Once upon a time, I had rockin’ abs. That’s what swimming competitively with cross-training for five years will do for you, heh. Then I got married, got pregnant, got stretchmarks, got loose skin, and got really, really messed up abs. And all the body-image issues that came with them.
I detest those articles that talk about “embracing” your stretchmarks from pregnancy, accepting them as the cost or “tiger stripes” from having a kid. I hate them because the pictures shown always include women with beautiful stomachs etched with a few cute little stretchmarks from place to place. They don’t show the ugly kinds of scaring. My kind of scaring. During my first pregnancy, I didn’t have a mark on me until around eight months, when suddenly every single centimeter of my abdomen was covered with little wiggles. Post-birth, I was left with jello for skin over a section of my body the size of a serving platter. With my second child, I developed eight sun-stripe scars upwards out of the mass of wiggle, some of them thicker than a centimeter. With my third, my lower pelvis scarred so badly that there was no unscarred skin, and it looked like I had been burned all the way across my lower belly. Additionally, my 10-lb-baby caused my abdominal muscles to separate and my skin to flop over and sag onto my legs.
I’m not going to show pictures here. This is too public a location. What I will say is that two years ago today, I underwent extensive abdominal surgery. This involved putting my stomach muscles back together – they’d been separated five whole inches – and the removal of 2.5-lbs of skin. I didn’t lose a lot of weight from the surgery, but it completely changed the shape of my body:
In It Was Me All Along, Andie Mitchell says:
Somehow, though, despite the visible scars, I felt more comfortable, more accepting of my body. There, in the mirror, was all that I’d worked for. I did it, I thought. Blemishes and all, it was earned, and it was mine. Removing the skin brought me closure. And I respected what remained.
This is how I felt when I was through all the pain and recovery from surgery. I weighed roughly the same, but I was wearing pants two sizes smaller. I could zip my wedding dress up for the first time in well over a decade. My skin was too scarred to see any abdominal definition, but I no longer cared. I loved those scars, and even the bit of loose, wiggly skin that remained. I went out and bought a bikini. I felt empowered and wonderful!
And I admit, one of the biggest reasons I’ve not felt nearly as bad about my body after regain is because of that surgery. I’m bigger than I have been in five years, but I still have my body shape, and there isn’t one huge part of me that I’m self-conscious about. I’m not confident every day or anything, but I have days when I am, and that’s a huge difference from before, when even at a healthy weight, I hid as much as I could because of my stomach.
So today, I celebrate. I may not be nearly as thin or healthy as I was right before or after that surgery, but I still love my stomach, and love what this surgery did for my body and my self-esteem. I wouldn’t change it for the world.
PS – I highly recommend Birthmarkings, a documentary about the post-birth body. This started my body-positivity journey several years ago. The last woman interviewed (around 16:48) was so close to how I looked post birth, and there are so very many different kinds of bodies and scarring represented throughout. It’s not a cute-tiger-stripes kind of deal. It’s amazing!