I have heard from far too many parents that their teenagers don’t seem to know what their bodies really look like.  They are hypercritical, obsessive, and emotional.  They say things like, “I’m so fat” and “I wish I looked more like…” and they wince in the mirror.  The parents who bring this particular issue to me are often at a loss.  They see their child(ren) as beautiful, often stunningly beautiful.  They see lithe, fit bodies that are often held as our society’s ideal physique.  They see their children’s view of their bodies as diametrically different than their view of their children’s bodies.

I sigh.  I nod.  I listen.  This is a problem that plagues our American daughters, and is beginning to plague our American sons just as much.  The media attention and propensity towards airbrushing makes everybody – every body – just a little bit “less than” the impossibly perfect bodies we see in movies, commercials, music videos, online, in magazines, and everywhere else we look.

But yesterday, a young woman (19) contacted me via my Belly Project to let me know that her life-long dislike of her belly had been radically altered by seeing it in a photo rather than in the mirror.  This young woman I call Erin wrote me and my co-blogger and friend Christy Tashjian to thank us for bringing The Belly Project to her.  So with Erin’s permission, I posted her story on The Belly Project.  After her story, I wrote the following:

Erin’s e-mail reminded me why I love the Belly Project, why I volunteer my time and energy, resources that are not in abundant supply.  Erin’s experience is similar to many other women’s experiences.  Women often tell us how surprised they are by the beauty of their belly when they see it from a different perspective.  It seems to me, after corresponding with the hundreds of women who have shared their bellies, that an amazing number of women don’t see their belly as it exists in the world – rather they see it as something else entirely in their mind (and therefore in their mirror).

Women (and men) have asked if we really believed that all bellies are beautiful.  They ask, “But what about…” and then “Really??  But what about…”  They leave tacky, judgmental comments.  But I think these people haven’t truly immersed themselves in these bellies.  I do believe that they are all beautiful.  And a growing number of people agree with me.

One dear (male) friend said that he would rather look at airbrushed, supermodel bellies than “normal” bellies.  But he agreed to take a look through the pictures on this blog.  He was hooked!  He looked through every single belly, and found his entire understanding of the female body changing.  He came away with an understanding of the beauty in each belly on this site, and by extension the women’s bellies he sees around him every day.

To have influenced only my male friend and Erin in the way this site did, it has been worth every moment of time and energy it has taken.  And I know that it has influenced far more people than these two.  I am deeply grateful to the women who have taken the time and garnered the courage to send us pictures of their bellies, whether they are loved or not.  Because they are loved here.  All bellies are loved here.

But I wish that Erin did not have to find The Belly Project to learn to love her belly.  Rather, I wish I could throw out all of the judgmental crap that our society throws at young women.  I wish that Erin had never learned to dislike her stomach.  I wish that the eight year old in my daughter’s second grade class didn’t already know how to dislike her body, hadn’t already known how to dislike it two years ago.

Today I am angry and passionate about our society’s body image.  I am glad that I can provide some solace, some love, and some acceptance through The Belly Project.  But I wish that I didn’t have to.