A couple of weeks ago, I noticed a link on Twitter to an article about a photo of actor Julie Bowen breastfeeding her twins. There was some fuss made about her desire to show the photo when she appeared on The View. The talk show made a decision not to display it, which had some breastfeeding advocates up in arms about our culture’s willingness to display breasts when it comes to sexuality but hide from them when breasts are actually being used for their intended purpose. I was drawn to this story, first of all because to me Julie Bowen will always be Carol Vessey, the beautiful, unrequited love of Ed from the TV show of the same name in the early 2000s. Ahhh. Those nights of watching Ed in my Abilene apartment on an uncomfortable couch with Molly and a Papa John’s pizza. Cue nostalgic music.
I was also interested in seeing the photo (I’ll link to it here instead of posting so you can choose whether or not you want to look at it) because I love breastfeeding. I’m just one of those crunchy moms who breastfed as long as possible and then cried for days when I stopped. I just loved it. I didn’t just love how it connected me to my son in a way that no one else in the world could connect; I also loved how it connected me to the billions of women who ever lived on this earth and fed their children. In our modern life, we have changed everything about how we exist. Electricity, technology, fashion, food. Our lives look nothing like the lives of those who lived 300, 400 years ago. But, we all breastfeed the same way. Mouth to nipple.
Something I didn’t expect though, in seeing that photo, was the link on The Huffington Post’s site to Julie Bowen in a bikini. She is obviously fit. Her muscles are defined. She’s a tiny thing. And I, unlike all 124 people who commented, was grateful to see that her stomach was no fake Hollywood, post pregnancy belly. Her belly button is stretched, her skin is loose. In short, she’s the mother of three (including one year old twins) and it shows.
I read the comments in shock at the general hate readers had toward this woman’s body, as if she had done something sickening to them, as if she and her 120 pound frame were walking around bikini clad in order to cause massive in-mouth vomiting wherever she trod. Readers felt lied to by her small, clothing covered body on the TV show Modern Family. Whatever they had imagined of her, the reality was more than disappointing.
Glancing at those comments stung me. I know, I know. I’m not naive about our cultures obsession with body perfection (meaning: skinny and taut at all costs, despite age or life situation). I know that our society is full of Kardashian watching, porn obsessed, image hungry IPad users. But really? Does my culture despise women that much?
Are we so afraid of women actually looking like their bodies have done something miraculous? Look, I’d love to have the flat belly I enjoyed at age 17 (it was downhill after that) and I’d love for my belly button to be its cute round former self. (Wide and wrinkly with a stretched piercing scar doesn’t do it for me.) But, look at what my body made! He’s a person. With a brain and emotions and an intense love for dinosaurs and shooting hoops.
And so I will honor this belly, which did not cooperate with the intensive two month Crossfit training I put it through last year, which will never snap back to its pre pregnancy tight-skinned glory. And I won’t apologize. I’m a thirty-year-old woman who has earned a stretched belly button.
And, friends, I hope that as I get older, I won’t complain about this body to my kids, that I will somehow be able to teach them that there is honor and joy in aging, that we earn the imperfections we carry with us just as we earn our scars and every memory attached to them. I hope I can teach them that boobs are not just sex symbols and that breast-feeding is not gross or embarrassing. I hope they believe that their value is larger and deeper than whatever 124 online commenters may have to say about their flaws.
This is a freakishly broken world. I hope we can live out an honest and authentic beauty in the midst of it.
Here’s to our bellies, ladies.