I was 19 when I fell pregnant with my first baby. By the time I was 20 I had stretch marks from head to foot and I hated them all. My best friend pointed to my daughter and said “but look what else you got!” and I struggled to explain that it didn’t negate how I felt about my new body.
That year was the year of the low rise jean and the barely there top, and had it been eighteen months earlier I’d have worn it and I’d have owned it as my friends now did, but my stretch marks needed to be hidden from the world. I would sooner have died than let anyone know the shame that motherhood had carved into my flesh.
The pressure for women to be perfect, flawless, and half starved – with the added myth that this look is attached to health – takes a huge toll on women of all ages. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen
“When can I start getting back into shape again?”
When the woman asking the question has a very new baby. She is likely breastfeeding, she’s been pregnant for almost a year, but suddenly she expects her body to shed any sign of it and to resume, as if nothing ever happened.
There’s a meme I saw on facebook with stretch marks on it saying that women should love them because somewhere there’s a woman who can’t carry a baby, or a woman who is grieving for a lost baby. It makes my blood boil because it shames women for feeling how they feel about their bodies when every image of women in the media hides the reality of a mother’s body. It might as well say
“Shut up you ungrateful fool! You have NO right to your feelings, get back in your box”
Underneath the meme some clever marketer has taken the opportunity to share an advertisement to their miracle weight loss page. To the left of it I saw an ad for tummy tuck surgery. I reported the weight loss spammer for spamming and I blocked the surgeon’s ad, citing it as offensive.
If the women in pictures illustrating health, are to believed, there is only one type of woman. She’s white, thin, she has no pores, no stretchmarks – oh no – and her breasts are somewhere up near her chin.
But somewhere in the realms of 99% of women become mothers at some point, and it is at that point that we either vanish …. or we mysteriously start showing up, demurely clad in cardigans, and button up shirts, advertising cleaning products.
There’s another meme that does the rounds too. It has an image of stretchmarks and it implores women to love them, reframe them as tiger stripes, or warrior scars. This one doesn’t make my blood boil quite like the other one, but it does make me crosseyed with boredom. Once again, we’re telling women how to feel about their bodies. Sure it’s more positive, but it doesn’t cut the mustard for me.
It’s ok for women to feel however they feel about their bodies, there is no wrong or right way to feel. The important question is WHY do women feel how they feel? Do they feel ashamed of their body hatred – because after all, SOME women never get babies! Or do they feel the need to reframe the way their view their bodies so they can feel ok in their own skin?
Why do we live in a culture where women’s bodies are like some kind of battleground?
On the one hand we need to do everything humanely possible to avoid stretch marks, but on the other, if we get them (and lots of us do!) we have to be very careful to feel only the most socially acceptable feelings about them. And whatever we do, we need to ensure that they’re WELL COVERED, because no one wants to SEE those things!
The body of a mother is nothing to be ashamed of, in fact any society which expects mothers to look like airbrushed teenagers has egg on it’s face. If you hate your body, if you are trying to force yourself to be grateful for the changes of motherhood, ask yourself this: WHY!?!?!
However you feel is ok, unless it’s making you unhappy. Seek to understand why you feel the way you do. Are your feelings based on grief? On unrealistic expectations? On airbrushing and false advertising?
Five years after my first baby was born, my best friend had hers. She came to me one day and showed me her stretch marks. She cried as she told me that she understood now, and she was so sorry, she had been wrong. I found acceptance that day.
I’m lucky to accept my body for what it is. It’s a body that has carried five children, and yet only four are living. I’ve had two caesareans, given birth three times, breastfed for eight years in a row. It’s no longer the body I had when I was 18 but it’d be pretty weird if it was, don’t you think?