Do You Know What the Average Woman's Body Really Looks Like?


By: , SparkPeople Blogger
6/23/2012 2:00 PM   :  248 comments   :  259,874 Views

I've blogged before about my struggles with a post-baby body. Even though that was in February and my son is now 6 months old, I continue to have body image issues. The tradeoff is worth it, but it's still hard for me to accept that my body will probably never again look like it did before I had 2 children.

One area that's particularly frustrating is my belly. And judging from comments and questions I see on SparkPeople's Message Boards, I'm not alone. Every day there are lots of people (mostly women) asking how they can flatten their tummies. Many have had children, but some haven't. Most aren't expecting a 6-pack, but they would like to be able to button their jeans without the "muffin top" coming out over the top of the pants. I would put myself into this category.

Two health educators have started a blog called The Belly Project. The idea is to help women gain more self-acceptance of their bodies (specifically, bellies) by sharing anonymous pictures for the whole world to see. The pictures of their bellies are accompanied by information about them (age, and number of pregnancies, miscarriages and abortions they have had). When the project began, the originators asked family and friends to show their bellies and pose for the camera. Many were hesitant, but as soon as they saw some of the other pictures already posted, they felt more at ease.

For some reason, I'm fascinated with these pictures. Maybe it comes from my fixation on my own belly, but it's nice to see that bellies come in all shapes and sizes. I can identify with some of them more than others (because they look more or less like me), but in the end, everyone is unique and no two bellies look exactly the same. So instead of being upset that I don't have the abs of a fitness model, maybe it's time to embrace my belly for what it is- my own.

I think I'm also fascinated because I'm not used to seeing what real women's bellies look like. We've become so accustomed to the airbrushed and Photoshopped pictures on the covers of magazines, that it's easy to forget those images aren't real. Stretch marks, loose skin, some extra weight--that's what the average woman really looks like. It's no wonder we feel bad about ourselves.

What do you think? Is your belly a source of frustration for you? Does The Belly Project help you embrace the uniqueness of your body?

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  • 198
    I wish there were more pictures of people who had lost a lot of weight and had not been pregnant. I'm a 110 pounds lighter than I was at my heaviest (yeah) and have never been pregnant. It was disheartening that the only pics that looked like me had been pregnant. The one woman who had lost 120 pounds had gotten a tummy tuck. I'm looking forward to the day I have a baby so I can blame the 'pooch' on my kid and not my previously poor eating habits. - 8/21/2009   7:48:29 PM
  • MEM367
    When I just looked at the Belly Project pictures, I didn't think that many of them we as bad as mine in the stretch mark department. After just one child, I will never wear a bikini again despite losing the pregnancy weight!!! I'm totally self-conscious about my belly stretch marks because I was free of them for 25 years!! My baby girl was worth it, but it will take me a while to become comfortable with my belly again! - 8/11/2009   1:44:22 PM
  • 196
    Thank you so much for posting this. I think that women feel like those pictures are real even though we know they're not. They're not real and nor is the expectations of us women trying to look like them. Thank you so much once again to post this and it's a comfort to know that I'm not alone. :) - 8/7/2009   10:24:25 PM
  • 195
    what do you consider average? i have seen some that is so skinny they look like a bone. i like a little meat on my bones. - 8/7/2009   12:57:35 AM
  • SUZIE_Q3
    When I viewed the bellies, I did not see any that looked near as bad as mine. I am 66 and have one child. I never had a flat belly, but the pregnancy is not what stretched by belly. It was after my hysterectomy that I really got the hanging flab. It of course got worse as I put on weight. I'd like a tummy tuck, but it is not in the budget right now. - 7/7/2009   1:32:45 AM
  • 193
    I have a mixed feelings about my belly. I accept the fact that it looks the way it does because I've given birth to 3 children. During my last pregnancy, I didn't bounce back into shape because I was a single mom all of a sudden and my priorities changed...I didn't have the time to work out and go to dance classes like before. So, it is what it is 6 years later...a puffy, pouch with lots of stretch marks. The stretch marks are more of what makes me dislike my belly and feel self conscious because I can work on reducing the pouch. I highly doubt if I will ever have a 6 pack, how can you miss something you never had, lol. But, I will continue to workout so that I can at least look decent in a bathing suit and tanks tops again. - 7/4/2009   7:47:04 AM
    Until I was in my mid late 20's I was concidered underweight (now it is said to be slightly above a healthy weight). I had a great body, but took it for granted, looks did not mean that much to me. Most of my friends were very overweight and made no bones about evying me. I wish I were that weight again, but know I will never look like that again, at least not with a lot of help from a plastic surgeon.

