xoJane Shows Us Real Girls Have Guts

A new project starts off with 75 strong, beautiful non-photoshopped bellies submitted by readers -- some tight and toned, some saggy, squishy and just plain "imperfect" but all equally beautiful

One of the best and worst parts of writing this blog? Realizing that I'm not the only woman in America who stresses out about her stomach. This is comforting in the "see, you're not alone with your belt phobia!" way, but it's also sad to see just how rampant this particular body hang-up has become. Because whether we're getting mistaken for pregnant or fretting the waists we don't really have, belly anxiety seems to be a foregone conclusion of womanhood in 2011. 

Well, Emily McCombs over on xoJane is saying, No more! After she posted a picture of her bikini-clad self (along with the same epiphany I had at the start of swimsuit season -- that every body is a bikini body, dammit!) readers wrote in admiring her belly "in all of its loose-skinned, stretch-marked glory." Because Emily's belly is a far cry from our notion of the "perfect" female belly. You know, the completely toned and concave midsection so helpfully epitomized once again last night on the Victoria's Secret runway (and weirdly distorted by Photoshop in the show's ad campaigns).

I'm not hating on the Angels -- they work hard and if your paycheck depended on your stomach looking like that, you'd get there too. But the reader response to Emily's stomach demonstrated that we're seeing a little too much of Angel-type bellies and not enough of other kinds. And so the xoJane Real Girl Belly Project was born, featuring 75 (and counting!) strong, beautiful, non-Photoshopped bellies, as submitted by ordinary xoJane readers. 

I'll admit, I had two caveats about this idea: One is the phrase "Real Girl," which always implies that models are somehow not real, when they are, in fact, human beings. No good ever comes from pitting women against one another in the real women vs. models fight. But I was reassured on this front to see that the xoJane Belly Project includes the full spectrum of real bellies -- the tight and toned are presented right alongside the saggy, squishy, and just plain "imperfect" stomachs.

My other concern is that all of the bellies are headless and most are posted anonymously. Of course, I understand that putting your belly out there for the world to see requires a fair amount of chutzpah. There's a reason I haven't yet worked up the nerve to send Emily my picture. (Working on that!) But, media already does such a fine job objectifying women's bodies by making us headless or anonymous and thus, nothing more than a body part -- it's a little disorienting to realize that this time, the owners of these bellies have chosen to decapitate themselves.  

But these concerns mostly melted away as I began clicking through the bellies and reading how their owners talk about them: "I named it sunshine," "cozy," "soft and supple and MAGIC," are some of my favorite descriptors. These are bellies that have carried twins, powered through handstands, run marathons, been cut open for surgery and injected with life-saving medications. They prove, without a doubt, that your belly is so much more than what it looks like. And, by the way, what it looks like is: Amazing. 

PS. Want to share why you love your body, but too shy to post a photo? Comment on iVillage's own Body Image Scribble Board! We love hearing your stories! 

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