For a given value of “normal”…

As you’re maybe aware, I have been diligently working away on The Belly Project.  It’s gotten a pretty huge response – the other day we had almost 1600 people come look at our bellies!  Wow!

So here’s what we say about ourselves over there:

Women (and sometimes men…you know who you are…) can be obsessed with their bodies. Hair, nails, toes, skin, breasts, hips, eyes, they all get fixated on. But perhaps nothing is as preoccupying to us as our bellies. Our bellies are intimately related our sexuality and to our reproductive lives. It’s a complicated interaction, that confluence of sex and babies.

So, with that in mind, this blog is a place to come and put our bellies in perspective and to share them anonymously with the great wide Internetz.

So I’ve been spying on the discussion boards and other places where people have put links to the project, mostly because I’m curious what people have been saying.  Mostly the response has been a pretty huge, “Wow, I am actually normal!” and “Oh my gosh, how liberating!”  This idea of these images being liberating – freeing – is one I had not considered before starting the blog with my friend Christy.  But it is certainly the form that a lot of the feedback and comments are coming in.

But there has been this other group who look at these pictures and say, “See, I’m not normal!”  And I’ve been thinking about that group of women.

I am not here (or there) to judge women or their bellies, but rather to reduce the judgment.  It is never my goal to set up a site where women come to see others’ bellies and think theirs is not as beautiful and whole and normal as each and every one that is already up.

In the initial few weeks of our project, before we had any views, we were mostly just putting up pictures of our bellies and our friends’ bellies.  So Christy and I were walking among our friends wagging our iPhones around, begging them to drop their drawers (if only a few inches) and bare more of their reproductive history than they perhaps had done before.  It was an enlightening experience, seeing our friends in this light.  Each and every single woman started off by saying “No.”  Then I’d show them a few other belly pictures I’d already taken.  And they would waffle, because they liked the idea of participating.  They asked if Christy and I had already put our bellies up, and they were comforted when I said we had.  (My belly is actually the banner belly at the top of the page.)  Then our friends, enlightened feminists all of them, would sigh and agree with some trepidation.  Some of them asked to go somewhere more private, some lifted shirt right there among the gentiles.

After I snapped their picture, I’d whip my phone around and show them their pic.  And do you know what their reaction was?  They smiled.  They tipped their head to the side.  They said, “Oh, that’s kind of cute!”

Our bellies look different to us when we’re looking down at them, or reflected in the mirror.  Our bellies are beautiful.  They are an elemental part of us, this center of our bodies.  And they are beautiful and unique, each and every one.

So it’s not that I’m hoping our belly project will show women that they’re “normal,” whatever that means.  But rather that their belly is on a continuum of bellies that are each fabulous in their own way because their are our own.

About Karen Rayne

Dr. Karen Rayne has been supporting parents and families since 2007 when she received her PhD in Educational Psychology. A specialist in child wellbeing, Dr. Rayne has spent much of her career supporting parents, teachers, and other adults who care for children and teenagers.


  1. One reason I haven’t taken that photo myself is because I think the state of my belly has more to do with food than either sexuality or reproduction. Of course, that is also tied in with reproduction, in the evolutionary sense, and with he general eating disordered culture we live in. But it doesn’t seem to fit here without those issues being part of the discussion.

  2. But Ruth, I do believe that our relationship with food also goes back to sexuality (desire) and reproduction (holding and nourishing).

    And I guess more to the point, our bodies are inherently tied to our sexuality. And so regardless of how or why your belly is one way or another it is still a relevant and welcome part of this continuum and conversation!

    So of course it is fine for you not to contribute your belly picture. But you are invited to, and you would be most welcome.

  3. I guess what I meant was that I didn’t see food / eating as part of the conversation on the bellyproject site. so as I browse the pictures, I find that third issue glaringly invisible. So, I would say that the “confluence of sex and babies” really misses the point. The way a woman’s belly looks is tied far more to her relationship with food and exercise than to the number of pregnancies she has had. Doncha think? So your datapoints of age and reproductive history are missing a lot. I just think it needs to be part of the conversation, and it seemed to be missing.

  4. Ah yes, sure, but how do you quantify food as easily as you quantify reproduction? Similarly, physical activity should be included. And socio-economic status. And I’m sure other things as well. But all of these things can’t be included, not really, not within the scope of the current project.

    Unless you have a suggestion of what to include and how to include it?

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