What is the Nesting Doll Project?

I adopted the nesting doll as a symbol of personal growth during treatment for bulimia in the mid-1990s. At first, nesting dolls represented my ever-fluctuating weight. In photographs, I was the same face on a series of consecutively sized bodies. Like many women, I believed happiness meant uncovering the thin me hidden beneath the outer layers. Eventually, I learned to respect and even appreciate the outer layers. The nesting doll became a symbol of self-acceptance and self-care.

Fast forward to 2003, when I gave birth to my son. I tried to celebrate my body's growth as a reflection of the life that was growing inside me, but I felt dismay as my body became matronly, and remained so through my son's infancy and my daughter's birth and early childhood. Motherhood shattered the peace I'd made with my body. At the same time, it brought new significance to my attitudes about food and body because I was modeling those attitudes for my children. 

I know my experience is common. A recent Parenting magazine article describes an increase in eating disorders among mothers, pointing out that while these disorders "are about striving for a cultural body ideal, they are also about the push for perfection, the desire to gain some sense of command in an out-of-control situation by micromanaging what or how you eat. And, really, who feels more out of control than new mothers?" Though the majority of mothers don't develop full-fledged eating disorders, I believe most of us are dissatisfied with our bodies more often than we'd like to admit. Consider the overwhelming response to Allison Tate's Huffington Post essay "The Mom Stays in the Picture." Tate admits to hesitating when her son asked her to pose with him in a photo booth, explaining, "I avoid photographic evidence of my existence these days. To be honest, I avoid even mirrors. When I see myself in pictures, it makes me wince." In the end, Tate agreed to be photographed for her children's sake. "I want them to have pictures of me," she writes. "I want them to see the way I looked at them, see how much I love them." In the two weeks following the publication of Tate's essay, more than 500,000 readers liked the story on Facebook and more than 2,000 mothers uploaded their own photos to a gallery called "Mama in the Picture."

So no, I am not alone. A faltering self-image is common among mothers. Yet frank conversations about these feelings are relatively uncommon. Even Tate's essay, while candid, ultimately reverts its focus away from the mother and onto her children. I want Tate to ask: Why do so many of us wince when we see ourselves in photos? And how can we shift from posing for photographs despite our discomfort to feeling comfortable enough in our bodies that a photo is a non-issue?

The Nesting Doll Project is about making that shift. It's an attempt to get mothers talking about how we feel about our bodies and, more broadly, ourselves. It's a response to cultural ideals and a call for more humane, and more meaningful, representations of motherhood. The Russian name for nesting doll, matryoshka, comes from a root word meaning "mother." Translated literally, matryoshka means "little matron." Finally, as I mature into my motherhood identity, the nesting doll encourages me to love and nourish myself while loving and nourishing my children. I hope this blog will help you do the same.

1 comment:

  1. Kim! This post really touched me. Thank you for your candidness and for sharing your story. I can relate to so much of it. I love what the Nesting Doll Project stands for and can't wait to see your blog evolve. <3
    ~ jessie

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