This Is My Body, Sacred and Scarred

We were at the lake this summer when I saw her, the woman with my body wearing a bikini, her thighs round and her stomach rounder, both decorated with long lines chasing each other up her skin, identical to my own stretch marks which go on into infinity. I stopped and I admit I stared, although I hoped she didn’t notice because I couldn’t say what I wanted to say or make her understand that I meant it, which was, “Good for you, mama” and, “I wonder if you know how beautiful you are?” And then she was off, into the water, playing with her kids, splashing in the sunshine, living her life with her scars on the outside like the playing and the living were more important than the flaws. I loved her in that moment for being brave and being herself and teaching me to love myself a little better.

To be clear, you won’t catch me in a bikini. Ever. Not because I think bikinis are bad or that only women with certain body types are entitled to wear them. If you want to wear a bikini, friend, I will go all Mama Bear on anyone who says you can’t, shouldn’t or to DON’T. But me? Nope. Not interested. I’m happy to leave my bikini days behind me, along with skinny jeans, leggings and feathered hair.

Which is why this is a strange transition I’m about to make. A strange thing I’m about to do. A strange turn of events to follow my (stretch-marked) gut and push publish on this picture of my belly, bare for all to see.

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How in the world do you make a decision to bare your scars to the world? To wear the bikini at the lake… or to stand virtually naked in front of a mirror in the quiet of your own home and tentatively take off your shirt and step out of your jeans and lift the camera and watch the light and suck in your gut and puff it back out and choose to push the button that will capture this image? The one of the belly you love for growing babies? The one of the belly you hate for the scars that drip like candle wax? The one of the belly that made one friend gasp in shock and another say how beautiful? The one of the belly your husband caresses in the middle of the night which makes you wish he’d stop and hope he won’t? The one of the belly with the craters and the canyons, unblemished skin drawn haphazardly next to the skin that laid down and said, “I cannot do this. I cannot grow any more. Not one more bit,” and was stretched anyway, like all of motherhood?

How in the world do you make a decision to share that belly like it’s lovely? Like it’s worthy of not just words but a picture, too?

For me, it was this e-mail from my friend Sarah. This e-mail that made me laugh and smile and cry and run my nails along my scars and nod and say, “I know. Oh, I know.” Because Sarah wrote:

My husband grabbed my now dried up boobs last night and I started crying.

He was laughing and then I started crying.

And then he stopped laughing.

And I couldn’t stop crying.

Remember that time he found me in the fetal position crying my eyes out about the fact that I could not stop the train wreck of motherhood that was hurtling toward me?

It was just like that. Except this time I was crying about the aftermath of the wreck and how I was no longer, nor ever going to be again, the woman with the perky boobs and nice rear he married. The full effects of having a child have left their ugly, stretchy, purple, saggy marks all over me.

My glory years are officially over. Or at least that’s what I was feeling like in the moment.

And, yes. My glory years are officially over, too, Sarah. Or rather, my glory years have been transferred from my broken body to something deeper and less physical and far more profound than a mere body. Not that that matters during the crying moments. It doesn’t. Because broken bodies must be mourned.

But someday – eventually – just like motherhood gets stronger, the body matters less. Because it takes a body that’s been broken to give life. And I don’t just mean to our biological babies. Oh, no, I sure don’t. Because this body of mine was broken with my first baby even though another mama grew her. My body was broken by late nights and early mornings that melted into each other. And by the burn in my back from holding her and holding her and holding her. And by the grind and the gore and the grace and the glory of motherhood which walk, always, hand in hand.

When I see myself in the mirror now, I think, almost always, “This is my body, broken for you, kids.” Which isn’t sacrilegious. Or self-deprecating. Or disdainful. Or sad. Not now. Not anymore. No. Because the broken body points always toward life. Always toward triumph. Always toward resurrection. It just took me a while to find the sacred in the scars.

……….

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P.S. I laughed out loud at my panties the other day. In an epic move of comedic solidarity, they thought it would be awesome to mimic my stretch marks by getting stretch marks of their own.

—>

Good one, Panties.

……….

