SparkPeople Blogs  •  abs  •  body image

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

By , SparkPeople Blogger
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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It looks like most of the photos on the Belly Project are young women with no children. I see many on there who have/had eating disorders and perhaps that may help them to see themselves as normal when comparing themselves to women who've had babies and are carrying extra pounds. After looking at about 30 photos, all I feel is more depressed about my own crappy body. I did quite well dropping pounds after my son was born (after yo yoing up), but a knee injury derailed me and I went back to my same ol' eating habits. I continue to deal with knee issues and colds/flu and it's nearly impossible to get into a workout routine. I am so frustrated and well.............hopeless. Report
I"m not sure it helps to compare ourselves to others but its something human nature seems to need to do.

Whether a belly is fab or flab, I think we need to focus on what we CAN do to change the situation and accept what we can't.

I had 3 kids (youngest is 17) and recently lost 20 lbs. I am working out and focusing on core exercises. I haven't felt so good in 15 years and I'm not sure I looked much better then. My belly has improved a lot with exercise but excess skin sometimes needs surgery or just acceptance. No point in comparing. Report
Yikes! If that's what we are all to look like, well I fail. I have had 3 pregnancies and I would LOVE to have some of those bellies! I love GODDESSANGIE's remarks above!
hmmmm.....well after checking out the pictures I am even more depressed then before. After having had to c-sections and loosing some weight my belly looks nowhere close to the so called 40 year old belly shown....ugh!! I don't think it will ever come close without the help of surgery!! Report
Yeah I looked through these photos and NONE of them resembled what I look like, most of them look like people who are in shape without a gut problem Report
My belly is my #1 problem area! It was nice to read this and see others that feel the same. Report
Thanks you so much for this blog! I have 3 areas of my body that I hate, hate, hate, HATE, and loathe... The #1 area is my belly. I didn't have a flat belly before having kids, and I definitely don't have one now. I keep telling myself that it's possible, while really not believing it! Report
im a 14 year old girl, and i found this website because i was curios and googled "average women" After feeding through the airbrushed photos and porn i found this picture in the post above and saw this website.
i hate how the world runs on all this crap, making every girl, and possibly guys (i dont know), feel self conscious and hate everything about themselves. i know for a fact that i would feel so much better if people used these photos instead. that model on the top right of the site, i mean really?! go away! i hope that i can help get things like the photo above more famous. i dont understand why no one has done that yet. well maybe someones tried, but still. come on everybody! Report
Wow. I thought I looked ok for my age (33)--I'm pretty thin and have a small "muffin top" thing going...and I have to agree w/some of these posts...even looking at the girls my age, it made me feel worse. I think only the girls who didn't think they looked that bad agreed to pose, which is sad. I think it was almost to show off how good they looked, subconsciously at least. Report
I like my tummy and want to see the thigh project. I know cellulite is normal, but it's hard to find it attractive and I have a lot of it, even though I'm pretty lean and strong. Report
I wished I could have seen this as a teenager. maybe then I wouldn't have had the body issues I did. I think more young girls and older ones should see this. that, or we need them to look at pictures of real tenenagers of all sizes. Now if only we could see more pics of the husbands/boyfriends kissing her post-partum belly. Report
i'm gonna send them my forty-year-old diastasis-distended belly pic with miles of stretch marks, a two-inch belly button, c-section scars hidden by my droopy skin, cute little umbilical hernia, and a laparoscopy scar resembling a second belly button to make all y'all feel better! :D

While viewing the bellies in the Belly Project, I was hoping to see one like mine. After three children via 2 c-sections (one set of twins) and a hysterectomy, I still love my healthy belly even though it's not so cute or flat! Report
First of all, most of the woman in those pics had pretty good bellies to start with so no, that didn't help. For me, even when I was thinner I was conscious of my belly cuz of all the gazillion purple stretch marks I still have (2 pregnancies, my youngest is 7). I could never wear a bikini for that reason alone. Report
Love my belly? Are you serious? I absolutely hate that pudgy little hang over the top of my jeans and make me feel fat thing! I plan to save up some money and have it surgicall altered. I have tried everything. I had a personal trainer and all that but ever since I had an appendectomy, hysterectomy, and gall bladder removal, I've had a pudge. I should have insisted upon a tummy tuck but I was in the military and they wanted to do the bare minimum.

