Body Remodel

seek to recognize

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.

[Tweet “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.

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  • Reply
    May 19, 2015 at 6:21 pm

    Thank you for putting into words the same thoughts that I’ve been thinking over the last 15months. 15 months? The age of my beautiful, thriving, energetic twin son and daughter. An amazing thing happened after their arrival: I stopped caring about me and gave myself over completely and totally to loving them and thanking God for giving me the great ability to carry them. I wear my stretch marks and mommy tummy (because I have pretty significant DR from carrying them 37w5d) with pride and thanksgiving. I am awesome! I carried two babies at once! I also have an almost 6 yr old daughter who is growing and changing and becoming self aware. She observes that my tummy looks funny. She’s right! It does. But when I tell her that tummy carried her, her brother, and her sister, the look of awe and wonder is truly what it should be. And I tell her with pride that I am made exactly the way God wants me-just like she’s fearfully and wonderfully made exactly the way He made her. We should revere our bodies in all forms and thank God for trusting us with this ability to bring new life into His world. I feel grateful that I have grown comfortable with my outside self, much like I’ve done with my inner self. It took a long time, but I’m so glad it happened and I hope I can inspire others to find the same peace. Surely you will help some too with your words of encouragement and truth. Thank you!

    • Reply
      May 25, 2015 at 8:34 am

      I am so glad this resonates with you. When we speak the Truth it often does! God has put this truth in the hearts of many of us and it is something that The Church teaches too. I love reading the posts and comments of other women because it is so validating. These truths come from God, not us. Hopefully by sharing them we can bring others that peace you speak of.’

  • Reply
    Erica Saint
    May 21, 2015 at 5:03 am

    MaryRuth, I love this post.
    Plastic surgery has been on my mind a lot lately because two of my best friends had plastic surgery in the last two years. One got the mommy package, and the other got a combined hernia and tummy tuck package. What I have noticed is the effect these surgeries have had on their opinions of beauty. Of their beauty. They are more critical of their bodies and sound unhappier when they talk about how they look, always planning their next surgeries. It worries me.
    You mention that we are sending a horrible message to our daughters, and I agree. But we need to send the right message to our sons, as well. They need to understand that women are beautiful in all sizes, that God created their bodies to house and nourish babies and that it is unrealistic to expect a body not to be transformed by motherhood. Thankfully, my husband understands, and he loves me and my body and my sons know that I have been made more beautiful through motherhood in his eyes not less.
    But here is the thing, I know that in a few years when we are sure that we won’t be welcoming any more children into our family, I will get the saggy skin removed from my belly. After years of weight gain and weight loss, and three c-sections, the skin on my belly hangs very low, and there is a constant struggle to keep the skin from breaking down and developing sores. My husband and I agree that it is a necessary surgery for my health and quality of life, especially as I age. So you are right when you say that we should fix what is broken.
    My prayer is that I can remain focused on the true purpose of the surgery, a means to better health and not an attempt to fit better into skinnier jeans. I pray to always remember that my beauty shines through the life that I live, with my heart and mind focused on God, rather than the shape of my body.

    • Reply
      May 25, 2015 at 8:29 am

      Thanks so much for your comment! There are reasonable reasons to have corrective surgery. Similarly I have a small hernia that may required a fix sometime, but like with your issue that is fixing something broken, not striving for an otherwise unobtainable teenage-like body. I am so glad too that you brought up our sons! They are just as important to keep in mind as our daughters. Thank you Beautiful!

  • Reply
    May 22, 2015 at 1:12 pm

    Wow Mary Ruth this so beautiful…I NEVER realized that perspective before of “fixing what is broken”. How true that it can be easy to treat and look at our bodies like that…
    thanks for sharing your heart:)

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