THE SACRED ART OF BELLY MASKING By Debi Slinger Today on the internet, you can find over 25 belly mask kit suppliers and belly maskers in Australia. In the United States I?ve found over 150 different sites. Yet three years ago, it was hardly heard of here in Australia.? So why has this become such an explosive industry??? The pregnant belly is no longer a shape to be hidden under big t-shirts or dowdy dresses with high collars and frilly sleeves. Remember Princess Diana during her first pregnancy! Now, women proudly show their gorgeous bellies by wearing crop tops, sarongs, figure hugging tees and funky gear. Women celebrate their pregnant shape and making a belly mask is a beautiful way to commemorate this time. Its a unique, one of a kind work of art made by your body that can be cherished forever. It becomes an heirloom for a family and a way of expressing love for a child.?? Some women develop an unrealistic picture of how they look when they are pregnant. They have feelings of being fat, ugly and unattractive. However, often when a belly mask is made, they can see their shape more accurately and it often boosts their esteem about themselves. So what is so special about a belly mask? What is it like? And what do you do with it afterwards? Let me reflect on my first pregnancy. I felt like a precious pregnant princess and wanted my unborn child to know the changes I was experiencing. The pregnancy was documented daily in a journal which almost became an encyclopedia. My partner took a few photos of my belly but that was all. During my second pregnancy, the journal faded somewhat due to the demands of a first child. However, I had a lovely piece of twine and wrapped it around my waist each week, tying a knot to signify the growth of my baby. By the third pregnancy, time was negligible to write much however, I wanted something to really celebrate this final pregnancy as well as capture my extra large shape. Something tangible and three dimensional.?? I couldn?t find any Australian information on making a belly mask and ended up having one sent out from the United States. My partner and I spent a cold winters night with the fire stoked full of firewood ready to make a belly mask.?? After rubbing vegelatum over my body to stop the plaster sticking to any hair, plaster gauze strips were dipped in warm water and smoothed over my skin. Having warm plaster on your belly is quite a surreal experience. Having someone run their hands over your belly knowing they can feel your baby moving is so sacred and special. We both found the whole process relaxing and therapeutic for our bodies as well as our souls.?? Now, as a professional belly masker, I?ve made too many masks to count, but I do remember most of the mothers. Its a wonderful opportunity to chat about their hopes and their fears. Together we ponder what the future may bring and discuss different style of parenting. I?ve made masks very early in a pregnancy, perhaps 12 weeks, followed up with another mask at 37 weeks. This way, a mother can see how her shape has changed over the pregnancy. I?ve cast women with implants, belly rings, tattoos, mastectomies and even a woman in the early stages of labour. There have been all sorts of people present at a masking: husband, partner, birth partner, girlfriends, midwife, sister, children, mother-in-law and even a grandmother. I?ve made belly masks at baby showers, blessings and celebration parties. Most women aren?t too nervous about shedding their clothes and being naked (or semi-naked in some cases) in front of friends. Theres something about being pregnant which gives permission to honour a womans body. Often after a masking at such a celebration, everyone signs the mask on the inside.?? ?ve attended many Expos and Exhibitions and its interesting watching peoples reaction to a belly mask. Some women simply don?t want to remember that time in their life, while others regret having let that time pass without commemorating it. Men are often the ones that urge their partner to take a second look and see whats involved. I wholeheartedly encourage the fathers as they can often feel disconnected from a pregnancy. If the father is present at the masking, I encourage his involvement. Its a sensual and bonding experience. My husband was certainly surprised by how much he enjoyed the experience of making the mask, feeling our child move under his hands and then being a craftsman by finishing it off with plaster of paris and sealing it. Belly masks are becoming a great heirloom taking around one hour to create. If made properly, they are lightweight and extremely durable. But what do you do with it? Here are some of the ways I?ve seen masks displayed: ??On the wall of the babys nursery (probably the most popular). ??Once the mask is finished, you can apply fiberglass strips to the outside to make it strong. This makes the mask a negative mould. Support the mask while your pour cement into it. Allow to set and voila! An outdoor sculpture. ??A very petite mother used her mask as a chip and dip bowl (chips in the belly and the dips in the boobs). ??A fruit bowl. Options of how to decorate and where to put your belly mask are limited only by your imagination.?? So what sort of mask can you make? Some people want a belly and nothing else. I call this the nest?. It can later be turned into a fruit bowl, painted and hung on the wall or in my case, hung by silver thread and used as a special place for my daughter to put her blankie?, teddy and zebra toy at night. Belly and boobs are probably the most popular shape but lately there have been a lot of requests from people wanting an off the shoulder cut away which looks very sexy. About 20% of the masks I make include hands on to the belly. It may include either the hand/s of the mother-to-be or one of the fathers hands. The mask my husband and I made was a profile of my pregnant belly. This is a great mask as it can be slipped on by anyone and you can really feel that pregnant shape. My daughter is now 2 and delights in telling anyone that visits that the big white sculpture on the wall is where she came from. In fact, on one of the many masks that we made of me at 38 weeks, you can even see where her foot jutted out of my right rib cage. After she was born we wrapped her in a blanket and gently placed her on the inside, like a cocoon. She looked so tiny. ?? Decorating a mask can be as simple or as complex as you like. Some people choose to leave their mask while others are elaboratively decorated. Some people choose to wait and allow their child to help decorate the mask when they are older.? Others have professional artists paint detailed, specialised pictures. Not only is the making of a mask a wonderful experience but looking back at the mask with your loved ones reconnects you with that brief special moment in time.???? Why would you want to make a belly mask? ??To celebrate a first pregnancy. ??To celebrate a pregnancy that was almost at term. ??A memento of your last pregnancy. ??A statement to the world that being pregnant and the pregnant form is beautiful. ??A way of showing your children that you loved growing them in your belly. ??A way to get a partner more in touch with the pregnancy and their child. ??An way of including other siblings in the birth process. ??An enduring record of how the body can change. ??To celebrate the life growing within you. ??? ??