Kris and Vanessa Fritzsche

(WOMENSENEWS)–It wasn’t so long ago that women in the late stages of pregnancy stayed inside the house, meandering around in muumuus, waiting for the big moment to arrive when both baby and mother could appear in public view.

Now what was once hidden is now prominentlydisplayed. As women come to accept their natural body images, the most womanly of times is celebrated in photos, fashion and art.

Women are even taking the time to memorialize their bodies in a permanent way by taking plaster casts of their pregnant bodies. Kris and Vanessa Fritzsche felt the process of being pregnant and the body that goes with it was something to remember. So in Vanessa’s ninth month, they took part in a belly casting, a new maternal ritual that is spreading across the country. Using plaster strips, a mold is made of the mother’s body, whether it be just her belly or more.

“Women are celebrated more in our society; it’s not our grandparents’ world anymore,” said Kris, who is an artist. He said he took pictures of his wife as she moved through the trimesters, but was entranced by the thought of a 3-D perspective.

The belly-casting process takes all different forms, both artistically and figuratively. The Fritzsches sent the cast of Vanessa’s belly to a Colorado company called Mama’s Belly, which turned the cast into a stone bowl–earthy red on the outside and vibrant blue inside.

“The first time I did one, I didn’t stop at just the belly. I kind of got lost in the gorgeous power of this pregnant body,” said Maggie Stewart, owner of Mama’s Belly. She said people usually do a good job of doing the casts themselves, but she sometimes comes in to help–once even in the beginning stages of one woman’s labor.

The casting itself is not hard to do, but mothers say the key is being comfortable with being naked. A petroleum jelly is spread across the areas that will be molded and the plaster spread in strips and then smoothed out. The mother can stand or sit or lie on her back–whatever position she’s most comfortable in. Some women take casts of just their bellies, others cast their entire torsos or place their hands on their bellies. After about 20 minutes, the cast is dry and can be removed.

“It was pretty easy to pull off and you can really see the belly button because it gets huge when you’re pregnant and it sticks out and that was really neat to see,” said Stephanie Maiers of Englewood, Colo., whose mother-in-law paid for the casting as a gift.

“She thought it would be really cool to have a memory of being pregnant and I thought it would be a neat thing to pass down to a daughter or a granddaughter,” said Maiers.

Changing View of Pregnancy, Especially Among Older Women

“It’s just such a unique way of seeing yourself and appreciating what you look like,” said Nicole Langlois, who made a belly cast of herself during her second pregnancy and now makes casts for others under the name Belly Treasures in upstate New York. “My grandmother says, ‘It’s disgusting. Why would you want to show your body like that?’ But I just think it’s the most beautiful thing, why wouldn’t you?”

Legato said women are learning to appreciate their bodies and that women once had portraits painted and busts made of their heads, so why not a cast of a pregnant body? She particularly pointed to the increase in older women becoming pregnant as part of the tide in the changing self-image.

As women wait longer to become pregnant–6 percent of all pregnancies in the United States occur in women over 40–the issues of body image lessen. Instead of looking for clothes to hide a growing tummy, women are more concerned with finding fashionable clothes that fit and staying in shape throughout the pregnancy.

“Older people have a strong sense of who they are,” she said. “I also think that older women no longer emphasize the physical but count on their other achievements and roles.”

The change in the way women view pregnancy is reflected in the growing number of magazines geared toward pregnant women, from Fit Pregnancy to American Baby to specialized Web sites such as Pregnancy Today and Parent’s

“I think the pregnant pictures of Demi Moore and Christie Brinkley were really inspiring for women,” said Dr. Marianne J. Legato, founder and director of the Partnership for Gender Specific Medicine at Columbia University. “These were women who thought their bodies were beautiful–that their pregnant bodies were as beautiful as any other cover girl.”

Uses of Casts Vary

The cost of a belly cast ranges from $150 for a plain cast to $1,500 for a bronzed bowl. But the decoration is up to the mothers and the artists. The plaster casts can be decorated by the families or by individual artists. Some paint the molds and hang them on the wall. Others use it as an opportunity to include older children in the upcoming birth. One woman lined her belly bowl with sheepskin and used it as a cradle for the first few days after her child was born.

Carla Vincent, who lives in Maryland, asked Langois and Lynn to decorate the cast of her torso with one arm wrapped around her belly. The artists asked Vincent to fill out a short survey about her favorite colors and where the statue would go. The end result: a lavender bust with a blue jewel in the belly and an ivy tendril around the arm.

“My husband really didn’t understand it until he saw the pictures. Then he thought it was really neat,” Vincent said. “It’s hard to remember how you looked when you were pregnant.”

“It’s a decorative art piece and it’s something that sparks conversation,” said Kris Fritzche of the cast of his wife’s belly. “It has a distinctive shape and people aren’t really surprised when they find out what it is, but they’re interested and they love the concept.”

Legato said she’s glad to see that the role of the husband is incorporated as well.

“Every pregnancy is unique and in a healthy woman it’s a beautiful experience to be savored and enjoyed, including the changes in the body,” she said. “Many husbands are just enchanted with their wives’ pregnant bodies.”

Dawn Fallik is a full-time reporter living in St. Louis.

For more information:

Mama’s Belly:

Belly Treasures:

Partnership for Gender-Specific Medicine: