No shame in post-partum bod

SINGAPORE - This week, I am indulging in a bit of navel-gazing.

No, really. I'm staring at my stomach now: It is like a big, shallow earthenware bowl, decorated with a tiger-striped glaze.

My belly button is not so much the cute little dimple it used to be, but more of a wrinkled dip in the terrain. A c-section scar curves like a half-smile at the bikini line, in the shade of the wobbly outcrop that is my tummy.

It is, if I may say so myself, a pretty good specimen of the post-partum belly.

The post-partum belly, as a species, has been hidden away in modern times. Typically treated as an eyesore, it is tucked, concealed and buried beneath one-piece swimsuits, while an expanse of young, nubile and flat abdomens framed by bikinis writhe proudly at pools and beach parties.

This scene will not last much longer if American photographer Jade Beall can help it.

Arizona-based Beall caught the attention of the international press last month, when she started raising funds on Kickstarter for her A Beautiful Body Book Project, which features more than 100 non-airbrushed, black-and-white photographs of mothers' bodies - the antithesis of the Photoshopped-to-death images of women's figures in magazines and on the Internet.

Some of the project's photos, posted on her Facebook page and seen in other media, feature stretch marks, cellulite and other post-natal skin adornments in close, unabashed glory.

Mothers pose for the camera, hugging their children to their full, pendulous breasts - smiling and comfortable in their raw, natural bodies.

The pictures, Beall guaranteed, are unaltered digitally. The effect, brave and beautiful.

Little wonder, then, that Beall's project has been applauded, and more than US$58,425 (S$74,870) has been pledged towards producing an e-book and future volumes.

Seeing those initial images, I felt liberated. A few months ago, I had decided to retire my halter-bra and brief swimsuit for a more covered-up tankini, fearing that I was scaring innocent folk with my raspberry-swirled midsection.

But here, finally, in Beall's pictures, are stomachs that look like mine after two caesarean births.

Here are women revealing their bodies confidently despite - no, because of - their saggy bits and scars. Women who are taking the stand that they are more than the state of their epidermis, or their body-fat distribution.

My midriff may no longer be taut and smooth, but it is nothing to be ashamed of.

Suddenly, there seemed to be no need to toss my old bikini.

If you see a woman with a buzz cut in a two-piece while on holiday, with a paunch that looks like a Picasso or Pollock painting, say hi. And I'll give you the thumbs up.

In the past, I've written about how gratifying it is that people are starting to celebrate the nude pregnant form, with squeamishness or cheap shots at controversy.

But what about the post-pregnant body? Surely it deserves its day in the sun, too?

Women-centric website posted last week about the "Normal Barbie", a 3-D model of a Barbie doll by artist Nickolay Lamm, using the body measurements of the average 19-year-old woman.

Normal Barbie is shorter, and has a smaller bust as well as a thicker waist and thighs. She looks infinitely less freaky than stock Barbie.

I wish someone would make a Mummy Barbie, with a spongy mid-section instead of flawless plastic.

A while ago, I found a flyer on the windscreen of my car. It was for one of those weight-loss treatments, claiming to reduce fat and loose skin around your belly.

I kept it safely in my glove compartment, and take it out to look at from time to time. Not because I want to try the treatment, but because - although created with a completely different aim from Beall's project - the "before" photos make me feel normal.

That I'm not the only one who has a less-than-perfect, but perfectly acceptable Mummy body.

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