There are two images of mothers that appear in media. First, the pregnant, round-bellied mother-to-be with no stretch marks, naked and sexy or clad in hip maternity wear. Second, there’s the thin, flat-stomached, fresh-faced, multitasking momma who has three kids, works full time and still has energy to cook and have sex with her husband.
And of course, there’s Heidi Klum strutting down the runway in the Victoria’s Secret fashion show with a very flat belly, mere months after giving birth to her son.
Nowhere is the woman whose belly was stitched up with staples after an emergency c-section and now hangs over the jeans she wore before she got pregnant. We never see the woman who lost her baby weight, but has extra abominable skin from when she carried twins. The mother with breasts that sag after she finished breastfeeding isn’t anywhere either.
Some might say those images aren’t beautiful, which is why we never see them. But never having access to something means the public has no chance to decide for themselves or to gain some respect for bodies that nurtured another human being for nine months and brought it into the world. Even more, other women aren’t given the chance to stop making unrealistic demands of their own bodies after pregnancy when they see others who look just like they do.
The Internet is making strides in providing a place for women (and men) to see how pregnancy really changes a woman’s body, even if TV and print still shun the mother’s body. The Shape of a Mother* is a blog for women to post photographs of themselves before, after and during pregnancy. A few of the women enjoy flat stomachs post-pregnancy but the majority of the photos are gritty and realistic. Women have scar tissue along c-section scars, extensive stretch marks and breasts they barely recognize. Although they express frustration that their bodies have changed, almost all the posters say the changes in their bodies were worth it because those changes gave them their children.
It’s only one site on the big, bad internet, but it’s a step towards some semblance of realism in a sea of airbrushed bellies, fake breasts and advertisements for the Mommy Makeover.
*Caution: The Shape of the Mother site contains nudity.