Monday, May 5, 2014

These Stretch Marks aren't Smiling

I know I’m stepping into hostile territory with this post. I’ve been thinking about it for some time, though. In the current rush to encourage mothers to love themselves, to appreciate their bodies without alteration, to embrace the change from mothering, I wonder if some women fall through the cracks. Obviously, if this message of self-love and acceptance without change is meaningful to some people, then I’m glad. But, I feel it’s a bit lackluster for me, and I suspect others out there feel the same.

This isn’t about finding the right pants size or meeting society’s standards. And it isn’t about ignoring sizes and changing standards. That’s a different topic altogether. What I’m worried about is the lack of respect and solemn acknowledgement of a woman’s transformation.

Telling a woman to love the stripes she’s earned or to be proud of the new sag because a baby was in her womb sounds better than telling a woman to workout and diet to get back to some particular image. Yet, both of these approaches diminish the full picture and even repress the emotions surrounding this transformation.

Instead of trying to tell women to grab at their excess skin and love it, or to glory in the stretch marks, I’d like to see women taking one step back and solemnly acknowledging the journey, letting the woman decide how she feels about it, what she experienced and what meaning she has gained from it. If someone is currently at a place where she is hurting from it, or unhappy about it, I would love to see true acceptance of that instead of attempts to shame her for it.

I’ve said it before and will say it again. I don’t find the damaged skin beautiful. I don’t derive meaning from it, nor do I feel a happy glow and self-love when I see it on my body. I don’t think this injury is inherent to childbearing. I know many mothers who gave birth without a mark on their bodies for example. It’s not some requirement to be scarred to successfully mother. Some mothers never even have a physical journey. I’m saddened, however, that noting my feelings on it draws others to tell me to smile and feel good about the scars.

It reminds me of when a mother tries to share her sadness over a birth intervention and others quickly override her, saying at least she has a healthy baby and she should love her birth because it’s hers. Or when a woman says laboring is painful and others tell her it’s no biggie! Don’t worry! The end justifies the means! Just ignore it, the end is the prize! That might be true, but her experience of pain is also valid. And some people need the validity simply to move on, as opposed to trying to change their perception or repress it.

Do I “love” myself, sure. I also am endeared to my children, consider them miracles, and am privileged to mother them. I do love my birth outcomes. I do love the closeness experienced with pregnancy. That doesn’t mean I loved the fire ripping through my ligaments during labor. It doesn’t mean I loved feeling my bones move out of place as I pushed out my babies. And it doesn’t mean I love the creased, jagged scarring on my abdomen.  Please don’t feel the need to change my mind on it. See, I think that being sure of yourself and loving yourself means you can be honest with yourself, too.

And, anyways, it’s a big assumption that the changes in a woman’s body are due to her pregnancy and birth. I suspect if we spent more time processing our transformations instead of trying to change them or run from them, we might find more under the surface.

Are the “extra pounds” simply from pregnancy? Is a biological process the cause of increased weight? Did your thighs get larger because you conceived, or because you had to juggle childcare and working, barely making ends meet, and you ate what food you could afford, shoving it stressfully into your mouth on your morning commute? Do you carry more weight now after this birth because of the baby in your womb, or because you are alone, without a community, in your home all day, stressed to the max yet bored to tears, finding that eating food is your only reprieve?

Do the scars on your body represent the wonder of childbearing, or do they speak to genetic polymorphisms? Did your belly ripple with stretch marks because you conceived? Or could it be that your childhood of nutritional deficiency and undiagnosed gut problems caused a semi-permanent issue that flared under the strains of nourishing another?

Does that single scar running along your bikini line speak to the wonder of your birth? Or does it remind you of an abusive care provider, of a lying nurse, of an ambiguous reading from a monitor or an unwanted emergency?

When we tell women to love themselves, are we sure of which part is them and which part is not? Are we sure that merely telling them to feel good will integrate all their experiences? Are we sure that discouraging them from moderate exercise, weight loss, clothes shopping or new styles is truly helping them, or could it be a hindrance to their self-expression and inner development?

It’s an oddly intolerant tolerance people promote these days.  

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for saying what I have been thinking for a long time but didn't have the words to express. I love my babies. I am in awe at what my body can do. But I do not enjoy the stretched out skin and extra pounds I carry. I want to lose weight. Thanks for helping me to feel it's not wrong of me to want to lose weight to feel beautiful.