Friday, March 15, 2013

What I've Learned From Lena Dunham

Have you noticed the photo at the top of this blog? The belly shot. That belly is huge, right? It's headless. It could be anyone. But it's not: it's me.

I've been watching the second season of Girls, and I often think of Lena Dunham when I catch a glimpse of that photo. I think about the scene where she plays ping pong in nothing but her undies. How calm she looks. She's of a younger generation than me -- the generation that lets everything hang out on Facebook, and that doesn't seem to put much value in privacy. But, even so, her bravery is palpable. She is not a simple exhibitionist. She's a bit of a radical. She's daring the world to judge her: her body, her comfort with that body, and her commitment to realism. 

My belly shot was taken at the end of my pregnancy with Ruby by Julia Smith, a talented photographer and a good friend. She offered to do a shoot of me with Bella, who was 18 or 19 months at the time. Julia usually points her camera at my kids, not at me. Her photos are displayed in frames all around my home. But the pictures from that particular photo shoot never made it beyond contact sheets, which to this day are sitting in a box.

I wasn't comfortable with how I looked in them. Being pregnant didn't make me feel beautiful. It made me feel huge (and as you can see, I was). I've never been an exhibitionist, and I've never been one to enjoy my own image in photos. (At our wedding, we didn't have a videographer: I've never liked seeing myself on film, either.) Also, I would never normally let myself be photographed without a shirt on. The result, Julia's talents notwithstanding, was something I wanted to keep in a box.

And yet, that belly photo graces the top of my blog. I've been feeling more sensitive about that as my blog has attracted attention this past week from people well beyond the confines of the pregnancy-and-birth community. (And lots of rabbis!)

I chose the picture because I couldn't think of a more apt image to illustrate the reality of becoming a parent: the physical enormity of growing a baby, of waiting forty weeks (or, like me, 41) to meet the person whom you made. But instead of choosing a picture of a baby, I chose a picture of me, the mother. Because this blog is really about her. It is personal, and it's real. It's about the way life is, not the way I might want it to be. It takes bravery to write that way, and I am trying to be brave.

Thank you, Julia, for capturing a moment in time that I can never get back.

And thank you, Lena, for getting me to take the photos out of the box.


  1. It's funny - I CAN relate to being uncomfortable with my body, but I can't really relate to not letting it all hang out there (ahem, says the girl who put her birth on YouTube.) I couldn't wait to put my belly shots all over. I loved them like mad (all three times.) But, I also never got a single stretch mark which was something I was ridiculously proud of (not because stretch marks were bad, just because I felt like I won the lottery on that and it seemed remarkable.)

    I've never seen Girls but I did just recently listen to an interview with Lena Dunham and I'm struck by her very self-assured attitude, which she credits to her artistic parents who loved her like mad. I dream of being the kind of mother that she had. She said, on this interview, "I'm obsessed with my mother - she's my everything." I love that. It seems to have played so much into her self-esteem and self-worth, from the way she talked. I hope my daughter is just as open and self-confident.

    1. Stretch marks or not, you are a brave writer who has a lot in common with Lena Dunham--the ability to comb your life for insights that resonate to a wide audience. Interesting that you bring up Lena Dunham's relationship with her mom--considering what you wrote about today. Luckily, your daughter will, indeed, be able to say the same thing about you. Thanks for checking out my blog!

  2. This is really amazing, Rachel. Yishar koach on your bravery. I love the freckles on your arm.
    I guess after working on the waterfront at camp and then doing some nude modeling for drawing courses in college, I didn't feel like I had anything to hide when I was pregnant. But, I also loved being big and round. I felt so powerful knowing what was going on inside of me and I felt like my appearance was an extension of that. I'm sure you feel it now as a mother...

    1. Oh, yes, waterfront...there was a time when I, too, was completely comfortable with my body. How one forgets. After my oldest was born I remember thinking it didn't matter what I looked like--people just wanted to see the baby anyway. But when you're pregnant, man, you're an automatic exhibitionist. There's no getting around it. I wrote a piece of fiction about this...maybe I'll put it up on the blog. Thanks so much for your thoughts.


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