The teenage years are not a time of healthy body image, in fact those years and the ones leading afterward as we gain a grasp on our identity is when we are most susceptible to feelings of unworthiness. We largely take it out on our bodies, the way we look. We are flooded with images of "perfection," which if we focus too much on, strip us of self-confidence and ultimately self-respect.
I reflected upon my own journey with body image.
I feel so blessed that my mother was extremely aware of putting too much focus on looks instead of health. There were no weights in my home, instead healthy eating and exercise were modeled and encouraged. My mom didn't lecture us though. This coupled with the fact that I hit puberty WAY later than everyone else gave me some sort of magical protection through the whole, "I hate my body" age. Sure I wished I was taller and that my hair was a little more manageable but these are normal and appropriate compared to going on a diet to lose 5-10 extra pounds when that weight is an ideal and not a reality.
However, growing a child changes your body entirely. When it is used for such a purpose as growing life, it takes on it's own form to do so. It stretches and grows and at the end of it all, your body feels completely foreign to you. I had stretch marks, deep ones. I knew they would come for I had seen my mothers own skin with it's rippled effect. However, I was not prepared for the reality of how it would look on my own body once I was really able to see them for myself. Thankfully the stomach is not something that is shown beyond the walls of my own home, but there was an instance that made an everlasting mark.
We were camping with some friends at a lake over the summer. They don't have any children yet and the wife and I chatted about pregnancy and I mentioned my stretch marks. I told her how weird they looked and how hard it was to get used to. Out of curiosity she asked if she could see them, I wanted to own them. To not be scared to show the marks of the journey I had made to bring Max to this world and so I was completely willing but still nervous to show her. Our husbands were nearby and I told her husband that it would be best if he looked away. It was one thing to show it to another woman, someone who understands the female body and was merely curious, it was another to show a man beyond my husband the marks on my skin. He looked away but at the last moment it seemed curiosity got the best of him as well. He glimpsed and I saw. I saw disgust. His wife remarked how genetically she felt lucky because stretch marks were not in her future. This reaction combined hurt.
It is hard for me to directly look at the skin that stretch and grew and supported a child and see beauty. When I see my stomach I think of that look of disgust. I don't blame him, it was an honest reaction to something he had never seen but gosh it took a toll on my body image.
I often hear the phrase that stretch marks are just tiger stripes, a reward of some sort. But to me that seems as stretched as my skin. To me my stretch marks just are. Yes, they are a visible reminder of the privilege it is to bear a child. One of the most glorious of purposes that a female body can imagine is to bear a child. It truly is a miraculous journey and if I have tiger striped to prove it, fine. But they don't define my body, they aren't me. My body is not one of disgust. Rather it is beautiful, sacred, and I should treat it with respect. To keep in mind that it is a gift from God. He gave me this body. He made it capable of doing amazing things. He gave me this body so that ultimately I would learn, "You don't have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body." -C.S. Lewis.