Julie Bowen and our Bellies

Last night was a sucker punch of bedtime crazy. My screaming preschooler woke his brother up twice between the hours of 8 and 9:30. I was back and forth to them and finally finished bedtime at 10:30, three hours after it had started. I’m still at my parents and felt sorry for myself. So I poured a bowl of M&Ms and sat in the bathtub talking saltily to my husband on the phone until I finally said, while staring at my “smushy belly” (as August describes it adoringly), “I can’t talk anymore. My belly’s too huge.” Because, of course, that’s a good reason for hanging up on your husband.

That’s why I don’t have a new post, but am sending you this throwback to the early days of Mama:Monk. (Like, 2 whole years ago!) It’s a reminder to me that I do love my belly. Because I do, even as I stuff it full of M&Ms.

* * *

Sculpture by Sigrid Herr via Sarah Bessey on Pinterest

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 believe in breastfeeding. I’m one of those crunchy types who breastfed as long as possible and then cried for days when I stopped. I 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 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 culture’s 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.



Filed under Motherhood

10 responses to “Julie Bowen and our Bellies

  1. This is timely for me. Over the weekend I was saying that I tried very hard to be tender to my body while I was nursing. I was feeding my baby! I kept him alive! What an amazing thing. Breastfeeding never made me feel great (or caused the pounds to melt off as people claim that it will), but I tried to respect the process.

    I weaned around 13 months, and for the past month I have not felt a lot of compassion for my body. I can’t get my milk to dry up and the scale is climbing up and up even though I am exercising again.

    I don’t know where that middle ground is, but this is a tough place to be.

    • I love the idea of being tender to our bodies, of showing them compassion. Kari, I hope that gets easier for you. You have so much going on right now with going back to work and weaning. Praying you can show yourself grace in this season, friend.

  2. beautiful post. I loved breastfeeding- It was heaven on earth. My body never will be the same, but over the years I have learned to “love the skin Im in”. Those three that grew inside of me, now all adults. I am proud to be a woman, a mother, a wife.

  3. This post really hit me.

    I suffered from depression from when our twins were about one until they were about three or four. A lot of this was due to the severe chronic pain of an undiagnosed tumor on my sciatic nerve. But my depression deepened as I stopped doing a good job of feeding myself—right around when I weaned the twins at 16 months. Money was always tight, and I couldn’t justify feeding myself the way I knew I needed to be fed, if I wasn’t pregnant or nursing. I had started to place *too* much value in my body’s role as a nurturer, and lost sight of my own inherent worth as a child of God.

    When I was pregnant with the twins, we read that gaining as much weight as possible, especially by week 20, was correlated with carrying twins to term. So we pushed the budget aside and gave me free rein to eat up! I gained 70 lbs, which on my bony frame was a great achievement. And I made it until the doctor ordered a c-section at 37.5 weeks, when I basically couldn’t walk anymore. All this time I had a sense of mission, to feed those babies. And it continued with the nursing, which I loved… even when they were 1 yo and to nurse them simultaneously was something of a zoo, with them punching each other on occasion.

    But it’s taken me several years to figure out that I’m important enough to feed well, too. And to reconcile eating well with the inevitability of the smushy tummy that will never go away. I know well that skinny and taut do not equal one another, with the post-kids belly.

    Thanks for this reminder to honor our bodies, Micha.

    • Thanks for sharing this, Sarah. Ugh. There’s that feeling of pregnancy, that you would do anything to keep your child(ren) healthy, no matter what it does to your body. And then there’s the daily-ness of seeing yourself in the mirror, of 6 am stomach crunches, and afternoon chocolate to get you into productive mode during naptime. It’s hard to remember that we’ve sacrificed something that doesn’t matter for the sake of something that is all-important…

      PS Nursing 1-year-old twins simultaneously?! You are seriously my hero, Sarah. 🙂

  4. Omigosh – our cultural obsession with skinny tautness is even worse than I thought. Julie Bowen is adorable. Julie Bowen has carried children. She has the body to show that. HOORAY for her. And for you and for any other woman who loves and cares for themselves before during and after childbirth. Thanks for reposting this. And prayers for the stresses of being separated from your husband, worrying about your mom and dealing with two babies who are out of synch and missing their daddy and their own beds. (I also ADORED Ed and I miss it.)

  5. Courtney L

    Amen! I have had to make a rule that I don’t let myself read comments under articles on public websites like the one you mentioned because it is always so sad and so maddening how many bitter, judgemental, angry people there are out there. Thanks for spreading the love instead! 🙂

  6. Your intro to this post made my day. You are speaking my nonsensical, total sense language here. Having little girls is pushing me to embrace the beauty of my own very average body, to push for healthy instead of skinny, to live out what I long for them to believe. It’s a reframing for me. Thank you for this, today.

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