Female body image; the search for REAL visuals

exposing body image issues's picture

by Colette Coughlin

This is one of my less-flattering self-portraits; not only could I not stand the sight of myself that day, I was also in a nasty mood. I took pictures anyways and later turned this one into a drawing.  By the time I'd finishing sketching my scowl, I'd forgotten the disgust I felt about the picture. Everybody has rotten days, feels ugly, wishes things were different sometimes. So what? This too, passes... yet the visual models (as in examples) most of us feel we need to live up to are rarely less than super-models. Super made-up, super-fixed-up, super dressed-up people with ideal figures who we see on every magazine cover, poster, publicity, movie, and TV show we come across. It's become so pervasive that we've forgotten it's not real life!

I share my scowling self with you hoping it might make you feel better about how you look... but how often do we really see people, regular people, at their less-than-best, particularly when it comes to nudity?

My search for REAL visuals has led me to photograph myself and others, and the more bodies I see, the more accepting I learn to be of my own imperfect body, as well as the imperfections and the beauty in others' bodies. The taboo nature of nudity that has so long been automatically associated with sexual exploitation has made it virtually impossible for us, as a society, to learn what a female body really looks like, as we are only exposed to seductive images of idealized perfection.

I've heard of women refusing to have children because they didn't want to "wreck their figure". Being a mother of four, I find that very sad... because if that's truly the only reason to avoid the entire life-changing experience of becoming a mother, truly, they have no idea how much they're missing out on.

It's hard to find a photograph of a completely nude pregnant woman on-line; perhaps many feel that such exposure would be disrespectful, yet the fetish porn-sites are full of them. And more and more, women are choosing to be photographed with their growing bellies, if only for a souvenir for their children later on, but often in a way to hide nipples and pubic hair to make the photo "acceptable". One of the many fascinating changes to the female body during pregnancy is often in breast volume and the darkening of the areola and nipple tissue as the foetus matures. And like life itself, all this is very, very temporary.

I was quite critical of my body in between pregancies, actually before, after and during too. I spent alot of time at the beach in the summer with my little ones, and it being a country-cottage kind of beach, I was often thrilled to discover that the women walking around on the sand and in the water were mostly less than perfect too. The day I dared to wear a bikini - mostly out of vanity for wanting to be tanned - I was so self-conscious it was a good thing I had to focus on several little swimmers and not spend the whole time sucking in my belly and adjusting my straps.

I survived it of course... my kids didn't care what I looked like - I was their mom! -and at the end of that summer I was rewarded with an off-handed comment by a pregnant neighbour's husband that "if that's what a woman looks like after four babies... not bad!" But I looked nothing like the Hollywood moms who bounce back into their low-cut jeans two weeks after giving birth to twins, thanks to their team of nannies, nutritionists and personal trainers.

All this to point you to two sites I came across with pictures of real women's bodies - acutally only body parts, but at least these are real nude people.  I was much less interested on the rhetoric on the "non-sexual purpose of breasts" than the imagery, and I invite you to peruse these galleries to see what non-silicone-implanted breasts look like and female bodies after childbirth. I do not find these offensive in any way, in fact, I believe that if our daughters were exposed to this kind of imagery before puberty, they may be much less prone to getting sucked into the media frenzy of perfection in which we are all constantly submerged.

If you've read this far, please indulge in viewing and feel free to share your reactions! The sites are here: The Shape of a Mother, and the Normal Breasts Gallery.

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