Today, as Jessica Simpson celebrates the birth of a healthy 9 lb, 13 oz baby, the media is already salivating about her post-baby weight-loss regime. There is speculation that she will enroll as a Weight Watchers ambassador and rumors about the identity of the de rigueur personal trainer who will coax her 'back into shape.' Amidst all the frenzied speculation, it's time to pause and ask where our obsession with eradicating the physical evidence of pregnancy and birth has come from, and whether there might even be another way to see -- and even value -- the bodily changes that child-bearing brings.
At the International Museum of Women we asked women all over the world to tell us about their experiences of pregnancy and birth -- and the changes in their bodies that accompany motherhood. The results were striking. In particular, there is one film we are currently exhibiting that Jessica should really see before she embarks upon the post-baby regime the world is so anxious to foist upon her.
That film is called "Birth-markings." Created by film director Margaret Lazarus, Birth-markings is a bold an ambitious film that catalogues the bodily changes motherhood brings to mothers of all ages, classes and races.
To women reared on a diet of post baby celebrity bodies, the film is almost shocking. Women celebrate their bare flesh -- and particularly their bare stomachs. The camera dwells on a succession of bellies -- complete with extra flesh and stretch marks -- as the women narrate their feelings about their bodies and the stories they tell about their hopes, fears and experiences, and above all their identity as mothers.
Women confess their feelings of discomfort and insecurity about their changing bodies and their realization that the 'perfect, taut stomach' of a pre-pregnancy teenage girl is an expectation and a standard that they can no longer achieve. However, on the other side of these fears and realizations something remarkable happens. The women discover and own the beauty in their post partum bodies.
It is a striking and moving film, and -- contrary to what we have been conditioned to expect -- the women's bodies, bellies and stretch marks acquire an aura of true beauty. The contours and ripples of the women's bodies and stretch marks are a poignant echo of lives changed, hopes fulfilled and the vitality of life itself.
One woman reveals that her scars and stretch marks have become 'her badge of motherhood' and that she wears them as proudly as a man might wear his battle scars. Another says, "[My belly] isn't un-marked and perfect -- it looks like something happened here. It's dynamic -- it's creation!" Each woman articulates how her body has been enhanced by the experience of something that is simultaneously so "ordinary and so sacred."
Lazarus's film is so provocative and so eye-opening because it gives us a template for valuing ourselves and our postpartum bellies as they really are -- healthy, but unvarnished, un-air-brushed and without the intervention of cosmetic surgery. Our bellies are our mementos of our most meaningful experiences and of our narratives as mothers -- and they are beautiful.
As Jessica Simpson contemplates her months ahead and the joyful life that is opening up for her as the mother of her daughter Maxwell, my wish for her is that -- amidst the media expectations and bombardment -- she feels confidence and pride in her changed body and belly, and the story that they tell about her new life as a mom.
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