The Honest Body Project encourages mothers to feel and be very proud of themselves – whether they’re stretchmarked to fuck or not. Two of Standard Issue’s mothers and one mother-to-be had a gander.
The Honest Body Project is a rapidly expanding online collection of photos and stories from women who have had babies… and want to share their experiences without the hint of an airbrush.
Its founder, American Natalie McCain says she was aiming to build a safe community where women could feel proud of their bodies and what they had achieved, and see others doing the same.
“I created the project because women around the world are struggling with their body image and hardships in their lives,” she says. “I wanted to create a platform where mothers could relate and know that they are not alone.
“The project aims to boost their self-esteem and help them feel more confident in their skin. I want mothers to be good role models for the next generation of women we are raising, so that they can have healthy body images as they grow.
“The project has grown so fast since beginning just a few months ago. Mothers around the world have reached out to tell me how it has helped them and it is so amazing to hear that.
For a little while I thought I’d got through it all without stretchmarks. Then it turned out I did have some, but I’d assumed they were pubes. I was weirdly pleased, and I’d been expecting to feel devastated.
I might partly have been pleased because, as a comedian, I now got to use the word ‘pubes’ whenever I had to answer the question “Did you get stretch marks?” and pubes are funny, but I was also genuinely pleased. It’s like a battle scar. Like the lady equivalent of “You should have seen the other guy!” (Except the other guy was a seven-pounds-four baby, with blue eyes, that laughs when I wiggle my toes.)
“We all know that the human body changes with pregnancy and birth, and that’s how our species has existed since amoebas started banging each other.”
But in the same way that a real battle scar might be cool at parties, in other circumstances it might scare children, or the squeamish, or make the owner of the battle scar feel sad they’ll never get that modelling job, even though they never wanted a modelling job in the first place.
So it’s good the Honest Body Project is reminding us that stuff like this is NORMAL. Even though it seems insane we would need that reminder. We all did science at school. We all know that the human body changes with pregnancy and birth, and that’s how our species has existed since amoebas started banging each other. Or whatever. (I’m not a scientist.)
Being bombarded with images of specific and narrow beauty ideals (that most of the population look nothing like) takes its toll on the psyche of a people. But it’s meant to. Several billion-dollar industries depend on us feeling inadequate, depressed and aspirational enough to spend all our money on their expensive crap. A happy population doesn’t buy shit they don’t need.
In an alternate universe it’s the Honest Body Project images adorning all the billboards, advertising sensible things that we actually need, and no one’s getting labia surgery to impress misogynists.
Anything which aims to help ‘mums love their changing bodies’ has got to be lauded. I’m more than seven months pregnant and it’s a strange and alien time. Last night I sat down, playing the judge in an Edinburgh Fringe show set in a comedy courtroom and my baby got his rave on. There were limbs and I think at one point a bit of arse-cheek making giant, visible ripples, canyons and tent-pole-peaks in my bump. They were there to see jokes about the law, not a one-woman remake of Tremors.
I’ve never cared much for looking glamorous. I’m busy. Equally I am so excited and grateful to be growing a human. I cockily believed I’d be fine getting stretched out, swollen and hefty. But actually it’s fucking hard not to judge yourself negatively, especially if people around you do.
“I’m the hugest I’ve ever been but the baby and I are fit and healthy. So who cares? People. Still. Loads of them.”
I used to think it was the ‘whinging of the thin’ when people said, “When you’re pregnant you’re public property.” It turns out you really are. Everyone’s allowed to talk about your size and to your face.
I’m proud of my giant wriggly bump and it doesn’t bother me (now) when people (every single day) say “Ooo, you’re big!” or similar. They generally mean extremely well. I know that my bump is exactly the size it’s meant to be for this stage. Yep, I’m the hugest I’ve ever been but the baby and I are fit and healthy. So who cares?
People. Still. Loads of them.
An old family friend pulled over in their car. Horrified, she asked, “Christ, how… erm… how… erm… how, how…”
I was sure she was going to say “long have you got?” but she said, “How much have you put on?!?”
Stunned I said: “I don’t know. I don’t care.”
She went on: “But your tits are still so small.”
I sobbed for a day. I’ve had to put real work into what I think whenever I catch my reflection now. To not feel worried and repulsed. Every day since. How boring. There are days again now when I feel proud and empowered and others where I’m overwhelmingly keen to hide.
The tone and pitch of this project aren’t my specific cup of tea. It’s all a bit sickly and Enya for me, slides set to tinkling ivories. But I love the images. I love the sentiment and it’s a project which is necessary and relevant.
Sometimes I speculate that the very roots of misogyny must come from men being baffled and envious of what a woman can do with her body. Every now and then I look over at my children and have the thought: “I GREW you.” It feels at once amazing and disgusting. Freaky. My view of my body has changed completely since having a baby. I still miss the old, springy body but this new one impresses the hell out of me, drooping softness and all.
I love the Honest Body Project because it guides our focus onto the positive, awesome power of the female body, rather than the nit-picking misery we’re taught to feel because of our lack of Kim Kardashianesque physique.
“I can hope my daughter’s main goal for her thighs will be that they can vault a hurdle or do the splits, not that they fail to meet when she stands with her knees together.”
Having kids has made me re-examine my relationship with my body – I’ve seen already that what I decide to vocalise affects how my daughter looks at her own body, so I’m trying to focus on what my body can do rather than what it looks like.
This way, I can hope my daughter’s main goal for her thighs will be that they can vault a hurdle or do the splits, not that they fail to meet when she stands with her knees together.
My own goal consists of being comfy to sit on. And maybe at some point I’ll feel confident enough to show a photographer my C-section scar. The surgeon was pretty proud of its neatness. That’s a bit of a way off though. Baby steps.
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