Walking Guide

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


By: , SparkPeople Blogger
  :  273 comments   :  582,481 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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  • 273
    My belly is my toughest part to work with. Some of thst Is due I think to having hystericemy. (Spelling) - 8/21/2017   6:27:53 PM
    thanks for sharing - 4/16/2017   6:07:14 AM
  • 271
    So true! I obsess over my belly more than any other part. Maybe because it bears so many scars. Oh well, that's life. Some doctors just can't stitch us back the way we were. LOL - 2/18/2017   8:22:39 AM
  • 270
    I saw one young lady with a belly like mine....an actual protruding belly! Ladies, please post your pics! We won't see the older ladies if you don't post! - 6/23/2016   12:36:31 PM
  • 269
    I agree that it's sad there aren't more pix of mature women. I didn't see them all, but most were in their 20s, and most were on the slender side that I saw. And more colors would be nice as well. The lack of diversity made the sampling less effective for me. - 5/28/2016   12:16:05 AM
  • 268
    I love the diverse bellies. Some of them made me smile because I wish I had that tiny of a belly. I am glad for what I have though. I say I have Aphrodite's belly (even though Aphrodite has a cute little belly). - 12/2/2015   6:22:04 PM
  • 267
    It was so inspirational to look at all of the pictures of different bellies. It is so awesome to realize that there's such a variety in the world, and not just perfect lifeless covers. - 10/22/2015   2:54:36 PM
  • 266
    At 5'5" and 99 lbs I was embarrassed about my rounded belly until my art instructor (who happened to be a man) informed the class that, from the beginning of time, the rounded belly was the epitome of femininity. That statement did wonders for my self image. As for the muffin top? They go away when you wear the correct size. Unfortunately, my waist size and my hip size are not compatible, so I wear slim pants to fit my waist, which means they are not slim on the rest of my body, but no muffin top!. . .it's a trade off. 8-) - 10/22/2015   12:56:45 PM
  • 265
    nice to see many confident ladies in the comments! - 10/22/2015   12:54:55 PM
  • 264
    What is pathetic about this is that 48 was the oldest woman I saw...we are still here, and still care how we look after 48! This project is just like the magazines, just like the TV ads. Where are the real people? PS -I'm over 48...still a size 2 and proud of it!
    It takes a lot of work - 10/22/2015   12:38:35 PM
  • 263
    I am a recently turned 51 year old with one son and have had 7 miscarriages, a hysterectomy and am going through menopause. I don't expect to look like anyone else or my former 20 year old self but I would like to be healthy without a muffin top. I do like that we are all different and wonderful in our own way. - 10/22/2015   9:29:42 AM
  • 262
    Although I appreciate what this project is trying to accomplish, I found myself experiencing very mixed feelings as I viewed the pictures. The majority of the pictures are of very young women so it really didn't make me feel better about my belly. I turned 50 in June and after having three children, one at the age of 42, a hysterectomy, and going through menopause the last couple of years, to be perfectly honest this article didn't help my self-esteem one bit.

