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Sit-in supports moms with stretch marks

Tanis Jex-Blake, centre, takes part in a bikini protest in Edmonton on Wednesday, Aug. 6, 2014. About two dozen women pulled on bikinis in downtown Edmonton to support the mother who says she was mocked over her stretch marks. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson -
Tanis Jex-Blake, centre, takes part in a bikini protest in Edmonton on Wednesday, Aug. 6, 2014. About two dozen women pulled on bikinis in downtown Edmonton to support the mother who says she was mocked over her stretch marks. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
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By Chris Purdy, The Canadian Press

EDMONTON - After having five kids, Tanis Jex-Blake bravely decided it was time to head to the beach in a bikini.

It had been 13 years since the Edmonton woman pulled on a two-piece, but didn't expect her bare belly and stretch marks were so extraordinary that they would become a topic of conversation around the world.

The 33-year-old said that she was lying on a beach west of the city last week when two young men and a woman pointed and laughed at her stomach, and called her "nasty" and "gross."

She rolled over and ignored them, but tears later gave way to anger and she posted an open letter on her Facebook page describing the encounter, along with photos of her mommy tummy.

She has since received hundreds of messages, even pictures from other women showing their imperfect mid-sections. Her story has also made news in several countries, including Germany and Australia.

"It kind of went crazy. I was just expecting to reach local people," Jex-Blake said Wednesday at a "Bare Your Belly" rally in Edmonton.

Amid cheers, she doffed a sundress to reveal a pink string bikini, then joined about two dozen women walking and dancing around in their swimsuits near a fountain and wading pool outside city hall. Many held signs encouraging people to love all body shapes.

Some, like Amanda Lanctot, said Jex-Blake inspired her to put on a bikini for the first time in a decade.

"I saw her story on Facebook and was just crushed by it," said the 35-year-old mother. "I couldn't believe someone would do that to another human being."

Carmen Vickery said she was angered by what happened to Jex-Blake and decided to also show up in a bikini — the first time she's put one on in a few years.

"I used to rock a bikini on a regular basis," said Vickery, 33. "Then I had kids and it's like, oh, it's not quite as pretty as it used to be.

"But you know what? That's because of other people's opinions getting rubbed off on me. And now ... it doesn't matter. I'm beautiful just the way I am."

Jex-Blake said she's overwhelmed by the support and happy to be empowering women to love their bodies.

The special education assistant said some of the positive Facebook responses she's received are from men, even a 16-year-old boy. "He said, 'I saw your message and I'm so proud of you and I think you're beautiful.'"

She said she also heard that the three bullies make crude remarks to two other people on Alberta Beach that day — a grandmother wearing a swimsuit and a foreign woman in a thong bikini.

She believes her campaign will make it easier for her to relax on a beach in a bikini again this summer, and hopes other women won't feel like they have to look like supermodels in magazines.

"That's not what most people look like," said Jex-Blake.

"Just because we don't look like that, doesn't mean we should be viewed as any less beautiful."

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