    When I was pregnant with my son, I was told by the doctors at my clinic that if I did not gain at least 20 pounds they would not deliver me, but turn me over to the residents at the hospital. This scared me to death, but try as I might, I could only gain 19 pounds. Needless to say, they did not turn me over to the resident, but told me that they often needed to scare women into gaining a healthy weight durning pregnancy. I lost my baby weight fairly quickly but then I turned 30 and it has been a major strugle since then.

    I have gone from a woman's size 18 slacks/jeans to a juniors size 14, up from a size 12 a year ago. I am still a 1 or 2 XL in tops (maybe my big tummy is good - it gives my boobs a place to rest when I take my bra off at night!).

    I can see from the photos I am better of than some in the belly area, but worse of than others. - 7/3/2009   11:38:19 PM
  • 191
    Wow. This is a great thing to share. I'm 26 and when Britney Spears became famous and solidified that you can only be sexy if you can show your belly, I pretty much threw my hat in. I've been overweight pretty much my whole life and have always been extremely sensitive about my tummy - sort of wishing I could ignore it out of existance. I'm learning this whole thing is a process ...and even Britney has bad days. - 7/3/2009   12:03:01 PM
  • 190
    I used to feel that my flat belly was my best feature!! It was sooo flat. But, now after 3 kids and many more pounds, that is behind me. I am glad that I truely appreciated it back then. That is my thing now with young girls; I always want to tell them to appreciate their body now, because as they get older and the darn gravity thing and age set in.......... - 7/3/2009   11:20:41 AM
    i need to say I used to love my belly... i have never been thin but naturally curvy and I even have a picture of it, when i was 28 (6 years ago) and honestly I'm amazed, I thought i was fat and ugly then... I am now 50 pounds heavier and i miss my cute belly... it's one thing I am loking forward to uncovering and appreciating when i do!

    for now i need to love this one... no kids but it's not where i would like it to be...

    thanks for this site... i do want to share two photgraphy books that i have that show case naked bodies of all ages and sizes and they have really helped me work on accepting myself as I am... highly recommend them:

    Bodies and Souls - The Century Project

    This Is Who I Am

    - 7/3/2009   9:42:55 AM
    3 c-sections have left me with a nice little shelf on my belly. It is the last area to "give it up" & tone down on my body. I can, however, feel my more defined muscles underneath the scar tissue, extra skin & fat layer. I know that if I had unlimited funds, 6 weeks of time & a trusted plastic surgeon, I could have abs of steel. But I don't, so I won't & ultimately, I'm glad that I am who I am, belly & all! - 7/3/2009   8:59:37 AM
  • SHERI1969
    My belly, according to my mom and dad, is the problem that is most prominent with my weight. Other than that, I have a "good figure" in their eyes. In my eyes, it is my backside that is the problem, but when I DO look in the mirrors, it is my belly that is the issue. I've not had children and cannot, but I take meds that I MUST take and they CAUSE weight gain, and as usual, it goes to the belly first and then the butt. I'd like to tone my belly, but until I find out more about my herniated discs I can only walk. - 7/1/2009   5:01:50 PM
  • 186
    Yes, I have a huge problem with belly since that's where I store excess fat. Before losing the last 17 pounds I actually looked like I was pregnant. No, the belly project didn't help me. I mean, it's great when it's proportioned well, which mine never is, and knowing that it's the most unhealthy area of fat storage, then no, I know that I need to remover more and not stopping until I can. - 6/30/2009   7:56:48 AM
  • 185
    Love this...when's the butt project? - 6/28/2009   11:50:21 PM
  • 184
    I have a C-section scar on my belly and it has never bothered me in the least. It's sort of like a badge of honor, it says I'm a mother. :-) I do tend to carry my weight on my belly and since I have lost weight it has gone down a lot, but recently it isn't coming off my belly like it was at first. That does bother me because I think it makes me look "thick" in the middle. Airbrushed pictures of models on magazines and bill boards have not done this society any favors, but as long as women keep buying the magazines and the products that use these pictures to sell....they will keep coming at us. - 6/28/2009   1:25:01 PM
  • KELMEY82
    Even though I have not had kids I hate my belly. Thank you. - 6/28/2009   10:16:14 AM
    Just like mother Earth, our bodies are not our own. We are predesigned to receive, carry, and bear life. Whether we fulfill that mission or not- by choice or circumstance- it's our destiny.

