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Simply put, my body doesn't look anything like it used to and that is a tough pill to swallow. Even though a lot of the "baby" weight is gone, I've been reluctant to follow a stringent diet and exercise plan. I'm gravely concerned that after those avenues are exhausted, what I see is what I'll get, and I don't think I'll like what I see.
The reality is that no amount of salad eating or treadmill beating will erase the stretch marks that now tattoo my body, lighten the dark circles that have taken residence under my eyes, fluff and lift my once perky breasts, or minimize the fine lines that I see creeping up near my eyes and mouth. These aspects of myself are likely here to stay. Of course, motherhood negates all of those superficialities. One tiny smile or hearty belly laugh from my beautiful boy reminds me that it was and is all worthwhile.
However, I was a wife, a partner, and a lover first. As much as I'd like to dismiss my body image issues, I find that they perpetually creep back. Ten years his junior, my husband used to joke that I was his "trophy" wife. I find myself wondering how that thought could ever cross his mind now. With a busy toddler, I'm lucky to find time to shower; let alone to "doll" myself up. I find that, even when I look my best, I still have difficulty feeling pretty. I simply zero in on what I perceive as glaring faults: too wrinkly here, too flabby there, too pale, and why does the left boob look so much bigger than the right one?
They say misery loves company and I know that I am not the only sufferer of the post-baby body blues. Many of the ladies in my "momtourage" feel similarly and complaints of saggy boobs and flabby tummies are commonplace. But instead of feeling solace in the universality of our laments, I am saddened by the extent that my friends are willing to go to in order to achieve that pre-baby body again.
"Oh well you simply must try this stretch mark cream from the South of France. My cousin swears by it, and it only burns for a few minutes."
"I'm just going to wait until after we have the next baby, and then go get nipped and tucked."
"No cookie for me. I'm on a cleanse again. Only water and cayenne pepper for the next 3 days."
I can only speak for my relationship, but I know that my husband has never made me feel anything less than beautiful. God Bless Him. He either doesn't see the many faults I see, or he is just able to see passed them enough to make me feel gorgeous. Either way, I have realized that I only have myself to blame for these insecurities. Well, myself and the endless array of beauty advertisements and television shows depicting "real" housewives. I've gathered that I am about 5 gallons short of silicone to be considered "real" or "beautiful." But I digress.
As mental health counselors, we talk a lot about "re framing" one's perspective. The theory is that since you have no control over others or their behavior, your only real choice is to change your own thoughts and actions. I will never be able to change what the world sees as beautiful. I no longer possess flat abs, perky boobs, or luminescent skin, but perhaps I can still be beautiful.
Perhaps, a few of those many imperfections are beautiful in their own right.
The soft, droopy belly that once stretched to magnificent proportions in the effort to give my son life, now acts as a safe haven for sleepy baby heads. The stretch marks left behind, a tangible reminder of the days when two hearts resided in one body. These once perky breasts, are now being used to nourish my son, and there is something wonderfully primal about that. The dark circles under my eyes: the inevitable outcome of long days of play followed by even longer nights of pacifying.
I am a mother. Like so many who came before me, I have sacrificed all that was once considered sacred: my time, my carefree lifestyle, my dignity, and my body.
And for this little boy, I would do it again in a heartbeat.
I think there is something kind of beautiful in that.