    I just know for myself that I am going to continue to work hard to attain a belly that makes me happy and comfortable in my clothing. I know it will never look the way it did when I was in my 20s, but I will be healthy and that is all that matters! - 10/22/2015   8:52:27 AM
  • 261
    At age 65 and having gone through multiple weight gains and losses, my recent 80 lb weight loss has left me with loose skin. And I say "so what?" I work to build my core strength and accept I'll never have the flat tummy of my youth. - 10/22/2015   7:56:06 AM
  • 260
    Visiting Morocco, I had the opportunity to attend hammam with friends who live there. Think big steam room with women of all ages lounging and gossiping... in the nude. Comfortable with themselves. As the only Westerners present, my mom and I were blown away by the experience. Partly because we just don't do "naked" togetherness in the States. Locker rooms, maybe. But this was SUCH a different experience and brought home for me that we women come in all shapes and sizes, most of us have at least a little pooch or hip/thigh, and we are all--without exception--lovely creatures. - 10/22/2015   7:55:21 AM
  • 259
    I embrace my belly! I have had three pregnancies and 4 surgeries where I was cut side to side (2 births and 2 hysterectomies), plus 7 other procedures. When I workout consistently my belly shows it (flatter); I have flaws (loose skin, scars,ect) but they did not come easily. - 10/5/2015   10:13:43 AM
  • 258
    I look at all these bellies in the blog...and all I see is beauty. The women who think they are hideous, or don't like their scars, or their distended bellies...they are all beautiful. Bad thing is...I wouldn't think the same about my own belly if I posted it and saw it. I need to learn to see the beauty in my own body as much as I see the beauty in everyone else. (And I refuse to read the comments left on the blog. Body shaming has no place in such a project, but I know it'll be there!) I admire the women with the courage to post their pictures. - 7/9/2015   11:11:53 AM
  • 257
    I have always had what I call a built in "fanny pack". It was a small purse in my 20's. A hysterectomy and 30 years later, my upper fanny pack has a companion, the ôlap bag". I once told a young child who was fascinated by the squishiness of my bellies, that it was my famine kit. Its purpose is to store fat for use as energy in the event a famine occurs. If Spark people every asks me to post my real body pic of my abdomen, I would do it. I have a sense of humor about it. If I had the dough I would see a plastic surgeon. - 4/23/2015   7:49:34 AM
  • 256
    I will never have a flat belly. Even at 124 lbs (I'm 5'5") I had a belly. I've never had a baby so that's not an excuse, but I did weight 200 lbs when I was 14 years old. The upper belly pudge that used to be in 3 belly rolls is now only one, right above my belly button and it will NOT go away. Nothing works and it is a everyday frustration for me. I try not to let it bother me too much after all showing off my belly is not at all important in life. - 3/19/2015   8:11:24 AM
    After I had a hysterectomy, my belly "blossomed". I decided if I'm going to have a belly, I'm going to use it! I began taking belly dance classes! I enjoyed them so much. Now I've moved and can't find any classes. I still dance at home. - 1/21/2015   11:25:58 PM
  • 254
    There's a lot of body shaming going on in the comments on the pictures on that blog. It's pretty awful. - 1/21/2015   10:49:44 PM
  • 253
    I have recently started watching a UK series called How to Look Good Naked. A fashion designer, Gok Wan, takes real women on a few week journey into loving their bodies just the way they are. He helps them find the right sized undergarments and clothing that flatters their shape. He does no airbrushing, photoshopping or surgery for any of them...he simply wants women to start loving what they've got. It is amazing how we never really see ourselves the way others see us.

    I would recommend this show to any woman who wants to glean tips and tricks for dressing your best and gaining an appreciation for your body just the way it is. - 1/21/2015   1:20:04 PM
    I accepted a long time ago that I will never have a flat belly. I am very short waisted so even when I weigh under my max weigh I still look like I am pregnant. My mother who is 80 and now weigh only 75 pounds still looks like she is at least 4 or 5 months pregnant. - 1/19/2015   5:29:40 PM
  • 251
    I don't understand why the blog has them list miscarriages and abortions...that seems odd to me, as neither stretches out your stomach (unless it was a miscarriage VERY late in pregnancy.) Am I missing something? - 1/7/2015   7:41:08 AM
  • 250
    While I don't agree with this article I applaude you for putting it out there.
    Many years ago I too was burdened with "childbirth" skin that torments me to this day (some 40 years ago).
    No, for me accepting it was never an option and never will be.
    As for dealing with it,exercise does help and depending on where you are on the age ladder you can tighten up things.
    As an older woman my advise to have it surgically removed if you plan NOT to be birthing again. : )
    Again, I am so happy to see this issue being given the attention it should.
    -shoreido- @ SparkPeople.com. - 1/5/2015   12:12:59 PM
    To be honest, I find that blog shocking rather than reassuring...but that's probably just me.

    I don't carry weight on my stomach; rather my thighs and butt.

    I also see a lot of naked women in the changing rooms at the gym and swimming pool and most of them don't look anything like what is shown on that blog...

    So; nope...don't find it inspiring in the slightest!

    I think it would be wiser if everyone stopped trying to pretend anyone finds average inspiring...reassuring, sure; but inspiring people are the ones we either wish we could be or set our minds to be more like...

