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“Birth Markings,” and Bellies After Babies

Aaron Newman

Real women’s bodies aren’t given much air time in our culture (beyond the political battlefield, anyway). In fact, the accepted female beauty standard has strayed so far from what's real that even ‘flawless’ fashion models are losing work to computer-generated images of bodies more uniform, and less unique, than theirs; what consumer culture projects into our collective consciousness as female perfection is literally a flat, lifeless depiction of a human. But the fact remains that it's not, and never will be, human... let alone have the capacity to create one.

Then there’s reality, this ever-shifting, pulsing, procreating planet that we live on and are a part of. And these ever-shifting, pulsing, procreating bodies women the world over inhabit. Growing a baby involves handing our bodies over to processes that induce rapid physical changes, and leave long-lasting evidence of where we’ve been.

I wrote a little while ago about my own belly, about how it’s never been the same since Kaspar was born, and how I’m okay with that. I think our culture’s obsession with female bodies, and the stark contrast between what shows up in beer ads and what shows up in the mirror ends up both complicating and deepening our relationships to our bodies after our babies are born. The contrast isn’t something we can possibly miss, unless we’re Amish. So we’re forced to come to terms with it... or get a tummy tuck, I guess, but going under the knife? That’s no small thing.

If you've ever considered it (and I bet most of us have)-- or frankly, if you've ever had a baby-- you must watch the short film Birth Markings. By showing the viewer-- up close and personal-- its subjects’ bellies, instead of their faces, while they tell their stories, it shares a diverse assortment of mothers' thoughts and beliefs about their unique post-baby bodies, and bellies. Sometimes celebratory, sometimes conflicted, these women inadvertently arrive at the consenses that we’re new people, with new bodies, now that we’re mamas. And ultimately, these are the selves-- these are the bodies-- we want to keep.

In the opening sequence, one woman asserts that the marks on her belly show that “something happened here... It’s dynamic... It’s creation... It means that there’s been life. It’s not static.” As other women’s voices, and bellies, appear before us, that airbrushed ideal begins to fade, and we (the audience) become captivated by what is real. Another mom recalls the “cute” stages of pregnancy-- you remember that winning combo of adorable bump plus adorable ass, right?-- as well as her reluctance to move into those, er, not-so-cute stages that followed. But then she begins to read her stretch marks aloud, pointing, as if using a map, and says of her belly, “You can tell how it grew.” She’s in awe, and appreciation, of her scars and the story they tell. And as we look closer at these bellies, as we see each one in its utter uniqueness, interspersed now and again with images of the earth as it moves and stretches and grows-- water, hardened lava, the bark of a tree (I’m not even sure?)-- “cute” gives way to something stunning: beauty. Simple as that.

The women rub their bellies gently, almost absentmindedly when speaking about them, in the way that we do when we’re pregnant, reassuring our babies and ourselves that this is all real indeed: from the inside out, “Hello, I’m here.” And from the diverse collection of experiences delivered, there emerge common words-- like ‘badge’, and common conclusions about bellies after babies, like “It tells me that I have had children, and life will never be the same again.”

Omigosh, mamas: get ready for some awesome.

What’s your post-baby belly’s story? How do you feel about your body now? How have those feelings changed over time? (I felt like a slightly horrified foreigner in my own skin for a couple of months after birthing Kaspar... That-- along with my body-- has changed). Have you contemplated having any procedures-- or actually gone for it-- to make your body more like it was (no judgments!)? Does this film change the way you relate to your own belly now?

PS. For mamas who've adopted, or otherwise not gone the baby-by-belly route: I know y'all have your mama-badges, too! (Little parenting perks like pulling all-nighters and having no personal time/space don't exactly leave any of us looking our 'best' on a regular basis). Please share your perspectives. This post and the film it references are clearly about the body-morphing pregnancy experience, but I want to be clear that it is not the belly that makes the mom. It's just a big part of a lot of moms' experiences, and worth discussing for all of the reasons listed above. :-)