Monday, May 30, 2011

Honoring Our Bellies Month: Healing Through Belly Art

As May ends, it's time for some final thoughts on "Honoring Our Bellies" month. 

My thanks to all the wonderful women who have been willing to share their thoughts and their pictures with the rest of us.  You may never know what a service you have done for future women of size contemplating pregnancy, and perhaps even in helping non plus-sized folks see the beauty and the wonder of pregnancy in women of size too. 

As we end this month, let's discuss a few final thoughts; a few more ways to honor our bellies, our selves, and our journey; and let's feature a few more pictures of pregnant bellies and related belly art.

Document Your Journey

First, if you are pregnant, please please please take the time and effort to document your pregnancy and your motherhood in pictures. 

 Too many fat women are missing in action from their family's photo albums because they are self-conscious or too embarrassed to be photographed much. What a tragedy this is!

The truth is that our pregnant bodies are beautiful. And they deserve to be seen in all their glory.

No one cares if you are not stick-thin with a bump; certainly your children don't care.  They only know that you are that most beloved of people ─ mommy ─ and if mommy isn't in the pictures of their childhood very much, what does that say to them?  Be present in your children's lives, both in the moment and in their archives.

If you don't get pictures of yourself pregnant, you will be losing such a wonderful memory.  Every pregnant woman is beautiful, and we all deserve to have our pregnancies documented in pictures. 

Sweet moments like these are so incredibly precious later on.  If you miss the chance to document it, that opportunity is gone forever.  Remember, you can always throw away or delete the really terrible shots, but you can't go back and get pictures you never took. 

Don't be the gaping black hole in your child's baby album.  Take pictures of yourself both in pregnancy and as a mother, and make sure your existence is documented, both for your child and for yourself. 

You deserve it.

Honor The Normality of Ambivalent Feelings

Remember, it's normal to feel some ambivalence about the changes happening to your body.

The truth is that your body will never be quite the same again...but that's okay. Life is change, and change is hard sometimes.  Often, we want everything to stay the same, forever, but that just doesn't happen.  Change is the norm in life, but it's not always easy. It's okay to acknowledge that.

And when that change is reflected on the body, it's normal to mourn those changes, whether they happen because of pregnancy or accidents or just plain time.  You're not a "bad" fat-acceptance person for having smidgens of dissatisfaction or body ambivalence.  It's just a normal part of dealing with changes in your body.

And few changes are bigger or more fast-acting than those wrought by pregnancy! So it's very normal to have mixed feelings about changes in your body around pregnancy. 

Just don't stay in that place of ambivalence.  Recognize its normality, recognize the challenge to your sense of self-confidence and worth, and actively find ways to work through it. 

Don't stay stuck in negativity. Do the work you need to do to get back to a place of self-acceptance and self-love.

Find a Way To Honor Your Body

Even as you process normal feelings of ambivalence about these changes, it's important to  honor your belly for all the amazing work it's doing in pregnancy, and one way to do that is through belly art.

There are many types of belly art you can do to honor your body in pregnancy.  Look around online and see which type calls to you.

[No, not all the images below are of women of size; but some are.  Others are presented just for ideas. Links to sources of some of these pictures are presented near the end.]

 We've already discussed belly henna, temporary tattoos using henna, which starts as a dark paste on your belly (like above)......

................and then turns to a reddish-brown hue like this when it rubs off, lasting for about 2 weeks or so.

Another beautiful and fun thing to do is belly bump painting.  This can run the gamut in quality and subject matter (depending on who your artist is!), from toddleresque to whimsical to seriously artistic.  It all depends on what you want.

A lot of people enjoy doing silly baby bump painting.  And what better Halloween costume can there be than a pumpkin baby bump? I've also seen baby bump paintings of watermelons, basketballs, and even a beachball!  It certainly doesn't have to be fancy.

You don't have to be a skilled artist to create some of these.  I am very artistically-challenged, but even I could probably manage a basic pumpkin or ladybug like the ones above. 