    While I'm not exactly proud of my "belly", I am proud of my BABIES. I am blessed to have two beautiful children who were nourished and housed within my flesh. When I see their smiling faces, I tend to forget the fact that I have a belly in the first place. My "belly" is crawling around the floor playing with toys, or learning Spanish and Chinese.

    - 6/28/2009   9:05:40 AM
  • DIVA20099
    Thank you for reminding me that having three beautiful children is more important than having a flat belly! My husband tells me that he sees them when he looks at me. My problems with the way I look are mine and only I change both the way I look and how I feel about it. Thank you for reminding me of that. - 6/27/2009   11:39:51 PM
  • 180
    I love it! Going to post my belly soon! - 6/27/2009   2:41:21 PM
  • 179
    I love this post and the Belly Project web site! What we need is more web sites like the Belly Project, so that women and especially our daughters can see what real women look like - not strive for an image that is often airbrushed and impossible to achieve.

    It's interesting to see that event the thinnest, 0-baby bellies pooch a bit. That pooch is normal - like my husband has been trying to tell me for years! This website validates that (and gives my husband another "I told you so"!). - 6/27/2009   12:54:00 PM
  • 178
    Interesting project. Makes me reluctant to stretch my belly out with babies- but now that I'm into my 30's- it may be time to suck it up and put away my teeny bikinis. - 6/27/2009   11:17:29 AM
  • U8RMY007
    Good story, I am also a member of the stomach pooch. - 6/26/2009   6:49:28 PM
    I think part of the issue is cultural. I didn't grow up in America. Where I grew up, we started gym class & showers in 1st grade. Being naked around other women, and seeing other women in the nude, was never strange to me. Nobody would go into the bathroom or a private changing room to change clothes. I spent most of my life in an environment where women could stand and chat in the locker room without a towel around them.

    And so I grew up, and lived most of my life, in an environment where the naked women I saw weren't airbrushed covers on magazines, but moms and grandmas with the same parts as I have, some bigger, some smaller, some firmer, some saggier, some wrinkled, some not. And what has always struck me is how our uniqueness makes us beautiful. Every single one of us. In different ways.

    I think the Belly Project is a great start in a culture where we never see NORMAL people naked (only "perfect" or photoshopped people). - 6/26/2009   6:07:44 PM
  • 175
    The Belly Project is very interesting. My whole family stood over my shoulder and we looked at bellies. The kids went "ewwww" a few times but it was an interesting experience! We looked at each others bellies too! I do think it fosters understanding of accepting people's differences. I have a jiggly, stretch marked belly too and so do LOTS of others! - 6/26/2009   5:56:03 PM
  • 174
    What a cool project! I just scrolled through some of the entries and was struck by how many of those post pregnancy bellies look just like mine: squishy and rumpled from stretch marks. That was very validating. Thanks for sharing the website. - 6/26/2009   2:39:33 PM
    I love LOVE my belly. I am overweight, I have had 3 ABD surgeries and have scars all over my belly, along with strech marks, but I still love m belly. I love how it is soft, and a wonderful pillow for someone to lay on. Bellys are great things, big or small, and they should be embraced. - 6/26/2009   1:53:28 PM
  • 172
    I scrolled through the pics...Found a few that looked a bit like mine...Didn't make me feel good...I hate mine...I had 2 kids vaginal births and was a seregate for 2 sets of twins which I had trough a c-section...I hate thate my stomache is looks like this...I want to get a tummy tuck...But it's not in my budget right now...In the mean time I will lose weight and learn to eat healthy... - 6/26/2009   3:39:34 AM
  • 171
    If anything underscores the power of media it's this issue. First, most of the bellies in the project (at least the ones I uploaded) are attached to women under 40. Second "average" is NOT the same as "normal." It's 'normal' for a woman to look different after having given birth--and not just in the belly--but because all our usual examples come from young, un-mother women, our 'normal' isn't 'average' (it isn't 'normal,' either, but that's slightly off point). This 'problem' is one we've created for ourselves; it's exacerbated by the media (who can avoid looking at airbrushed, perfected images when they are literally everywhere?); and we're stuck with it.
    I just saw a newsflash that Michael Jackson has died. So has Farrah Fawcett. There is a coincidental juxtaposition of events--two media icons, who couldn't be more different. Neither was average, and whether either was normal is debatable--but both shaped their generation's impressions of beauty and power.

