The Slow-Cooked Sentence

Skin deep

Rachael Conlin Levy
Photo courtesy of Mary Harrsch

My belly is as squishy and warm as bread dough, as round and dimpled as the Venus of Willendorf, and it’s been an irresistible draw for my twin sons since they were toddlers. With the chubby hands of 2-year-olds, they’d pinch a tiny piece between their fingers and roll it back and forth while they cuddled on either side and nursed. Five years later they still love my tummy, reaching out quietly to stroke the old skin when I’m distracted.

I’m glad they like it, because they’re teaching me to love a part of my body I find embarrassing. The role my children are playing in my internal battle over motherhood, sexuality and feminism is interesting. As my daughter nears 10, her internal compass swings radically, first toward issues like weight, clothes and friends, and then back to pirate princesses and treasure hunts.
And as she advances toward adolescence, she aims a critical eye on my body and compares it to hers, all angles and flat planes.

“Will I look like you after I have a baby?” she asks, wrinkling her nose and pointing at my tummy from where I lay in the bathtub.

“You mean will you have a jelly belly?” I ask and grab a handful of skin.

We giggle and I admit that I don’t know what will happen to her body. Then I lie and tell her that I love the hundreds of stretch marks that crisscross the puckered surface, and am honored to wear this belly badge, proof I carried her brothers to 38 1/2 weeks.

Why tell the lie? Because I hope it will ferment like yeast, releasing tiny gas bubbles that will expand both our minds. Consciousness rising, er, raising. I’d like to be a warrior, but it’s hard to do battle in a culture that objectifies women as Marthas and MILFs, and debates Vanity Fair‘s sexy pictures of tween idol Mylie Cyrus aka Hannah Montana.

So when I discovered The Shape of a Mother, a blog devoted to pictures of real women’s bodies, it felt like reinforcements had arrived. I was no longer alone, but surrounded by other women who shared saggy boobs dripping milk, smiling red cesarean scars and wrinkles round the middle. In these images there is a beauty that runs deep, and at least one of my twin sons has tapped it. His eyes register amazement when he looks at my stretched skin and imagines sharing the space inside. And when he strokes my doughy belly, his wiry small body melts, his breath slows, and I think, yes, here is a boy who will grow into a man who will love a woman as she really is.

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