Yesterday I spent several hours exploring The Getty, one of my favorite places in Los Angeles. One of the exhibits was of the photography of Herb Ritts, an artist who revolutionized fashion photography and re-imagined the human body in the 1980’s. I was immediately drawn to his iconic images, and experienced a moment of clarity that occurs when art speaks to one’s heart and soul.

For the last several weeks, my body has transformed drastically. My 18-week baby belly has expanded dramatically, along with other parts of my body. Every morning, as I get dressed, I sigh to myself and wonder what clothes will and won’t fit. With the added weight, it is hard to move around as energetically as I am used to, and the result is that I feel sluggish and well, unattractive. During my first pregnancy, I felt beautiful most of the time, even in the truly uncomfortable last few weeks. But somehow, this time feels different. Maybe it’s because I’m a bit older. Or because the weight gain has been more rapid the second time around. I have wrestled with my own understanding of beauty lately, wondering how beauty intersects with the reality of the physical changes that I am experiencing with pregnancy.

As I walked through the Ritts exhibit, I was surrounded by incredibly beautiful and sensual images. Ritts’ work was mostly in the celebrity and fashion world, so many of the faces and bodies were recognizable, from Madonna, to Naomi Campbell, to Richard Gere. Yet rather than typical portraits, most of the photographs captured the subjects in ways that highlighted and celebrated their unique features. One photo was of an Italian model with particularly strong facial elements, including a noticeably large nose. She was posed looking sideways, creating a striking silhouette that demanded attention toward her distinctive features. Other photos gave similar prominence to a runner’s massive thigh muscles, and an actor’s haunting eyes, and a model’s crooked teeth.

I couldn’t help but consider my own physical features, and wonder if I am beautiful not despite but because of them. It is beautiful to be pregnant. It is beautiful to have a growing baby in my body. It is beautiful to be a mother.

This morning, instead of looking in the mirror with anxiety and dread, I saw beauty.

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