For those slightly more skilled, relatively easy themes might be butterflies or flowers.

There are a lot of whimsical ideas for belly painting, from turtles to speed bumps to Hello Kitty to the "She's Got The Whole World In Her Hands" riff above.

One of my favorites for sheer creative simplicity is this snowman.  Not very hard to do, yet it certainly brought a smile to my face!

And hey, who says you can't have fun with belly art, even if you can't paint?  Wouldn't this picture be a great conversation piece in a photo album in years to come?

Or you can have someone document your baby's position for you, late in pregnancy, with belly mapping.  This can be educational as well as fun, as you discover how fetal position can influence labor.   You can learn more about this at (this picture is from their site), or buy their book about it here

Or ditch your artistic and educational pretenses entirely and just let your kids go wild.  As I shared before, it can be a lot of fun to have your older children paint your belly, whether or not it turns out pretty or artistic.  My kids and I had a grand old time bonding over painting my belly, and it was a nice way to distract myself at the end of pregnancy number four.  If you are artistically challenged, just do it as a fun kid activity, not to turn yourself into a modern Renoir painting.

On the other hand, if you are the more artistic type, you can aspire to something more lofty. You can even hire someone well-versed in fine art to paint your belly for you.  Isn't this an amazing work?

There are a lot of fun examples out on the internet of different images women have painted onto their bellies, like some of these that I've pulled for us.  Some artists even specialize in this art form, or offer tips on how to do it.  There are even blog sites and flickr accounts to dig through for ideas. 

The possibilities for beauty and whimsy are endless. Let your imagination and your creativity run wild!

Create a Lasting Keepsake

Another way to honor your pregnancy belly is to create lasting keepsakes of it.

You can do this in many ways.  Photography is one of the best. 

Having professional or high-quality photographs of your pregnancy or family is one of the most beautiful keepsakes ever.  Almost without fail, women who have done this are glad that they did.  If you can't afford to have professional work done, try it yourself at home. Don't be afraid to experiment with it and try different things.

Pictures that use black-and-white tones, sepia tones, or that use lighting in an artful way can be some of the most striking pictures. Give that a try.

Then, be creative with your images.  Artsy them up with photoshop and see how they turn out.

Or focus on whimsical, fun shots.  Do whatever makes you happy.  The trick is to just do it. 

Remember, you are not obligated to keep every shot.  Take lots of shots so you are more likely to get a good one among them, and then discard the others.

Another fun idea is belly casting.  In this, you make a plaster cast of your belly in the latter stages of pregnancy.  This takes your memory of pregnancy from 2-D photos into 3-D sculpture. How cool is that?

This is a photo of someone having a belly cast done. You slather your belly with lubricant (like Vaseline, olive oil, or Crisco), then use quick-setting plaster strips (like Rigid Wrap), available at most big craft stores. You just wet them down in a pan of water and apply. There are kits available to buy online, or you can gather your own supplies fairly cheaply. 

You can do as much or as little of your body as you want.  You can do belly only, part of the belly, belly and breasts, or even the whole torso and upper legs.  Furthermore, you can be as demure or not as you prefer.  If you don't want your nipples to show, just wear an old bra under the casting, cover them with Saran Wrap, or put an arm over your breasts.  If you don't want any belly sags to show, don't cast that part of your belly.  It's completely up to you and there are no "right" or "wrong" ways of doing it.

When done, your belly cast can be left in its plaster state, like this one....

.......or finished and polished, but still with a plaster-like look, like this one from Molded Moments............

.....or it can be finished and painted for hanging on your wall, such as this one by artist Bethany Farrell....

......or personalized, like this one by artist Tina Killackey..........

........or decorated with added pieces, like this one from artist Nic Hohn.......

.......or given elaborate designs, like this one from my friend Amy Swagman of The Mandala Journey........

........or this beautiful but simpler one from Massage-ology.

