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


By: , SparkPeople Blogger
6/23/2012 2:00 PM   :  256 comments   :  299,281 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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  • 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- @ - 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
    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
  • 227
    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
  • 223
    Yikes! If that's what we are all to look like, well I fail. I have had 3 pregnancies and I would LOVE to have some of those bellies! I love GODDESSANGIE's remarks above!
    - 11/2/2011   9:23:32 AM
  • 222
    hmmmm.....well after checking out the pictures I am even more depressed then before. After having had to c-sections and loosing some weight my belly looks nowhere close to the so called 40 year old belly shown....ugh!! I don't think it will ever come close without the help of surgery!! - 2/6/2011   5:31:49 PM
  • 41SUCKS
    Yeah I looked through these photos and NONE of them resembled what I look like, most of them look like people who are in shape without a gut problem - 1/26/2011   12:29:01 PM
    My belly is my #1 problem area! It was nice to read this and see others that feel the same. - 1/5/2011   7:20:17 PM
  • 219
    Thanks you so much for this blog! I have 3 areas of my body that I hate, hate, hate, HATE, and loathe... The #1 area is my belly. I didn't have a flat belly before having kids, and I definitely don't have one now. I keep telling myself that it's possible, while really not believing it! - 1/5/2011   7:08:18 PM
    im a 14 year old girl, and i found this website because i was curios and googled "average women" After feeding through the airbrushed photos and porn i found this picture in the post above and saw this website.
    i hate how the world runs on all this crap, making every girl, and possibly guys (i dont know), feel self conscious and hate everything about themselves. i know for a fact that i would feel so much better if people used these photos instead. that model on the top right of the site, i mean really?! go away! i hope that i can help get things like the photo above more famous. i dont understand why no one has done that yet. well maybe someones tried, but still. come on everybody! - 11/28/2010   1:30:29 AM
  • PHIX95
    Wow. I thought I looked ok for my age (33)--I'm pretty thin and have a small "muffin top" thing going...and I have to agree w/some of these posts...even looking at the girls my age, it made me feel worse. I think only the girls who didn't think they looked that bad agreed to pose, which is sad. I think it was almost to show off how good they looked, subconsciously at least. - 11/3/2010   3:14:57 AM
  • 216
    I like my tummy and want to see the thigh project. I know cellulite is normal, but it's hard to find it attractive and I have a lot of it, even though I'm pretty lean and strong. - 8/3/2010   11:05:19 AM
    I wished I could have seen this as a teenager. maybe then I wouldn't have had the body issues I did. I think more young girls and older ones should see this. that, or we need them to look at pictures of real tenenagers of all sizes. Now if only we could see more pics of the husbands/boyfriends kissing her post-partum belly. - 5/3/2010   4:51:01 PM
    i'm gonna send them my forty-year-old diastasis-distended belly pic with miles of stretch marks, a two-inch belly button, c-section scars hidden by my droopy skin, cute little umbilical hernia, and a laparoscopy scar resembling a second belly button to make all y'all feel better! :D

    I LOVE MY BATTLE SCARS - 5/2/2010   11:54:05 PM
    While viewing the bellies in the Belly Project, I was hoping to see one like mine. After three children via 2 c-sections (one set of twins) and a hysterectomy, I still love my healthy belly even though it's not so cute or flat! - 5/2/2010   9:56:46 AM
  • 212
    First of all, most of the woman in those pics had pretty good bellies to start with so no, that didn't help. For me, even when I was thinner I was conscious of my belly cuz of all the gazillion purple stretch marks I still have (2 pregnancies, my youngest is 7). I could never wear a bikini for that reason alone. - 5/2/2010   9:25:53 AM
  • 211
    Love my belly? Are you serious? I absolutely hate that pudgy little hang over the top of my jeans and make me feel fat thing! I plan to save up some money and have it surgicall altered. I have tried everything. I had a personal trainer and all that but ever since I had an appendectomy, hysterectomy, and gall bladder removal, I've had a pudge. I should have insisted upon a tummy tuck but I was in the military and they wanted to do the bare minimum.

    I hate my belly and I don't think pictures of other people's bellies will help me love mine! That's how I feel about mine. I glad others are able to embrace and love theirs but I can't save money fast enough to get rid of mine. - 5/2/2010   2:21:01 AM
  • 210
    Interesting article - 5/1/2010   10:50:28 PM
  • 209
    I absolutely love the bellie project, all he different shapes and sizes, the history, and the reality of life. I found this both inspiring and comforting, I remember the first time I showed my c section scar to a close friend, about 3 months after my 9lb 10 oz 24 1/2 inch baby boy was born...... I had never looked at it because I was afraid, she convinced me it couldn't be that bad she had seen others. Still afraid to look myself I let her take a peek, imagine my surprise and curiosity when she that's so small and he was such a big baby !...... I had to see for myself, she got a mirror and I was amazed. The second section was even better, new techniques and less scar tissue ...I have 3 boys all close to 10lbs at birth, 2 sections, 1 vbac, stretch marks and a smiley face scar I wouldn't give back for anything, it was part of growing up ! - 5/1/2010   9:08:24 AM
  • 208
    I think women's bellies record the stories of our lives as fertile, potential bearers of new life and that we are beautiful no matter what age or size.
    In times past, a round, full belly was considered most beautiful, a sign of vitalty and health!
    This is why paintings such as Botticelli's Venus have women depicted with protudIng bellies. - 4/30/2010   9:03:15 AM
  • 207
    After looking through a few of the Belly Project, I actually feel worse about my belly. I thought most of them looked way better than mine and when they are older and/or have had more children, it makes me feel like not only will I never have the belly that I envy, I'll never even have one that looks "average." - 4/29/2010   11:57:57 AM

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