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. You are so brave and your vulnerability is breathtaking. I just happened on your blog. A friend of mine who is younger than me shared it on FB. I hope you will all forgive this longer post but I wanted to share some things with you. As women, we go through so many life experiences that change us inside and out. I am at the other end of my life, I am a “Grammie” now. However, I remember well the experience of seeing my first stretch mark and wondering “what is that”, and watching in horror as more grew. I was also deeply happy and excited about the life that was growing inside of me. My breasts swelled with milk and I loved the experience of being able to feed my beautiful baby girl from my own body. I was in awe of how my belly would move as this life inside me grew. I loved being pregnant and I have loved every part of being a woman. I would go on to have 7 pregnancies and only two children. I had my first when I was twenty, Jennifer, and my second, Jessica, when I was forty. In between I endured an abusive marriage that I had the strength to leave and spent many lonely and scary days as I found my own way, wondering if I would ever be loved again. I met my current husband when I was 35. We have been happy together for 30 years now and yes, mixed into that happiness were some major bumps in the road. I never worried about getting older and didn’t think I would turn into one of those women who were afraid of what aging would do to my body. I have spent some time looking back on my life and see that there has been a lot of suffering. It shows on my face with wrinkles here and there and everywhere. And then it happened…I had trouble with aging and looked at myself as ugly. Just as you are in a process, so am I. I saw some of my old classmates this past summer and they all looked younger than me, well most of them. It has been hard for me to look in the mirror and not see a younger face. This post has brought me back to the same issue you are all feeling but just a different stage of life. You will all get there too. I think it is so important for older women to speak up and nurture younger women. Almost 12 years ago, I was blessed with a beautiful grandson. My first child was the mommy. There is nothing to compare with the bliss of becoming a grandmother. Then about 7 years ago, my beautiful girl and my beautiful grandson were in a terrible car accident. It took my daughters life and left her precious son alone and with PTSD. After losing my daughter, my face took on an even older look. I called it my “grief mask”. I didn’t even look like myself, stopped wearing make-up and jewelry and stopped caring about anything except rebuilding my precious boy’s life. It took a few years for me to begin to care about my appearance. There was some freedom in the not caring but I was glad to get back to a place where I wanted to adorn myself again. I’m sharing all of this to tell you that this is the beginning for most of you. You will have many opportunities to learn how to love yourself as you age through each transition of your life. I have gone through experiences I hope none of you have to go through. However, I have come out the other end, still full of faith, life and love, able to smile again. I am learning to love this face of mine, forget the body, lol. After reading this blog, I thought of my beautiful boy and how he will come up to me and say “Grammie I love you”. He has such love in his eyes and he could care less that I have wrinkles. I don’t think he even sees them. My husband loves me even though I am overweight and wrinkled! It helps that he is 10 years older, :). Life happens, my message to you is to learn to love yourself now, just as you are. You are beautiful, no matter what your life experiences. Your acceptance of yourself will teach your children that they are beautiful too and don’t have to measure up to any societal pressure to look perfect. It will teach them to love themselves. I remember sitting on the bed with my younger daughter Jessica. I said “I am so sorry I am not a perfect mommy”. She said “It’s OK mommy because if you were perfect then I would have to be perfect too and that would be too hard”. I am learning to treasure the lines on my face. My daughter blessed me with this amazing gift and bore the scars of his birth. I tell him she is and will always be his mother. I tell him that she was his birth mommy. I tell him that God knew he needed a mommy on earth so he gave him to me. I am his earth mommy. He likes that. I just wear the scars on my face now and when he looks at me with love in his eyes, I do feel beautiful. Thank you so much for your beautiful post.

    1. I’d like to meet you, I think. I’m not Grammie, yet, but I’m older than many of my friends and my kids are older than most of theirs. Thank you for the perspective.

  2. You so totally rock, Beth.

    “This is my body, broken for you, kids.” Yes.