    Looking at shots of average bodies does very little for most people's self esteem and just creates more unnecessary comparison in my humble opinion... - 1/4/2015   6:03:26 PM
  • 248
    I don't understand why women feel ugly when they're pregnant. It is the most special time a woman can go through.
    We sacrifice our appearance for the kid, but why dwell on it, other than having hormones take over emotions. Pregnant women are beautiful. No question about it. - 12/5/2014   8:06:09 PM
  • 247
    Average does not equal healthy. Moving against the crowd here; I find it disturbing that many people expect everyone to accept their extra pounds or fat levels. We should love who we are, but we should not settle for what we have if we can do better. - 11/6/2014   8:59:58 AM
  • 246
    Awesome article. Thanks for posting. - 10/17/2014   1:11:18 PM
    I think the idea is great! Whether belly, hips, thighs, etc., most people have something they would love to change, to varying degrees I'm certain, in our heaviest & even thinnest moment. We are our own worst critics. Though a constant struggle for myself, and I know I'm not alone, every day is a chance to try to focus on all the wonderful things our bodies, in all shapes & sizes can do. Thank you to all who were brave enough to share photos! - 7/30/2014   10:39:06 PM
    The article and website really hit home for me. I too can identify with some of the pictures. I wish the media would start to embrace the average woman. Thank you for sharing. The women in those pictures are very brave! I wish I had the courage. - 7/23/2014   10:19:41 AM
  • 243
    Weird... I have the muffin top and a big scar that goes from one side of my belly to the other, yet it doesn't bother me as much as the flab on the back of my arms. - 5/7/2014   9:47:41 PM
  • 242
    It sounds nice for all those who really feel really bad about their bellies. I don't want to embrace my belly, I learned not to hate it, cause I know it doesnt go away over night, but I also learned we don't have to except it for life. I feel as though if I embraced it I would never care if I lost it or not. And I do want to loose it for more than one reason. Health reason especially, the back and other areas just don't work so well with a big saggy belly on me. Maybe it's my body structure, I just am in pain and not able to do so much . I am very short and of a medium to small frame, the belly really gets in my way. And I feel so great when it has diminished. I am able to move around more etc. I am not trying to dis the belly project. I realize the importance of it, still I am not gonna sit back and be happy with what I have that is not motivation for me. And I am speaking just for me, no one else, and have no expectations of others to have the same feelings. - 2/4/2014   10:45:12 PM
    I think I have mixed feelings on this. Some of the bellies of teenaged girls look the way I did when I was that age, very overweight but young enough for it to sort of be cute. It makes me sad because I hated my body so much then and though I definitely looked better then, before 3 pregnancies and the birth of one amazing healthy child, I have more confidence now at 30 than I did then at 15. I've talked about getting a tummy tuck but everytime I do my husband reminds me that I always say losing weight is about being able to do what I want to do and not about how I look. So I don't think that is in my future. He'd never let me live it down. - 10/28/2013   4:11:46 AM
  • 240
    The belly project is amazing. I'm glad I stumbled across this blog ... I don't know if I would have found it otherwise. - 8/22/2013   9:39:38 AM
  • 239
    I love the belly project, even submitted a picture. People are all shapes and sizes, that is nice to know. - 8/15/2013   4:52:23 PM
  • 238
    My 22-yr old is about to have a baby, and she cries about the weight she's gained and the stretch marks. I think I'll put my flabby belly with the faded stretch marks & appendectomy scar on display - maybe I can talk her into doing it as well! Yeah, some of the under-20 pics are annoying, until you read the caption about "recovering from an eating disorder" - and I thought I had problems! To be so young & dealing with that, so sad! Of course, I am once again trying to "do something about my weight" and to "motivate" myself, I bought this Women's Health magazine with Maria Menous on the cover at what, a size 2? I don't want to be a size 2, an 8 would be great, but yes I'd love to have those abs of hers! As for the picture above, I wouldn't mind looking like the redhead in the center, but I suppose I should just want to look like ME as a size 8. I appreciate all the women who've posted pics on the Belly Project - THANKS!!! :) - 8/5/2013   11:01:19 AM
  • 237
    I looked through loads of the pictures at the Belly Project. imo it's important to read the captions on the photos-- there are a bunch of teenage girls (never pregnant) and some of those are recovering from eating disorders. It would be a serious mistake to just look at the pictures and then compare your 30 or 40 or 50 year old post-babies body to a 16 year old girl with an eating disorder.

    I don't think it's meant to be something to "aspire" to-- as in, that 16 year old looks great and I (at 58) *ought* to look like that. Or, wow, that 30 year old gal has a huge belly so it's okay if I give up on the abs exercises and watching what I eat. Personally I see it as just, "real-life people look like.... this". All shapes and sizes and scars and stretch marks and cellulite. And YAY for the brave woman who photgraphed herself with her colostomy bag in the shot.

