My daughter walked in on me changing the other day. This happens just about every day, but this time she had questions. “Why does your belly look like that? It’s round and has marks on it. Do they hurt?” At first, I was bummed that she had finally noticed that I was different. I was hoping we could skip that lesson. I explained that my body is different because I am a mom and I had babies. That didn’t satisfy her. She wanted a better explanation about stretch marks. So we dug deeper, and I talked about bellies getting bigger because babies grow inside of them. And that stretch marks are normal even if you haven’t had a baby.
Then she said something that shocked me: “I hope my belly looks like that someday. I want to have babies too.”
Here I am, wishing every day to look differently, and she wants to look like me. She doesn’t see what I see. Her little five-year-old eyes are on her mom, who she adores and wants to be like.
Children see our world so differently. They don’t base their friendships on race or skin color or sexuality, they just see their friends. They know nothing of religion or politics or any other hot button discussion. They talk about things that make them happy and make their friends smile. A child doesn’t view a body as thin or fat, they see someone that they love. As a parent, I am responsible for instilling values in my children. My behavior is what they will model. It is my job to impress upon them the importance of treating themselves, and others, with dignity and respect. That means I have to do it too.
If I said that I loved having stretch marks, I’d be lying. I’m just not there. I don’t like dimples or skin flaps either. Totally not wild about my fine lines and wrinkles, but I have all of those things too. I often lament the loss of my youth and the body that I once had. But the changes that have happened to my body are not due to neglect or self-hatred. I am different because of something so beautiful.
Growing a human being inside of our body is truly a miracle. But how often do we look at our bodies and say thank you? I know that I don’t. But we all should. Those bellies that we think are too jiggly and stretched out? They are where our babies developed and grew and got ready to enter this crazy world. Our legs have held us up when we were so tired we could barely stay awake. Our arms have cradled and soothed. Our hands have changed diapers and washed away a day’s worth of dirt and play. We have run fingers through messy hair and traced a sleeping child’s face. Our lips have kissed away tears and blown bubbles to a happy child.
We need to remind ourselves to be thankful for all of these things.We need to appreciate ourselves and all that our bodies have accomplished, and we need to respect them. Sounds simple enough, but we all know that’s not the case. It will forever be simpler to criticize and neglect than it is to recognize how great we are.
And we are great. Our bodies are strong. Those bodies made us mothers. They gave us everything that we needed to nurture and grow another human. And though we may not look the same as we did before those babies came along, we cannot allow ourselves to diminish the value of our bodies and what they have done for us.
My daughter knows nothing about the future. She’s a baby. She has her entire life ahead of her. And in that lifetime, she may want to be a mom. And I can see it in her naturally. Her baby doll, Francine, is her most prized possession. She feeds her, clothes her and lies next to her to sleep at night. She cares for that doll the way a mother would. And I hope that one day she will get to be a mom and to know that profound love. When the time comes, I want her to be grateful to her body for getting her there. I want her to love the skin that she is in and not pine for a different physique. In order for that to happen, I have to set the example.
I want her to know that I do appreciate my body for the miracles that it has produced. I am thankful for hips that have widened to carry a baby and for breasts that now droop after nourishing four tiny bodies. My stretch marks are sweet little reminders of my pregnancies and a time when I was excited and happy and filled with wonder. I have fine lines on my face, not just from worry, but from the countless smiles that motherhood has given to me. My body has served me well, and while it may not look perfect, it has done its job perfectly.