My Mother Body (Lisa)

During a recent discussion among a group of women friends in which a few of us were taking pot-shots at ourselves about our post-baby bodies, one friend in the group passed along a link to this website. I spent some time reading submissions posted to the site and looking at photographs, and it all just brought me to tears. First, because I think the women shown are beautiful – in body and spirit. And secondly, because it makes me feel sad that I have such a poor self-image.

I am 42 years old. I have given birth to and nursed six children. I am, in fact, still nursing my sixth child, who is almost 18 months old. In addition to the baby, I have a 3-year old, 5-year old twins, a 7-year old, and a 13-year old.

At 5 feet, 5 inches tall and 128 pounds, I am not overweight. I am actually within the healthy weight for my height and build. And yet, it’s the heaviest non-pregnant I’ve ever been in my life. I sometimes look at photos of myself from 10 and 15 years ago and pine for what I used to look like: thin, lean and angular, flat of stomach. It’s so true, that old saying, that youth is wasted on the young. I surely didn’t appreciate the body I had then. I didn’t even recognize that it was anything anyone might be envious of. It certainly never occurred to me that one day, several years into the future, I would look back at my younger, leaner self, and wish I still looked that way.

The truth is, though, that I spent a good part of my younger life being underweight. It wasn’t anything I aspired to or put work into – it’s just the way my body wanted to be. I’m probably at a healthier weight now than I was when I was 25.

But now, time and five pregnancies have changed this body forever. There are bulges and rolls where there used to be flat valleys. Certain areas are beginning to head a little southward. I have a pot belly covered with baggy skin from having been stretched out so far, so many times. My abdominal muscles are like pudding and just can’t hold it all in anymore.

When I glimpse myself in the mirror, unclothed, I quickly look away. I hide in the bathroom to get dressed or undressed; even my husband doesn’t get to see me in the light of day anymore. I feel embarrassed about my body, and mildly contemptuous of it. Sometimes I wear a Spanx under my clothes to smooth the bulges. Sometimes I fantasize about having plastic surgery – a little liposuction here, a little tuck there, a little lift here.

Why do I do this to myself? If it were a friend saying all these exact things to me, I would say to her, “You’re beautiful. Look at all the amazing things your body has done. I am in awe of you.” But I know that I am not alone in these feelings. So many of my friends also have poor feelings about their mother-bodies. We lament and make jokes about the stretch marks and saggy boobs and flabby bellies. Why can’t we embrace who and what we’ve become? Why don’t we see the beauty in ourselves, in those very marks of motherhood, in what our bodies have accomplished? Why do we feel embarrassed and ashamed?

I have long been of the opinion that pregnant women are truly beautiful. Personally, I have never felt more beautiful, more complete, than when I have been pregnant. The rounder and fuller I grew, the more fulfilled and happy in my own skin I felt. I loved wearing form-fitting clothes when I was pregnant. I was not afraid to bare my belly, and even sat for a revealing photo shoot when I was about six months pregnant with my twins. I treasure those photos, and I love the way I look in them, round and ripe.

I still remember after my first baby was born, taking a shower for the first time after giving birth, and being a little horrified at the shriveled, wrinkled little mound my belly had suddenly become. And I think ever since then I’ve been struggling with my body self-image – trying to make peace with what my body has become, and mostly failing. How can I love the body that is accomplishing something magical, and hate the body that is left in the wake of the magic?

My husband has told me that to him, a woman isn’t really a woman until she becomes a mother. And even as I cringe and shy away when he puts his hand on my belly, he tells me that I’m beautiful. Why can’t I see myself through his eyes?

Where does this notion come from, that youth and physical perfection are goals worthy of self-torment? Why do we mothers believe that firmer and harder is better, more beautiful? Can you imagine if we instilled in our children that physical perfection, that holding onto youth, rather than being healthy and happy, are what they should strive for? Wow, that’s something to think about, isn’t it? Kind of makes you wonder at what point in our lives our priorities change so drastically. I know that it would break my heart to see my daughters develop this sense of self-loathing someday. I want them to believe in their beauty at every age and stage of womanhood.

I am 42 years old and my body isn’t what it used to be. But it’s done some amazing things, and I would like to learn to take pride in that – in the physical evidence of what this body has accomplished. That is going to be my new year’s resolution: to learn to love myself.

