and notice my belly changing. This is terrifying because it is my thighs I have always hated…. its like having flesh eating disease and watching it crawl up towards my face from the ground up….

    Thank you for this project. I wish you God’s blessing and great personal discoveries for all your participants and lurkers.

  5. Nina

    Thank you and yes, it is liberating to find out “I’m normal!”

  6. Joy

    Very important work here, look forward to linking to it on my blog.

    Fabulous brave and healing.

  7. Pingback: So many wonderful bellies! « The Belly Project

  8. Gowan

    I admire the idea of what you’re doing, but a few things about this post bother me. “Enlightened feminists” in my mind, are not people who generally enjoy being pressured to show their bodies. Sighing and agreeing with trepidation is not empowerment. Neither, and this is just me, is reducing a woman to a snapshot of her reproductive history, as if she had no other identity than as a walking uterus. I love the idea of sharing the actual truth of our bodies, what they look like through the years, babies or not… but this site is very problematic for me.

  9. Thank you for your comment, Gowan.

    To note, we had plenty of women turn us down – and we were fine with that! Many women who have sent in their picture – both our friends who were the original participants and the ones we don’t know who have come after – have said it was an act of bravery on their part to participate in this project. Many of them felt trepidation, but wanted to do it anyway. Often women sigh at their belly. It is part of our goal to reduce that impulse, by taking bellies out of context to finally put them in context.

    Amanda Hess from the Washington City Paper wrote today about some of your same concerns with talking about body image in terms of reproduction. Among other points, Hess says:

    “That’s what unsettles me about the Belly Project: It defines the female body by the very things I have to struggle every day to not let define me. Age, pregnancy, abortion, and ovulation are important to the Belly Project. Tacos and biking and careers are not.”

    I deeply regret that anyone might think we define the female body in this way. The female body is so much more. Far, far too much to talk about in a simple, straightforward way. This blog is addressing one aspect of women’s bodies, and according to the e-mails we’ve received, it’s been effective at reducing at least some women’s fears and issues with their bellies. I responded to Hess thusly:

    “We would be delighted to publish a belly with the heading “Just ate a big sandwich” or “Bike to work daily” and nothing else. What information people want associated with their bellies is expanding, as you’ve noticed if you’ve looked through them all. Pushing that boundary sounds fabulous!

    Our submissions seem to come in cohorts: Right now we’re in the middle of a bunch of 20-somethings with no pregnancies. For a long while we had only 30-somethings with multiple pregnancies. Feel free to take us out of both paradigms and into a place where people are defining their body by whatever rubric they find most appealing and relevant.”

    I hope some additional explanation and conversation helps your view of the site. Please continue engaging in the conversation, because that’s what it’s all about in the end anyway.

  10. Oops, meant to link to the Washington City Paper article but forgot. Here’s that link: http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/blogs/sexist/2009/06/01/my-body-is-not-defined-by-pregnancy/

  11. Gowan

    Thanks for the response, Karenrayne.

    The article you linked to is very interesting- I share some of the writer’s views, but not others- I love the bellies, I love babies, and helped deliver my niece and nephew.

    I don’t want to be defined solely be pregnancy, either, but I do value and celebrate that aspect of myself and others. I understand that this aspect of womanhood is what you are focusing on here, and you’re not trying to say that all we are is baby machines. The lack of any more context for the people here on the site keeps striking me strangely, though.

    I understand why people might want anonymity when sharing something so personal and vulnerable.. but maybe some space for stories? A short bio… a place for discussion? A previous commenter suggested the same thing, and I think that might help give another dimension to the people posting- after all, every pregnancy is different, people have different reasons for wanting or not wanting children, and these things profoundly shape people. It seems people do want to share- people note things like how horrible vaginal birth was, or how they don’t regret their abortions… what if there was more room for that, maybe a chatroom separate from the main site?

    Just an idea.

    And, if you do want a belly with a face- and I am seriously, horribly shy-I’ll send you one.

  12. The problem is that the inclusion of a bio – however short – substantially changes the look and feel of the blog from being primarily image-based to word-based. The impact of images alone is substantial, and I think offers a different point of view than a more wordy site like The Shape of a Mother (http://theshapeofamother.com/). As a side note, I love The Shape of a Mother, even though I didn’t find it until after we’d started this blog, I’ve spent hours reading through it!

    An inclusion of a face, however, would be lovely! This Project is very much about what the readers and participants want it to be. And particularly, each participant’s post should be exactly what they want it to be. It would be our delight to post a picture of your face with your belly.

  13. Carol

    There ~is~ room for a bio if the submitter wishes it – in the comments. I’ve noticed one or two people who have posted images have also posted comments along with them. It’s a great way of keeping the main blog image based, whilst giving some context.

    (And I agree the biking makes a huge difference!).

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