    Personally I feel better about my own belly after looking at the photos. It's almost a relief to see pictures of real people, instead of just the bikini bods of celebrities splashed all over the place. My belly is a lot better than it used to be, although it's never going to look like a 16 year old's.

    I wish Sparkpeople would use more models to illustrate their articles etc, who did not have "perfect" bodies. imo this website is just as guilty of portraying a healthy lifestyle as always meaning skinny arms and legs and a flat belly and no cellutlite etc-- as all the other fitness & women's magazines and websites etc. I'm willing to bet not a single one of the gals they use in their pictures is larger than a size 6. - 8/1/2013   8:43:37 AM
  • 236
    Yes! I am 66 years old, am overweight, and have real issues with my belly, which purtrudes and has bumps and seams.

    I MUST get my photos upped to the Belly Project!

    I would like to see more women post photos who are older and whose bodies have gone through a lot of life.

    Very refreshing, and makes me feel more accepting of my body which is NOT the type we see in film and on magazine covers. - 5/10/2013   11:10:12 PM
  • 235
    I have not met a woman who does not feel that her belly is a problem area, including myself. Thanks for the information on the Belly Project. I do think that education and awareness help us (especially women) to embrace a more realistic body image. So many images are thrown at us from birth that we tend to cling to those images even though they don't represent our mothers, sisters, aunts, girlfriends or our own selves. REAL WOMEN. Love it!! - 4/10/2013   11:08:58 AM
  • 234
    I'm 58 and very overweight, and I've always hated my post-C-section (x 2) belly, with its miles of stretch marks, but seeing what other women REALLY look like makes me feel a little bit better. Being female, I would, of course, still like for it to be smaller (as another poster said, we're our own worst critics), but this has helped squelch the self-loathing. Great idea, and thanks, both for the project, and the women who took photos of themselves! - 4/4/2013   12:12:45 PM
  • 233
    this is such a great article! I am definitely sharing the link to the belly project to my sisters. I know that we've each had our fair share of body image issues. I wish I had seen this as a teen. Thankfully, I have a chance to show them while one is still a teen. - 4/3/2013   2:47:05 PM
  • 232
    for me, my belly is not an area where I am particularly self-conscious. I'm more concerned about my thighs and legs... If there could be a project of women showing off thighs and legs, I think that would help me understand what is truly average. - 3/20/2013   8:35:49 PM
  • 231
    interesting... - 3/16/2013   5:12:41 PM
    Oh, I came back for another comment. We ladies need to change FASHION DESIGNERS so that they will accommodate our beautiful bellies...or at least give us more material to HIDE them! LOL!!! - 3/13/2013   11:44:35 AM
    What is wrong with us is that we women compare ourselves to each other, and the men in our lives DON"T! I am a pleasingly plump 61 year old and had 8 children and a partial hysterectomy at age 39, and just recently had an umbilical hernia repaired. Can you gals imagine what MY belly looks like? But, ladies, my 64 year old husband thinks I look just fine, and can still chase me around the bedroom. Also, to make you all really feel good, years ago I read a magazine article where a columnist was talking about Marilyn Monroe and he got down right erotic describing her BELLY! It's the truth! I was around then, before some of you sweet young things were even born. Guys really LOVE voluptuous women! - 3/13/2013   11:33:16 AM
  • 228
    Looks to me like a lot of you have 1. not looked at very many of the photos on that website if you think they are all people with no belly problems, and 2. you've missed the point if all you've done is look at the ones that are nicer than yours and become depressed. I suggest you look some more. Use your browser's Find function to search for the text string An Huynh and read the article that is posted among the pictures. - 3/3/2013   12:15:02 PM
    Thanks for the great blog and sharing the site. .......hmmmmm aren't we all just our worse critics!!!! We would never let our friends be talked about the way we talk about ourselves! - 2/28/2013   12:39:32 PM
  • 226
    It is amazing how different our bodies are. What a wonderful idea Belly Project is to make us aware that we really are the norm and beautiful in our own way. I now have a better appreciation for my 59 year-old belly I always wished was firmer and flatter and smaller and ... now is lovely. - 2/23/2013   7:52:11 PM
  • 225
    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. - 2/14/2013   5:28:38 PM
  • 224
    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. - 11/3/2011   5:42:49 PM

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