At last there’s a new ‘bikini body’ ideal – and it’s one with stretch marks

Women are sharing images of their post-pregnancy physiques, scars and all

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The Independent Online

We’re experiencing something akin to a body revolution at the moment, a backlash against the unrealistic ideals of female beauty – and it comes from a somewhat surprising place: for sisters (thank you Eurythmics, Aretha Franklin) are doin’ it for themselves.

US photographer Jade Beall has made it her mission to celebrate the shapes of women after they have given birth in “a world that thrives off women feeling insecure” with her new book, The Bodies of Mothers. Rachel Hollis, a mother-of-three, recently posted a photograph of her post-pregnancy 'flabby' belly on the beach on her Facebook page, where it’s been seen more than 10 million times. Rachel captioned the shot with an inspirational message for all women: “They aren't scars ladies, they're stripes and you've earned them. Flaunt that body with pride!”

At last, we’re celebrating ‘real’ bodies, and in the process, we’re redefining what it means to be beautiful – and it couldn’t come soon enough. For we’re still living in a time where celebrity magazines delight in pointing out the – “shock! horror!” – cellulite of the rich and famous, each garish ‘bikini body’ or ‘baby bump’ spread designed to taunt and to tantalise. Some women are lauded for snapping back into shape in record time after giving birth, amid talk of delivery room lunges, diet tips and unrealistic, post-natal training sessions. Others are lambasted for not getting their 'pre-baby body' back fast enough.

Self-styled lifestyle guru Gwyneth Paltrow, she of the kale juice and quinoa detoxes believes there is “no excuse” for not losing your baby weight. "Every woman can make time – every woman," she said after giving birth to her second child in 2006.

But while Gwyneth may claim to be ‘incredibly close to the common woman’, she also has the resources – and childcare – to work out for two hours a day with a celebrity trainer, whereas the vast majority of ‘normal’ mums can barely move at all after giving birth (other than from the bedroom to the sofa, and then to the remote control to weep hormonally through back-to-back episodes of Girls or Orange Is The New Black).

The Bodies of Mothers: Project shows the real beauty of motherhood
Lara Stone bares her post-baby body in Photoshop-free photoshoot

Given time, once you’ve kicked (or just got used to) the pain, shock and sleep deprivation, there’s a plethora of options, from ‘buggy fitness’ in the local park to post-pregnancy yoga – and lugging a 10lbs infant around certainly helps tone your biceps. But here’s a novel idea: why don’t we take the competition and pressure off being ‘perfect’, and pile on the support and acceptance? Praise those that have been through the exquisite trauma of childbirth, and have come out on the other side, forever altered; teach new mothers to be proud of their C-section scars, rather than hiding them away; and stop listening to those who tell us to be ashamed of our flabby stomachs and oddly-sunken belly buttons.

Of course, just as there is no ‘perfect’ size 10, we can’t expect a ‘one size fits all’ approach to the way people feel about their bodies, either. At six months pregnant, I agreed/was gently coerced to ‘do a Demi Moore’ (the actress shocked the world in 1991 when she posed nude for the cover of Vanity Fair, while seven months pregnant) and took part in a naked photoshoot for a magazine. I too had stretch marks to worry about, and was concerned about what friends and family generously called the ‘softening’ of my body – but did it nonetheless, curious to document how it would make me feel, and determined not to shy away from the truth about what I looked like with a new life inside me. And while it’s not something I display on the living room wall – and I certainly wouldn’t post it to Facebook – I still keep a copy of that centrefold tucked away inside my wardrobe door, next to the mirror, to remind myself of that amazing journey.

For me, a daily reminder of my once-swollen belly – now a vibrant three-year-old – is proof enough that all bodies are beautiful: lumps, bumps, cellulite, scars... and even ‘softening’.

So celebrate your stretch marks, have a party for them if you like – for as Rachel Hollis would say (and, no doubt, Aretha), you’ve earned them.