11 thoughts on “My Mother Body (Lisa)

  • Wednesday, January 20, 2010 at 12:38 pm

    Wow! That was very powerful, everything we feel and think and wish and wonder. I think you look fantastic! You are very slender and your thighs are so smooth and bum so perky! I hope I look like that at 42 and/or 6 kids later!!! Believe your hubby when he says you are beautiful, let him enjoy your body that you earned, and I’m glad you are going to embrace it! And you are right, you should wear it with pride!

  • Thursday, January 21, 2010 at 4:18 pm

    I agree about your thighs and butt- the last time mine looked like that, I was 21. My kids will be 17 and 5 by the time I’m 42, and I hope by then I’ll be able to pull off a thong like you. Right now (5 weeks pp) I’d spill out of a thong and scare everyone on here. Maybe one day though… you look great and congrats on your kids.

  • Thursday, January 21, 2010 at 5:27 pm

    You look fantastic. No one looks 25 at 42. Either way we’re aging, might as well get some use and some kids out of our bodies.

  • Friday, January 22, 2010 at 4:14 pm

    Very inspiring words, thank you. Many things you said hit very close to home. Enjoy your body, enjoy your life!

  • Monday, January 25, 2010 at 11:02 pm

    What you said was so perfect and thought provoking that I’m bookmarking your entry onto my iPhone so that I can pull it up and read it often.

  • Tuesday, January 26, 2010 at 9:09 am

    What a fantastic post :) I LOVED the way I looked pregnant, and I was actually upset my belly didn’t get very big! I was happy with my body before pregnancy and am not terribly upset with it now, but every once and a while I catch myself looking at my tummy flab or my dimply butt and thinking “yuck!”. My husband has much the same view as yours does (he told last night that he thinks I’m “sexy as hell now”). You brought up so many good points, it will help on my low days.

    And Anna, great point!

  • Tuesday, January 26, 2010 at 10:11 am

    I am 24 yrs old and mother of four children. I just want to say I can hardly believe you have had six kids and look that great, and twins too! If I look even close to that at 42 after having only four, I will be estatic. I have a low self esteem about the imperfections of my postbaby body it helps me put things in perspective to read your description of the magical things that our bodies acomplish through childbirth. Thank you.

  • Saturday, January 30, 2010 at 9:34 am

    I love what you have written; it touches me deeply as I feel the same way. Five years after my last pregnancy, my belly looks very much like yours. I had two large babies, both over ten pounds, and all the loose skin and separated abdominal muscles still make me cringe. I feel selfish for wanting plastic surgery. I love my kids and feel so lucky to be a mom to them. But I am having a hard time learning to love myself!

  • Saturday, February 27, 2010 at 8:29 am

    You are SO BEAUTIFUL! :) I love the quote “youth is wasted on the young”… it really puts things into perspective for me. I am ‘thin’ and a very healthy weight, and I still have flabbier thighs than you, but you know what? I think I am going to celebrate being young, happy, and in love with my fiance and daughter, by purchasing a pair of shorts. Because hiding in clothing makes me feel like i’m hiding from myself, and looking at you and your story makes me realize that time is fleeting. Even at my skinniest and leanest I always looked for things that were wrong… and here you are, you have given birth to SIX BABIES! And I understand your pain, my mother has similar issues, and she only had two babies. I really love your post, it made me think a bit, about how I want my daughter to look at herself and the world…

  • Saturday, March 13, 2010 at 10:53 pm

    This is so silly but I still can’t get over the fact that other woman have loose skin on their stomachs like mine! I thought I was the only one! I’ve gone from being painfully self-conscious (to the point of being scared someone might find out) to just self-conscious over the years but have never stopped believing there is something abnormal, something wrong about my stomach that I need to hide. But when I see pics of other women, like yourself, I truly see beauty. I also recognize that you don’t look all that different from myself– so could it be that I am beautiful, too? I can’t grasp that yet but I am comforted that I am not alone in my mother’s shape.

  • Thursday, April 7, 2011 at 4:46 pm

    Oh Lisa! You are amazing. I’m glad you posted this here. Yes, you are beautiful- all the way through.

    Thanks for sharing this.

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