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ABOUT BETH WOOLSEY I'm a writer. And a mess. And mouthy, brave, and strong. I believe we all belong to each other. I believe in the long way 'round. And I believe, always, in grace in the grime and wonder in the wild of a life lived off course from what was, once, a perfectly good plan.
102 comments
  1. Your story brought tears to my eyes and reminded me of when my then 4 year old daughter traced the varicose vein down my leg and said “pretty!” Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

  2. Never thought it would happen that my two favourite bloggists would come together – ‘5 Kids is a Lot of Kids’ meets ‘The Shape of a Woman’. My joy is uncontained :-)) As is your beauty and spirit Beth, I liked you a whole lot before this post but now I think I love you a little bit for this. Not in a creepy way I hasten to add, ok, shutting up now…

  3. I am continually amazed at what my body has done and continues to do. I work hard at the gym, not to regain the body of my youth (ain’t gonna happen), but to have the strength and stamina to keep up with my active kids! My goal is to be a “yes, mommy can” mommy, not a “no, mommy can’t” one. Before kids, I was sure they’d wreck me inside and out, and while they’ve certainly changed things, I wouldn’t want my uninspired pre-baby body back. My love for them spurs me on to do the best I can with what I’ve got, which is something I never did before. And that gives me all the confidence in the world, even enough to rock the bikini.

  4. Ooph – this made me cry. Thank you for this. I’ve been wallowing in the mourning myself. And I’m wondering how you snuck into my house and got that photo of my belly because it looks soooo familiar.

  5. You are awesome! You speak the truth and you speak it so eloquently! Thank you!!!

  6. What a great article. I am pleased to see that others have responded with such recognition, support, and love. But I want to try to change your perspective a little. Who says that your body is broken now or that your beauty is long gone? Try thinking of your body as used. It’s been lived in. It has served a wonderful purpose and shows that. Who says that a woman needs to have flawless skin, perky breasts and a flat belly in order to be beautiful?
    Now someone who puts a tagline on her blog about raising kids to be self-sufficient enough to pay for their own counseling…that’s wise and funny. And beautiful. Stretch marks may not be pretty, but they can be beautiful.

  7. We recently moved from an apartment with no mirrors to a big modern house with SO MANY MIRRORS. At first I was shocked by my appearance, now so heavy with this very-overdue fourth child, but now I’m making peace with it. I would like to start walking more this fall after this baby comes (assuming zie ever deigns to do so, of course), but even if that doesn’t change my body at all, even if the round parts get rounder, I’m okay looking like this. Because I decided that what I am is beautiful. Because I want to show my children that my worth as a person does not depend on my dress size. Because people who judge me on my appearance rather than who I am aren’t worth my time. Because for me, this is what these years of mothering little babies and chasing toddlers look like– and these years are beautiful.

    Thank you so much for posting this, Beth. You are beautiful!

  8. Thank you. Three pregnancies later, my body seems undesirable to me. I’m always relievd when my hubby still likes to touch it.

  9. Beth,

    I had so much to say, but all I will say is “Bless you, Beautiful Mama”. Your daughters will know their bodies are beautiful because you do. I have seen it in my own daughters.

    Be brave,
    Devi

  10. I just really love this. I find myself not even wanting my husband to see me naked, d yet hoping he still does of course. I’m gearing up for another at baby #2 and trying to get in shape before it all goes to heck again, and mostly I just wonder why? I need to work on accepting the changed landscape of my body. I’m proud that you put it out there.

  11. Add three c-section scars and you have what dear hubby calls ‘a great smiley face’.

    Wear’em with pride I say – we’ve earned every single one!

    🙂

    (and no, you won’t catch me in a bikini or skinny jeans either. EVER like, even before kids – lol. )

  12. Courage, grace, humor & truth… the Rx for all scars, baggage & injustice of this life. I remember standing 8 months pregnant looking at my huge baby bulge saying to my husband, I can’t figure out how I don’t have stretch marks. Poor guy had to tell me they were on the side of the belly I couldn’t see. Yup, I’m a dreamer. I didn’t LOL immediately but I smile every time I tell it now.

    Thanks Beth.

  13. You. are. amazing.

    xoxoxoxoxxo
    A

  14. Thanks for this. I will admit, I haven’t had kids yet, and I am terrified of what it will do to my body. And I kind of hate myself for caring so much. I want to be above all of that, and embrace that motherhood and all of its scars with grace and dignity. And you have done that so well here. So thank you. I have a feeling this post will be one I come back to over and over in the future.