    The belly project is awesome. I hope it gets more 'average' as it goes on, so we see more of what is normal. - 6/25/2009   7:22:57 PM
  • SATIA62
    I've just gone through my files and can't find the pic of my belly but I'm sure I will find it if I keep searching. So maybe the pic won't find a home in my blog for a while but as soon as I find it, I'll share it. - 6/25/2009   6:49:35 PM
  • SATIA62
    This is wonderful and I think I'll post a picture of my belly here in my spark blog. Why not? I'm proud of having had twins and am not ashamed of the proof of my healthy delivery. - 6/25/2009   6:27:07 PM
  • 168
    The belly project is awesome. Although it unfortunately reaffirms my determination to never, ever have children. - 6/25/2009   4:31:15 PM
    Wow, I'm glad I read this, here I am insecure about my stomach..I've had 3 kids, and 5 the beginning of endometriosis (cysts) What am I complaining about? You can't have that miraculous flat stomach after kids I guess - 6/25/2009   4:30:43 PM
  • 166
    I have belly issues, thigh issues, flabby arms issues..but I don't let it beat me up..I just keep working at it and knowing it will take time I'll get myself to a healthy weight. I'm 44, never had kids (another story) and have really watched life pass me by.

    I do care what I look like but also realize I'm a work in progress..I'll never look like a 22 year old (not sure I want to)..I just want to be active and enjoy life. Have I embraced myself..sorta..I'm in a much better place than I was a year ago, I'm healthier, more toned (with more to go).

    I'm fine with who I am at this time in my life!!! - 6/25/2009   4:26:11 PM
  • 165
    I did make me feel better about mine. And I think most of us need to learn to dress our size, rather than sqeezing into sizes we used to fit. It decreases the "rollover" effect and really is more flattering. - 6/25/2009   4:25:21 PM
  • 164
    I used to be embarrased about my post-preg pooch too, but that pooch gave me two beautiful daughters, and I'm proud that I was able to grow such healthy babies. I can't wait to show off my body in a bikini/tankini, stretch marks and all! - 6/25/2009   4:20:05 PM
  • 163
    I've had a pooch from my earliest memory. I really think the media has an impact on how we view those pooches. Now that I'm losing weight, I think pooches on healthy women are adorable! (Mostly because the pooch is the top of the uterus...important reproductive part for women!) A male friend of mine expressed this same sentiment when I was a healthy, slimmer college student, and I can't wait to see that pooch again, thanks to the belly project! - 6/25/2009   4:16:43 PM
  • 162
    The Belly Project did help me embrace my belly and know that I was not alone in this struggle. And in all of that realize that the average woman is not a "stick figure", we have curves, lumps bumps and rolls. - 6/25/2009   3:35:50 PM
    The average womans body looks like the one in the mirror. We have curves, lumps, bumps, bruises, scars, dimples(some in places they shouldnt be) but who cares. The Aver. womans body is beautiful no matter how thick or thin it is. A woman in general is the most passionate, caring person...We are art, music, beauty. I could sit and stare at women all day, we're ALL perfect in our own ways!!! - 6/25/2009   2:39:54 PM
  • 160
    I don't care what the "average" woman looks like. When I see articles I want to see women that I want to look like. - 6/25/2009   2:06:38 PM
  • 159
    Frankly, I don't care. You can't expect your body to ever look the same after conception and it will definitely never be the same after birth. I've had five miscarriages, one still birth, and one live birth. I wear those stretch marks and flab proudly as a mark of important milestones in my life. My partners don't care, so why should anyone else's opinions matter? It's through their acceptance that I found mine.

