One morning a few weeks ago I was catching up on my blog reads and I came across a mention of a "great" new site that the blogger said was a "must-read" for all women. The title of the site, "The Shape of a Mother," intrigued me, so I clicked on the link and was whisked away to something the likes of which I'd never seen: dozens of pictures of women in various states of undress. Okay, I know we've all seen those sites, but this was something far different and wholly unexpected. The women on "The Shape of a Mother" looked like ME. Their bodies bore the badges of motherhood that I am all too familiar with--loose skin, stretch marks, saggy bellies--but instead of bemoaning their "flaws" or covering up in shame, these women were celebrating. Celebrating their bodies, celebrating themselves, celebrating their transformation into mothers. It was glorious.
As I scrolled down the page, I got another surprise. One of the women looked familiar to me, and her screen name rang a bell in the back of my mind. A few lines into her entry, I paused and exclaimed, "Oh my god, that's Bonnie!" A few years ago Bonnie and I had been members of the same two or three message boards--off-shoots from a diet site that went pay--and we had been together on a tight-knit little pregnancy board when she was expecting her daughter and I my son in 2002. Since then I'd lost track of her, so I was delighted to run across her again. A little more reading led me to the discovery that not only had she posted her pictures to "The Shape of a Mother," but Bonnie Crowder WAS "The Shape of a Mother." The site was her brainchild, and my long-lost cyber-buddy was well on her way to becoming one of the next big things on the Web.
Since then I've been able to do some catching up with Bonnie, and I was thrilled when she agreed to do a little interview with Mosaic Minds and tell us more about her.
The "short story," she says, "is that I am a mother of two who still doesn't know what I want to be 'when I grow up.' I am interested in photography, knitting and not killing my plants. I am passionate about birth, breastfeeding, and people having access to the correct information (on any subject, really). [My] website has created a new passion for me, too, in liberating women from the bonds of Hollywood Bodies."
In her first post on "The Shape of a Mother," Bonnie tells the story of its genesis:
"One day I sat in a restaurant in Anaheim, California eating breakfast, when a woman passed by my table with her infant carrier in tow. As she lifted it up to fit between the tables, her shirt raised and I saw that, although she was at a healthy weight and her body was fit, she had that same extra skin hanging around her belly that I do. It occurred to me that a post-pregnancy body is one of this society's greatest secrets; all we see of the female body is that which is airbrushed and perfect, and if we look any different, we hide it from the light of day in fear of being seen."
This incident lit a fire in Bonnie, and ultimately spurred her to action. She made her first post on "The Shape of a Mother" on July 5th of this year, and the idea caught like wildfire.
"[T]he gist of it is that I wanted to bring the skeletons out of the closet, so to speak," Bonnie explains. There is no need for mothers to feel ashamed of their bodies, and it's just SICK that society makes them feel they must hide. I figured that if I was that relieved to discover I wasn't alone, other women probably would be, too."
She figured right. It didn't take long before the pictures were pouring into her inbox. They come in all shapes and sizes, and their stories range from poignant to hilarious to heartbreaking, but the women who send their pictures to "Shape of a Mother" have one very important thing in common: they're REAL.
Within a month of its inception, "The Shape of a Mother" had been featured in articles on Salon.com, in several Canadian newspapers, and in The Guardian in the UK. Recently Bonnie did a spot on a Canadian talk-radio show ("Funny," she says," that the U.S., my own country, hasn't much picked up on it yet."), and she's been mentioned in or linked to from high-profile blogs like Dooce and Hathor the Cow Goddess.
Bonnie is pleased with the attention her site has garnered and says that she thinks it has taken an important "first step" in helping to release women from the repression of body shame. "I hope it can be only the first of many steps," she tells me. To that end, she says that she would like to do a book at some point, and will be looking into the possibilities there "in the next couple of months or so."
She admits that the instant success came as something of a surprise to her. "I had a feeling this website might be a good idea, but I had no idea HOW much it was needed." Regardless of what might ultimately be in store for the site, however, Bonnie isn't losing focus on what's most important. At the end of the day, she says, "I'm just thrilled that it's helped the people it has."