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The Belly Project

By Aislinn Canarr, Mabel Wadsworth Center board member

Twelve bellies.  Each one is different.  Each one is beautiful.  Each tells its own reproductive story.

Most of us have a complex relationship with our body.  I can say I love my belly, yet still suck it in when I stand sideways in front of a mirror.  I can know it housed my son for nine months, yet still wish it away.  I can deprive myself of good food and the pleasure it brings in hopes that those calories saved will melt away from around my middle.  At the same time, I can rub my belly, and feel my soft skin.  Or think of myself as a laughing Buddha and sincerely smile at my belly.  It is sometimes now a pillow for my son’s head while we watch movies together.  I can think myself beautiful with how I look now in this moment. I think the women I see in the poster are beautiful.

I chose to hang my Belly Project poster in a simple frame in my bathroom.  It seemed an appropriate place as I am naked there a lot.  In and out of the shower, putting on my PJs or getting ready for work.  There’s a mirror.  Sometimes nakedness and mirrors don’t go together.  Sometimes I look from my belly to the bellies in the poster and back again.  I don’t see my belly on there, and I can compare mine to the others.  Some I can think are “better” than mine, and I will suck mine in just a bit.  Then I shake my head and remind myself that each of us is different.  I have had friends come out of the bathroom and tell me how much they appreciate seeing it.  How they too are self-conscious, and the poster gives them pause and a new perspective.  It starts conversations around self-love and acceptance.  It reminds us that the love and beauty we see in others, we need to show ourselves.

This is also a lesson I am trying to pass onto my son.  The poster has become a powerful tool that I didn’t foresee.  My son likes to have conversations while he is in there doing his business, and with a lack of boundaries, I go in there to chat.  We have some of our best conversations in the bathroom. We have looked at the poster together.  I can try to set a foundation that all bodies are different and beautiful the way they are before mainstream media and photoshopping sets into his consciousness.  I think it’s important for my son to understand that there are different bodies in the world and one type is not better than another.  I think this is especially important to teach young girls who will probably grow up to have their own complex relationship with their bodies.  My son and I have had conversations around reproductive experiences.  I tell him that a person gets an abortion when they are pregnant and don’t want to be.  As simple as that, because it is age appropriate, and I want him to know it is common and not shameful.  I explain what a miscarriage is, and we talk about how tragic that can be for a woman and family.  In each case, he learns and I remember empathy for others.

Under each belly photo, the reproductive history of the woman is listed, connecting each belly to a reproductive story.  It is not necessarily of choice, that story is not written.  Each woman was courageous enough to tell of their abortions, births, miscarriages and infant losses.  Even that is too simple.  The women have had vaginal births and c-sections and no births.  They have had illegal abortions and legal ones.  Each woman’s reproductive history is as complex as a woman herself.  It shows me, my son, and everyone that uses my bathroom that women have a wide range of experiences.  That you can not tell just by looking, even with clothes off, what someone has been through in their life.  What choices they have had to make for themselves and their family, or what losses they have experienced in their families.  My own story?  One abortion, one vaginal birth.  Choices I was able to make in my life.  My belly is different than any other and just as beautiful.  The Belly Project helped teach me that.

When you buy a Belly Project poster for yourself or someone in your life, you share the gift of women’s stories.  You tell that someone, “look at these beautiful women and the stories of their bellies.  I think you are beautiful too.”  When you buy a Belly Project poster, all proceeds benefit Mabel Wadsworth Center.  You help more women get compassionate reproductive care.  You can help empower women, including yourself, through clinical services, education, and advocacy.  You make a statement that we need an independent, feminist based clinic in our community.  There is so much in this poster that we can share and uplift us individually and as a community.  And it looks really nice in a simple frame hanging on the bathroom wall.

The Belly Project and the posters were donated to Mabel Wadsworth Center by Lisa Kushner and the late Peggy McKenna. The original photographs are on display in our clinic, be sure to check them out at your next appointment.

The Belly Project posters are $15 if you pick it up on site or $20 if you’d like us to mail it to you. 

To make a purchase:

  1. Go to our donation page
  2. Make a donation of $15 (pick-up at Mabel Wadsworth Center) or $20 (mailed to you)
  3. Write in the notes “Belly Project poster”

All proceeds benefit Mabel Wadsworth Center.

Aislinn Canarr lives outside Bangor with her cat all week and with her son on the weekends. She graduated from Wheaton College, MA with a degree in Economics and Urban Studies. She doesn’t share that too often as people then expect her to know about GDP, GNP, and all sorts of other acronyms that she barely remembered for the tests. Instead, she focused on the social economics of race and racism, gender, education, labor and economic history. She started working with Mabel’s advocacy committee in 2016, and she found an outlet for her passion around reproductive justice and sexual health. When not working to smash the patriarchy, she enjoys cards, evenings with friends, and the arts.