We’re wrapping up our thoughts on identity and motherhood this week. Thanks to those of you who have engaged with us, asked questions that we’ll explore more in the future, and given us feedback. For my last word on this topic, I want to talk about an issue that is a struggle for all moms, pursuing careers or staying at home–our mom bodies! When we first moved out to SoCal, I joined a MOPS group at a local church. At my table was a beautiful young mom of two who constantly complained about “getting her body back.” She informed us that she’d demanded a tummy tuck from her husband, because at 25, she was DONE looking frumpy. Having several friends struggling at the time with the heartbreak of infertility, I was so saddened that this mom didn’t see her mommy body as a precious gift. I didn’t know what to say at the time, though I did end up blogging a response of sorts two years ago, when I explained that I won’t be getting a tummy tuck because my stretch marks and flabby skin are signs that my body has done what it was supposed to do in bearing four children. Two years later, I still need to remind myself of those truths from time to time, and it helps to remember how absolutely fake our standards of “body perfection” really are. (My favorite is the awful photo shop job to make Princess Kate look even skinnier–because if there’s one woman in the world whose looks don’t need improvement, it’s Kate Middleton!)
Even those of us who are pretty secure in our identity as women and mothers can still struggle with our body image. Thanks to a culture that worships youth, we’re constantly being forced to compare ourselves with childless teens and twenty-somethings who live on 1200 calorie diets and look beautiful for a living. Anna and I became friends when we were skinny teenagers, but ten kids (and over a decade of breastfeeding) later, we’re not the same size and shape we were 15 years ago. I remember complaining to Anna about clothes after weaning my first born. She told me that she had passed on most of her pre-child clothes to her younger sister and urged me to cut my losses and do the same. It was such good advice, because those clothes got to be used by girlfriends who could fit in them (and then passed them along when they started having babies) instead of sitting in my closet, tormenting me that I didn’t have the body of my 19 year old self. In the past few years, I’ve even made my peace with needing to wear shapewear under formal attire, and I’ve learned that it’s more important that a dress fit me in all the right places than that it have a certain single digit number on its tag.
I’ve made progress in this area! But it’s hard. I live in an area full of women who devote hours a day to making their bodies look exactly like their 19 year old selves. I look like a 33 year old mother of four. And that is not something I should be embarrassed about or ashamed of. I earned my stretched-out skin with four on-time-or-late pregnancies; I look like a mom because I am one. I don’t have rock-hard abs, but those wouldn’t be too comfortable for the two (or three) little girls trying to snuggle into me while I read to them on the couch. I can’t shop at the teenybopper stores in the mall anymore, but I personally don’t find skin tight tank tops and cheeky shorts attractive, anyway. My best friend and I laugh that we have literally 5 or more different sizes of clothes in our closets because of the up and down weight swings of pregnancy, nursing, and returning to normal, but we know that this is just the reality of this stage in our lives. The MOPS mom who “wanted her body back” told us she went to the gym as soon as her husband came home for dinner every night. When I joined a gym myself last year, I found that I personally am just not willing to sacrifice the precious few hours of family time we have together take an evening aerobics class. I’ll have to continue finding creative ways to keep in shape and take good care of my health. This body that I have looks different than it did before I became a mother, but I would never trade the joy of motherhood for my pre-childbearing body. Fellow moms, as we embrace our identity as mothers, let’s also embrace the bodies that made us mothers–stretch marks and all.