You can even take a picture of your newborn nestled in the inside of the bellycast, just like they were positioned in the womb, which makes a wonderful piece of memorabilia for baby albums.  Or put paint on your baby's feet and do footprints on the inside (or outside) of the cast, to commemorate all that fetal kicking!  Or write a letter to the baby and tape it to the inside of the cast, to be given to them when they are older.

It can be as detailed or basic as you prefer ─ the possibilities are endless ─ but what a lovely keepsake to have forever.

There are any number of websites available that discuss how to make a bellycast, how to finish and display them, and which offer many images and ideas to choose from for decorating them. 

I personally did not have the nerve to do a bellycast in my first 3 pregnancies, but decided to do one in my last pregnancy. I really had to challenge myself to go through with it ─ but now I'm very glad I did. Alas, I've never found the time to actually have the cast finished ─ maybe by the time she graduates high school! ─ but what we did was sort of like the picture below. 

My husband put his hands on my belly, then I put my hands atop his.  It was difficult to differentiate between his hands and mine with plaster strips, but you can see it if you look for it.  Then later, after the cast dried a bit, we added a cast of my other children's hands too.  Doing them one at a time, later on, helped us make this work, since my kids would never have had the patience to do it otherwise.  Eventually, we will paint each person's hand a different (but complementary) color, and then finish the whole thing with beautiful uniting color and perhaps the outlines of my daughter's feet in the middle.

For now, my belly cast sits in its unfinished-but-still-inspiring-state in my office, looking down at me as I work, giving me inspiration as I write.  Even though it's not finished, I still treasure it and am immensely glad I took a chance on trying it.  I would always have regretted it had I let body self-consciousness get in the way of making this one-of-a-kind gift to myself.  Now, even if it's never formally finished, it's still a treasured memento of a very special time in my life, and of a very special child of my heart.


It's really not unusual for women of all sizes to experience body image issues during and after pregnancy.  There are huge changes happening to the body, and any pre-existing image issues can get magnified in uncomfortable ways as a result.

But while it's very normal to experience body ambivalence, that doesn't mean we have to stay in that murky place.  Rather, see it as an opportunity to work through and heal yourself in new and deeper ways.

One great way to work on healing pregnancy body ambivalence is through belly art. Photography, belly painting, henna, belly casts....all of these and more are good ways to honor ourselves, our bodies, and our babies.

It doesn't really matter which form you pick, but do find some way to document the experience.  It is only a brief moment out of your life, but it is such an important and memorable one.  It (and you) deserve to be honored in a special and unique way.

Don't let your size or body image keep you from memorializing this so-special moment in time in some way.  You will treasure it later, trust me!

*For more ideas and images of belly casts, belly painting, and henna tattoos, click here.


8 said...

Could not agree more, first word to last.

Lovely post.

Darcel @The Mahogany Way Birth Cafe said...

I wish I had documented my first pregnancy and birth. I have not one picture of myself pregnant with my first. I took tons of pics with my last two.
Will do so for any future children as well. I have a belly cast and placenta prints from my third pregnancy.

Kimmelin Hull said...

This is many gorgeous images and ideas! Thank you for posting...

Alissa said...

I wish I had read this while I was pregnant. I stayed out of almost all pictures--my husband snuck 2 pictures in the last few weeks and that's all I have (he was supposed to be photographing something I was holding out, but he included me!). There are several pic of me at about 6 month from my baby shower, but only those two from later. I was *so* ashamed of how much weight i'd gained and how I looked I didn't even think that I might want to be able to remember it. So sad. We are not planning on a second child, so I totally missed this opportunity.

7wekenzwanger said...

Beautifull collection of photo's. Great article.

Anonymous said...

I really needed this article. I have contemplated throwing away my cast because I am overwhelmed by it, and the memories involved, still.. I gained 70 lbs with my first baby, was on bedrest, and ended in c-section. I think there is still some healing needed in my body image area for sure! Thanks.

julia said...

This is a beautiful blog