    The problem isn't the bellies, it's people trying to reach unreasonable expectations for themselves. You're never going to have the exact same post-baby body you had before. Deal with it. - 6/25/2009   11:33:49 AM
  • 158
    I will still work on flattening my belly,but I'm not obsessed with it at my age - 6/25/2009   11:11:24 AM
  • 157
    After 13 surgeries my tummy definitely has a few problems and no matter how much I lose, the tummy does not seem to budge. I know it is but compared to my legs and arms, it is so yuck and being in my fifties does not help either.

    I will continue to work out and just have to be happy with the minor results I do get. - 6/25/2009   10:37:21 AM
  • 156
    I never had a belly before, no matter how much weight was on me my belly was always flat until at 40 when I had my first child. I hate it and will be checking out the belly project.l - 6/25/2009   10:06:43 AM
  • CHI124
    Belly Fat! I have always been overweight but with a small waist. I joined SP in Jan and started to lose weight but no matter what got smaller - I realized I had a belly and started to research Belly Fat. Here is what I discovered: 1)Belly Fat is different from fat elsewhere on your body (thighs, hips, etc) - why - because it seems that Belly Fat has a chemical component to it - hormones can cause this to appear (hence sometimes called the menopouch!) 2)When you have Belly Fat - this fat wants more and more and food and does not shut off - so you are always hungry - again a chemical component. 3)Belly Fat will start converting even some overeating into more Belly Fat - not hip, thigh or arm fat. 4) Belly Fat blocks insulin absorbtion - which also results in more fat and why considered the most dangerous of fat. 5) As women start to lose weight - they lose it outside in - meaning arms and legs and the last is the belly fat. 6) Even being 20% overweight can be cancer causing.
    What works for Belly Fat:
    1) Start adding Soy and whey protein to help with the hormonal component. 2)Broccoli has a blocking quality to the belly fat chemical that turns everything into fat (this fat supposedly is chemically different from other fat). 3) high intensity Interval training helps whittle away belly fat - actually overall body fat which eventually takes care of belly fat. 4) Be aware of your transverse adominal muscles also. 5)Lastly, I have found that taking fish oil capsules or some sort of healthy fat once a day helps also (i.e avocado, et).
    When I started SP, I went from 3-4,000 calories a day down to 2,000. - 220 lbs - 200 Then, I added exercise - treadmill 30 min 3 times a week - 190. It was until - I added the soy, fish oil, broccoli and interval training that my waist has started going down - I do not have a muffin top any longer but still have a pouch. I also became a vegetarian which is also supposed to help with all the chemicals that are in our food. These are just some things I found in looking at Belly Fat. I am not a doctor to know how true any of this is but my changes seem to be working and my crazy out of control hunger is now under control. If this helps anyone let me know.
    Thanks for such a great blog! - 6/25/2009   9:21:22 AM
  • 154
    Yes. I miss having a waistline. - 6/25/2009   12:23:08 AM
  • 153
    I too have always had a pooch. I have lost 25 pounds and still have one. My waist and tummy are a problem. I think have several surgeries through those muscles have not helped either. My core is strong now despite this dreaded pooch. - 6/25/2009   12:06:24 AM
  • 152
    I looked at the site, and did find that there were TONS of different shapes represented. However, the site didn't quite have the same effect on me. I'm 22 and the girls on there in my age bracket had AMAZING looking stomachs. It didn't really make me feel bad, but it definitely gave some good old fashioned motivation. :) - 6/24/2009   11:35:28 PM
  • 151
    My belly doesn't bother me. I don't have six pack any more but as I am getting closer to 50, having 6-pack abs is no longer important to me. I think the belly project is a great idea. - 6/24/2009   9:12:57 PM
    I am finally getting more accepting of my body and not being critical of what I have (and don't have). What a terrific site - it brings acceptance to a new level! - 6/24/2009   8:41:08 PM
  • 149
    well I am not loving my belly. 3 kids takes a tole. LOL. well it could be worst..I am not covered in stretch marks. But It was a rude awakening after having 3 kids. I can work on what I have. The body I have now. All is not lost. - 6/24/2009   8:34:32 PM

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