Yesterday I found some new stretch marks -thin white lines running parallel to each other like the rungs of a ladder climbing up my outer thigh. My heart sank and my shoulders sagged involuntarily under the weight of yet another imperfection.
I’ve seen a lot of articles and videos lately about women embracing their post-baby bodies. About society learning to respect the body of a woman who has stretched herself around another human life. Who has willingly allowed her own body to be “wrecked” for the sake of another person. These articles and videos urge us to see their sagging breasts and wrinkled bellies as beautiful symbols of strength and sacrifice. I applaud that. It’s beyond time that society honored women, especially mothers, for who they are and what they do instead of making any kind of statements about how their bodies should look.
But every time I read one of these articles or watch one of these videos, I experience an underlying sense of guilt and shame. What about those of us who haven’t birthed children and still have hopelessly flawed bodies? What about those of us who can’t look at our veiny legs and count these as something we have embraced in order to create new life? It’s embarrassing to admit this, but I have often dreamed about the day when I can embrace my mess of a body as “post-baby.” People understand that. Other mothers, particularly, have great compassion for that. I have great respect for that.
But what about the 26-year-old woman who has never had a child, who is healthy and active, but whose knees are still dimpled with cellulite? The angry purple lines that criss-cross my inner thighs don’t mark my body’s anguished and miraculous journey to produce a new life. The cellulite that ripples my skin from my hips to my knees is not from the strain of carrying another human’s body inside of mine. These are the marks of an adolescent girl whose body stretched into a woman’s before she was ready for it.
Here is a short list off the top of my head of things I am ashamed of about my body and that I actively try to correct where possible:
- Stretch marks
- Unfeminine body hair Thick, dark, impossible-to-get-rid-of hair.
- Razor burn from removal of unfeminine body hair
- Bushy eyebrows
- Uneven skin tone/acne
- Flat chest – but not flat enough to just be super thin and shapeless like the Korean girls, just flat enough to make me pear-shaped.
- Possible improper ratio of breast to areola to nipple (I just found out that that’s a thing recently, so naturally now I’m worried about it.)
- Hair that is simultaneously dry and greasy
- Belly down – (what I call that very light layer of hair over my belly that makes it look pudgy even when you can clearly see the outline of my abs)
- Chunky calves that make it impossible to buy boots
- Short, stubby fingers with short stubby nails
- That one weird mole on my back
After reading that list you probably think I am obsessed with my body image and spend way too much time thinking about this. Maybe that’s true, but I really don’t think I spend any more time thinking about this than the average woman does. In fact, these are all the flaws I noticed this morning during my 12-minute shower.
As a society, we are starting to speak out against “body-shaming” mothers and against the promotion of unrealistic and hyper-sexualized expectations for women’s bodies. We, as a culture, still have a long way to go, but we are making some noise. And this is a good thing.
On Saturday I ran six miles on my solid, muscular legs, and on Sunday my thick calves and cellulite-y thighs carried me to the top of a mountain. I didn’t feel particularly proud of either of those things, but when I saw those silvery lines stretching up the side of my thigh yesterday I felt defeated and ashamed. So today I am wondering, is there grace for me too? Is there a way to love my flaws when I can’t explain them away with the sacrificial love of a mother? Can I still be beautiful and strong and proud if I didn’t earn these imperfections in a noble way? Can I let you see my scars and not feel ashamed?