    On one of the hottest days this summer, I dug out my old bikini from the back of my drawer. I looked in the mirror. And then I went outside to play with my toddlers in their water table.

    I am learning (still) to love my stretched, saggy-skinned tummy that carried three babies to 35 weeks before the c-section. I want my daughters to have a far more positive body image than I ever did.

    Maybe next summer, the bikini goes to the beach.

  3. Thank you for being bold enough to post this!! I know I’d never have enough guts for this, but I’m so glad to see you did. We all need to stand together and show the world that kids do really change our bodies. We all are not made to go back to being skinny and look like we are a teenager anymore.

    You still look amazing by the way!!

  4. My first little is turning 6 months next week and I have struggled with my tummy ever since. I want to love it and truthfully, there are days where I do but…the days where it’s hard, I feel lost and alone and find myself thinking “where did that “other” body go?”. Thank you for the reminder that we as Mama’s don’t walk alone. Also – I teared up reading Dan’s comment. What a sweet heart he has!

  5. You rock! Thank you for this. As so many others have said, I am a woman with the same belly and the same scars. I thank you for reminding me of what my body has done for me.

  6. After reading all of these posts, from women who are proud of their sacrifice, I would like to add a little something from a husband’s point of view. A true loving husband never sees his woman in this way, meaning that when I look at my wife of 36 years, and realize that even though we both have a lifetime of pain and children’s lives etched onto our faces and bodies, I still see the 20 year old girl that I saw on our wedding day, and all of the years and toil just fall way. Love has a way of telling the mind that what you see is not the truth; that the real truth is that what you see is the love of your life, forever.

  7. Very well said. Thank you so much for sharing!

  8. So moving…thank you!!

  9. I think it’s always good to remember that when I’m putting on something “special” for my husband (or taking it off) I am the only naked woman in the room. He’s not comparing me to anyone else.

  10. Oh, Beth, I love you. You are beautiful, inside and out. I’ve been stretched and cut open and run dry twice. Every time my darling husband touches my stomach I cringe and pull away. If only I could see myself through his eyes. Yet I mourn the times that my body was put to it’s ultimate test because I know it can never happen again.

    I know now that we are all beautiful, every single one of us. ♥

  11. Thank You! Once again a wonderful post that touches this Mom of five.Many (okay, most if not all whether they want to admit it or not) of my friends all struggle with the changes our bodies have undergone. Luckily my husband has always told me I was beautiful, which admittedly doesn’t always make it better…but yet again it does. My “Mom” friends and I recently had a discussion on body image, with one friend admitting she adopted because she didn’t want to have the “ugly stretch marks. This conversation ended up prompting us to discussing body image, motherhood and what we can do to help give our daughters a stronger self image. We should all be as courageous! If you haven’t heard of Jade Beal check out her Beautiful Body Project.

    https://www.facebook.com/JadeBeallPhotography

  12. Both my wife and sister gave birth within months of each other; both are having difficulty with their post-partum bodies. I try to assure them that they are wanted by the men that love them and the families they were born into and the families they built.

    I look at things this way. We’re getting older together. Our worlds are just as colourful and vibrant as it was when we were young but our perceptions are more nuanced; the reds are just as red but there are so many more shades of colour to enjoy now. We have less time in this world but so much more to love in our lives. The scars and blemishes are positive proof that lives worth living have been lived and represent more than simple betrayals by our bodies.

  13. I love this. So. Much. Thank you!!!

    My son was about three when he tentatively touched one of my stretch marks and asked, “What’s that?” I told him, and he asked, “Where did you get them?” When I told him that I got him from him, from when he was in my tummy, his eyes got all big and wide and he said with wonder, “You’re WELCOME, mommy!” And since then, I’ve never been able to look at them with the same disdain. Suddenly, they became physical proof of my love for my little man.