I hate my belly and I don't think pictures of other people's bellies will help me love mine! That's how I feel about mine. I glad others are able to embrace and love theirs but I can't save money fast enough to get rid of mine. Report
Interesting article Report
I absolutely love the bellie project, all he different shapes and sizes, the history, and the reality of life. I found this both inspiring and comforting, I remember the first time I showed my c section scar to a close friend, about 3 months after my 9lb 10 oz 24 1/2 inch baby boy was born...... I had never looked at it because I was afraid, she convinced me it couldn't be that bad she had seen others. Still afraid to look myself I let her take a peek, imagine my surprise and curiosity when she that's so small and he was such a big baby !...... I had to see for myself, she got a mirror and I was amazed. The second section was even better, new techniques and less scar tissue ...I have 3 boys all close to 10lbs at birth, 2 sections, 1 vbac, stretch marks and a smiley face scar I wouldn't give back for anything, it was part of growing up ! Report
I think women's bellies record the stories of our lives as fertile, potential bearers of new life and that we are beautiful no matter what age or size.
In times past, a round, full belly was considered most beautiful, a sign of vitalty and health!
This is why paintings such as Botticelli's Venus have women depicted with protudIng bellies. Report
After looking through a few of the Belly Project, I actually feel worse about my belly. I thought most of them looked way better than mine and when they are older and/or have had more children, it makes me feel like not only will I never have the belly that I envy, I'll never even have one that looks "average." Report
my wife loves it Report
I just got aggrivavted reading the belly blog. My stomach looks horrid compared to some of those. I have 3 children I'll be 40 this year. Of coarse I had three large children. 10 lbs 7 oz to be exact all 3 were 21 inches long. My belly shows the wear and tear. I work on it daily but so far it is still there...Those bellies on there looked pretty darn good I thought! Report
Inspiring! I look at my daughter after she's just had her third baby and she has her cute little six pack back already. I never really had one of those in the first place. Yet, everybody says we look alike. I think we all see ourselves through very different glasses than others see us. Report
Absolutely the coolest thing I've read/looked at in a while. Maybe I'll submit my belly! Report
Thank you for your blog. Report
I can definitely say I hate my belly. I've had 2 C-sections, & like most other women, have the nasty little hang over the scar. I've lost weight before & the pooch was considerably smaller. So, I'm back on the mission to decrease its size. I don't wear a bikini but I do wear a 2 piece with a skirt bottom. I'm on my way to having a more attractive midsection.... Report
I'm frustrated with my belly, but it's because I know I gained it all in the last two years! (I am now avoiding vending machines like the plague). I like this idea; I've always fought with my lower belly (which pokes out no matter what size I am) and this is helping me to deal with the fact that I'm stuck with it, good or bad.

I also like to look at classical art to make myself feel better. Nothing like seeing the picture of Venus and realizing not even her belly is perfectly flat to give you a self esteem boost. :-) Report
Although I have never been a big fan of my tummy as it has been a consistent trouble spot since childhood, I accept it and myself. I don't find the Belly Project particularly inspiring because none of those women look anything like me. Great idea, and glad it works for others though. Report
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. Report
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! Report
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. :) Report
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. Report
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. Report
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. Report
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. Report
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. Report
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.......... Report
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

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! Report
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. Report
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. Report
Love this...when's the butt project? Report
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. Report
Even though I have not had kids I hate my belly. Thank you. Report
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.

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. Report
I love it! Going to post my belly soon! Report
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"!). Report
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. Report
Good story, I am also a member of the stomach pooch. Report
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). Report
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