    1. Don’t feel bad that you worry. Don’t hate yourself for caring. As a mama on the other side, I just ask that you love your body, care for your body, appreciate your body and celebrate your body before you have kids. Then if you’re lucky enough to get pregnant, love that too because it’s amazing and awesome and sometimes it hurts but they’re little hurts that many of us who won’t ever have more kids miss sometimes. And then when you come out the other side different, accept and celebrate yourself then too. Your children will think you’re beautiful, particularly if you think you’re beautiful. I’ve always hidden my physical insecurities from my sons because I want to protect them from that crap as long as I can and you know what? My 5 year old thinks I’m beautiful just the way I am, I can see it in his eyes when he says he loves me. My younger son is still nursing at 20 months and I love that he knows that love and comfort can always be found in my lap. I don’t care that my breasts will never be the lovely perky things they once were, I’ll always know that I gave my boys the best start I was capable of giving them.

      And if all that doesn’t work, what do you think spanx and push up bras are for? We all thought they were for when we were in our sassy 20s but really, they’re for when we want to reclaim our bodies as our own once the kids back off just a little bit.

      1. Thank you, Julie! Well said! That brought a tear to my eye, and it’s a message I should be reading often now too. I appreciate you!

  15. love you.

  16. Love this. However, a correction: these ARE your glory years! 🙂

  17. Thank you for being brave Beth. Sometimes I wonder what it would do to the way we relate to others if we all stopped wearing our masks? My health has left me pale and with big dark circles under the eyes. I will not go out without makeup on. I’m not suggesting we all dance naked in the street either but there is great value in learning to be real and owning it (just like the Velveteen Rabbit).

    As for my stretch marks? I did gain few small insignificant ones on my tummy but I’ll never be posting a pic of the main big screamingly obvious ones… they’re on my bum. How that happened I’ll never know 😉

  18. One of my 5, the 8 year old, asked me about my belly and stretch marks. I showed her them, plus the scars from my 4 c-sections and the scars from my colisystectomy. I told her how they were my badges of courage. I carried a total of 6 babies in there and I may have flab, twin skin, stretch marks, scars and find one side sticking out further than the other (at least until I get that pesky hernia repaired) but I still am proud of my body. Each mom carries scars of some type, and should carry them proudly. Now, I am not getting into a bikini anytime soon, but I hadn’t done that since I was 16 anyway!

  19. This is beautiful. (As are you.)

  20. I love this. And, you know, when I see people like that woman in the bikini I think what speaks loudest for me is that she DOES know she’s beautiful, and that is why she has the confidence I don’t. And I want to be like her. I think I’d rather look like I do and be confident than be skinny and not.

    PS again, love this.

    Steph

  21. Can I tell you now that I love you? That I love you for posting this post, for sharing your beautiful life, for being so f-ing brave?

    “Thank you” does not even begin to touch the level of appreciation I have for you at this moment.

    xo Bets

  22. just today i stood in the mirror noticing my stretch marks peeking out from the line of my bra. i hadn’t noticed them in so long. mostly because i was 30lbs heavier and i think the fullness of my breast then filled them in a bit. but i have often thought of doing a little series about our bodies and the shame that goes along with the marks of growth and motherhood.

    thank you for this post. my heart is full.
    xoxo

  23. Thank you for including the baby another mama grew. Beautifully said. My babies were both grown in another belly, a surrogate’s. But my body has nonetheless been sacrificed for my children. I may not have the stretch marks but it will never be the same because I have other priorities not. I struggle with chronic health issues and I have a real choice between exercising even just for health and mothering well. I can’t do both. So I don’t. I would give anything for my babies and I do every day. And if I don’t fit into my summer skirts then that’s the price I’ll gladly pay to have the energy to play through the summer with them.

  24. Wow, Beth. May I be one of the first to stand up and give you a standing ovation….through the computer, that is. My belly looks so similar and it’s all I can do to keep from laughing every time I pull my SPANX off and suddenly it’s like the 3 pound casing has been cut off of the 10 pound sausage! I’m surprised there aren’t shock waves from that mess.

    It can be so hard to find the beauty in the scarred landscape we see in the mirror, but I am right there with you when it comes to seeing how beautiful it is on others. I just really struggle with feeling just like your friend Sarah. I feel dried up and worn out. Like I turned out to be nothing like was advertised in my teens!

    Thank you for this post, Beth. Your bravery and eloquence never ceases to amaze me.

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