I’ve been meaning to submit to Shape of A Mother – what a fantastic project! I’ve done some writing about body image for mothers through my work as a henna artist and several people have recommended this project to me. I would be honored to participate.
Three children – pregnant from April 2003 to June 2005 (with a couple months between each) – two full-term births – tandem nursing still 2.5 years later. My body has been through SO much, nearly as much as my heart and mind. I like to think of my stretch marks as “natural tattoos”, and to try to celebrate them as intentional marks that represent my inner strength and journey. This has helped a little, but even more powerful for me has been body art. I did my first henna design on my own stretch marks (henna is a temporary plant stain that has been used for at least 4,000 years as body art). I wanted to celebrate them overtly, to really SEE them and trace their lines. It helped so much to transform my self-hatred and non-acceptance into admiration. I still struggle, and will continue to perform this body art every year around the time I gave birth. Someday I’ll put on a crop top or a bikini and show the world!
I didn’t take a photo of that first design, but it inspired me to begin a henna body art service just for mothers (www.BellyBeautifulHenna.com). I wanted to be able to share the power I discovered with women during their own transformations. I wanted them to feel beautiful, special, pampered, and honored. I will not post my clients bellies here without their consent, but they have given their permission to have their images on my site.
Since beginning my henna body art I’ve done henna on my own breastfeeding breasts and found just as much power in that experience (perhaps even a bit more). Not only that but my little nurslings appreciated it as well (“Look, momma’s nummies have ff-owers!”).
Henna is a critical tool in my journey to accepting my changed body. Not only is it an opportunity to do something specifically for me and relax and lay back for a while, it’s an ancient tradition that connects me with thousands of years of women who have passed through this same transformation. Henna is a little sloppy, imperfect, organic, and beautifully unique. It is not crisp and tight the way ink tattoos are, and it doesn’t have the associations with young, toned bodies. It gradually fades over several days, leaving a lasting reminder that my body IS beautiful in its own way.
May each of you find your path to acceptance.