April 28, 2011 at 8:35 AM ET
Imagine a photo of your post-pregnancy belly – saggy skin, stretch marks and all – showing up on a public web site. Nightmare material, right?
So what would possess an otherwise normal woman to send in such a photo for publication, voluntarily?
Ask Kerry Holmes, mother of a 2-year-old. She’s one of more than 1,700 women who have sent their photos and stories to “Shape of a Mother,” a web site that aims to celebrate the actual, un-retouched photos of regular moms’ bodies. In a world where Hollywood moms with impossibly flat stomachs pose for bikini pictures practically before their epidurals have worn off, the sight of puckered C-section scars and pouchy bellies can be startling. But Kerry says baring her belly on Shape of a Mother is one of the most empowering things she’s ever done.
“I was in tears over the changes taking place on my body that I couldn’t control,” the 20-year-old mom writes in an e-mail. “I needed reassurance that I was, in fact, normal. I felt stronger for sending it in, that somehow I was fighting my own negative thoughts... and winning!”
While some critics accuse site founder Bonnie Crowder of encouraging women to be complacent about fitness, she says that’s not the message at all: “I absolutely support a healthy lifestyle, but that doesn’t mean somebody can’t be beautiful, anyway.” In the comments on the site you'll find women encouraging each other to get active and get in shape – even if that means starting by dancing around the living room with the baby. But there’s also a realization that pregnancy and childbirth change your body in ways you can’t always control, and sometimes you have to redefine “beautiful” for yourself.
For Kerry, the act of publishing her belly pic has created a lasting change. No longer is she ashamed to show her body, she says: “It's an awesome feeling to wear a bikini, baring my stretch mark riddled, wrinkly belly and feel proud. I'm normal.”
Now, Kerry says, when she hears her other mom friends complain about their “disgusting” post-baby bellies and consider plastic surgery, she sends them to check out Shape of a Mother. “Stretch marks, saggy breasts and soft thighs are all normal and aren't something to be ashamed of,” Kerry says. “We come together with one common purpose, to find love and admiration for the normal shapes of mothers. Doesn't everyone deserve to feel beautiful?”
Good question, especially as we approach Mother’s Day. How did pregnancy and childbirth change your body – and do you feel beautiful in your own skin? If learning to love your post-baby body has been a journey for you, how did you get to acceptance -- or are you still struggling with it?