  14. So, so beautiful. I love this: “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?” Stunning way to look at it. I’ve learned to embrace my soft, stretch marked stomach, but I’m secretly terrified of my saggy breasts. Must bookmark this.

  15. Thank you..Just Thank You! I have been self conscious of what my body looks like post kid for almost 7 years. I struggled the most after my divorce wondering if another man would ever find my body attractive again. Thankfully, I found a man a who cares for me stripes and all. I am finally to the point where I am damn proud to have brought my 12 pound 22 inch little man into this crazy world. I will always wear these marks with pride, they brought me my greatest joy. There will not be any bikini or skinny jeans wearing in my future, not really my thing.Thanks for the words of encouragement. It is nice to know that I am not the only one struggling.

  16. Yes! And yes! Thank you so much for putting it all in perspective. My three year old asked a few weeks ago why I had purple lines on my tummy, and that I needed to get a paper towel and clean it off. (Thanks for thinking I’m dirty, kid.) Anyway, I told him those lines were drawings he made me when he lived in my belly. He loved that answer, and so do I. It doesn’t make me any less shocked sometimes when I look in the mirror, but it does remind me that my kids are my favorite masterpieces…and I get to carry their early works on my belly! 🙂

  17. Beth, you are a beautiful woman – inside and out. Thank you for your courage, honesty, wisdom and wit. This post made me cry.
    My stretch marks began with my first pregnancy and grew throughout my second and third. I was upset when they started to appear but my wonderful husband comforted me by saying “you know who else has scars on His body as a result of suffering and sacrificing to give life to those He loved?” It helped me view my stretch marks in a new way. I still struggle with loving my ‘mummy tummy’ but I’m grateful for this broken body and the blessings that it has brought me (my three precious children!) Thank you for this timely reminder on finding the sacred in my scars. Love from Australia

  18. Precious, painful, heart rending and freeing. I myself complimented another woman in a bikini for similar reasons. I cried in the fitting room of a Victoria’s Secret after my first babe weaned and my breasts were flaccid pools in the demi bras I used to wear. I did find a more uplifting model…but thank you for sharing all of our truth. You are Lovely! You may enjoy the book “Captivating” by John and Stasi Eldridge.

  19. Wow – this is incredible. So beautiful. My sister bought a bunch of us bikinis when we turned 40. It was very liberating and a little silly and scary.

    And kudos for the matching bra and panties. Good grief, are you raising the bar on our fashion sense cause I’m gonna be an epic fail on that one.

    Thank-you for being so brave!

  20. Wonderful!! I just discovered a woman who is doing “A Beautiful Body Project” She is a photographer and is taking pictures of moms and all their beautifulness. It fits right in with your post. https://www.facebook.com/JadeBeallPhotography Thank you for sharing.

  21. “Because it takes a body that’s been broken to give life.” yes.

    and I LOVE MY BODY. i like that it’s squishy and stretchy and marked and scarred and big and uncomfortable in jeans. thanks for being so brave and beautiful!

  22. I love love love “the broken body always points towards life” and everything that symbolizes. It is truly beautiful, and it makes this train wreck of a body, complete with stretch marks and loose belly skin that will not return to its former firm self no matter how hard I try feel a little less like a failure or lack or of trying and a little more like something very divine. Thank you, Beth.

  23. You’re gorgeous. Well done. And the pants made me laugh out loud. Solidarity pants! 😀

    Love to you xo

  24. Oh my, today I got a bikini delivered in the mail, purchased impulsively online. I stood in front of my mirror and admired my tenacity, and thought of all those women I see with bodies that are like mine and wear their bikinis with pride. I think I will join them this summer – two little kids and 45 years under my belt, if I can’t do it again now I will never do it, whatever shape I’m in.

  25. Someone probably already wrote this above, but if so it bears repeating. There’s a saying out there that goes like this, “Your body is not ruined, you’re a tiger who has earned her stripes.”

    You Beth, if any of us, have earned her stripes.

    Beautiful blog post!

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