A few years ago, I found myself feeling indignant about our culture and its obsession with perfect bodies. I had entered that age in life where everywhere I turned it seemed some one was getting “The Mommy Package.”
After having become pregnant and birthed healthy babies, my more wealthy peers were turning to plastic surgeons to erase the physical signs of motherhood. Breasts were being plumped and raised, faces were getting tightened, tummies were being tucked. Those with the means were spending in pursuit of the bodies they always wanted.
Disheartened, I wrote a very poor poem which I will not share with you now – but the gist of my reflection was as mothers we shouldn’t strive to look like a young girl. Our bodies are a reflection of our sacrifice, our selfless giving, our devotion. From the crows feet to the stretch marks to the fallen arches from head to toe, our bodies have transformed through childbirth, and that is a not a bad thing.
We can admire the beauty in a young, childless woman, but we should also be able to recognize the beauty in our own imperfect forms as well.
I still hold to that notion.
I fear that we send a horrible message to our daughters when we undergo unnecessary plastic surgery in pursuit of enhancing our bodies. Skinnier is not better. Implanting our breasts with something to make them bigger is not better. Obsessing about what we look like on the outside is dangerous and there are real risks with every surgery. I want my daughters to embrace the body they are given to house their souls, not lament about it.
That said, we all notice that the body never really returns to the same state after a baby. Exercise and diet just aren’t enough usually to get us back to the SAME pre-pregnancy state. If we live a healthy life of moderation, that should be okay, though.
We aren’t the same person we once were.
There are also changes that happen internally that women don’t often talk about. Quite honestly, after just two kids, I didn’t ever even think about those changes. With each pregnancy, the organs in the body shift to accommodate the growing uterus. It is a miraculous thing that the baby can grow and our organs are just fine being shoved around. But, then, the baby is out, and the body, what, just remembers where everything is supposed to be? Magically, that stomach and gall bladder return to their homes?
Well, not always.
A whopping 300,000 surgeries are performed each year to help women who have pelvic organ prolapse, which although not as common a surgery as breast implants, far out numbers tummy tucks. Fifty percent of women between the ages of 50-79 will be diagnosed with pelvic organ prolapse. What is this? Just what it sounds like. The organs in your pelvic region are not where they are supposed to be. And it isn’t the only ‘crazy’ side effect of motherhood – What about abdominal hernia and diastasis recti? You know, that Mommy Tummy that occurs when the stomach muscles don’t go back together. It can be a real medical condition, not just a cosmetic issue. Repair of the abdominal hernia is the most common surgery there is (due to many things other than pregnancy as well). There are all sorts of other medical issues I am sure as well, but you get the point.
So now I am forced to review the naive stance taken in my 20s.
These tracks of motherhood – the stretch marks and saggy breasts, the loose skin and other things that have us sighing or avoiding the full length mirrors when we change – how do we determine when to ‘fix’ the things that have changed over the years?
The answer is: We fix what is broken. Not because we don’t like the way it looks, but rather because it doesn’t work any more.
If our muscles aren’t working anymore, we fix it. If our excretory system isn’t functioning correctly, we fix it. Just like we would fix a broken bone. If we are still carrying that extra 10 or 15 lbs, we should fix that too so that our body works better. We should strive to be healthy.
Health and exterior beauty, although linked, are not the same thing. Work towards good health and fix your health issues — but also seek to recognize the beauty that God sees in you. Those stretch marks are proof that just when you think you can’t be torn any further, you can, with God’s grace, survive just a little more. Your laugh lines come with happy memories. Your sun spots were carefully earned after countless hours pushing your daughter in the swing or watching your child kick around the soccer ball. If your empty breasts bother you, then get a better bra. Think about it next time you are looking in the mirror.
Do you see all the things that are wrong with you or do you see yourself as God sees you? Beautifully created for a unique purpose in this world.
MaryRuth is a wife, a mother of four (plus one in heaven), a convert to the faith, and an avid reader. She writes under the name DrMomAZ at Peer Parenting Review where she polishes off her PhD and covers topics of child development, parenting, and Catholic family life.
This post originally appeared on Peer Parenting Review.