Lately, my Facebook newsfeed seems to be filled with stories of photographers who are documenting “real” mothers’ bodies. I click the links and find myself immediately inspired by the moms I see. They are usually practically naked holding nursing babies or toddlers. Their bodies are the antithesis to the Photoshopped models we see in ads everywhere. They have cellulite, they have stretch marks, they are rounded, they are real. As I look at the pictures I think, YES! This is the beauty of motherhood. I think, these women are beautiful!
And then I look in the mirror. I get out of the shower and try to emulate the poses from these pictures. I’m a mom of four (twins included). I have been pregnant and nursing NON-STOP since the beginning of 2009. I KNOW my body has done, and continues to do, amazing things. I look in the mirror, and I so want to see myself the way the women in the pictures see themselves, the way the photographer sees them. The way I see them.
I too have cellulite and stretch marks. I have twin skin and separated abdominal muscles that create a constant roundness across my mid-section. And so I look at myself and say, YES! This is the beauty of motherhood. But the problem is, I don’t believe it. I can look at those pictures and full-heartedly, honestly say that those women are beautiful, but I look at myself and want so badly to see the pre-baby body—the body I will never have again.
As a mom of three girls (and a boy), I’m hypersensitive to body issues. I watch my girls as they run and play. Their bodies are strong and perfect just as they are. I want them to always feel this way about their bodies. I worry that one day some boy at camp will tell them they are too hairy, or some girl will say their butts are too big. I worry that they will see images of models and feel that they somehow fall short.
As a mom, it seems that all of my previously “private” moments (showering, dressing, using the bathroom) are now group events attended by one or more of my children. The other day my girls walked in (as usual) while I was getting ready for the day. One looked at my stomach and asked, “Why does your belly have all those lines?” I responded that those were Mommy’s special marks that reminded me of how I carried her, her sisters, and her brother in my tummy. I told her that the lines told a story of the amazing things my body did to grow all those babies. It was a beautiful moment, and she smiled and danced off happily.
Tonight, my other daughter asked about a scar she has on her stomach. This daughter was fed by feeding tube for her first two and a half years of life. When she finally was weaned from her tube, the tube was removed, but a scar will always linger in that spot. I told her that was her special mark to show the amazing way her body got “Mommy milk” and food as a baby and toddler, until she was able to use her mouth to eat. I told her it was something that makes her body special.
But I wonder, do my daughters see through me? I know how to tell my children the right things about my body and theirs. When they ask me about why I wear makeup on Shabbat or dates with their father, I know to tell them it’s because it makes me feel extra special, not because I feel it is an expectation that I look a certain way, or that there is a standard of beauty I am trying to live up to. When we talk about eating, I know to talk about keeping our bodies strong and healthy, not about weight. I know the right things to say, but I don’t always believe what I say. And children are perceptive. I wonder, do they hear my words, or do they read my face? Do they hear my words, or do they watch how my bathing suits are always picked to strategically cover those lines and marks?
Maybe it’s not going to be the boy at camp, or the mean girl, or the model on TV, who will make my daughters feel less than. Maybe it will be the look in MY eyes that they catch when I am standing in front of the mirror.
When the Jews received the Torah on Mount Sinai, they said “na’aseh v’nishmah,” or, “we will do, then we will learn.” This phrase is kind of like the Jewish version of “fake it ‘til you make it.” We are meant to do something, and through the doing, we will believe it and fully understand it.
So maybe I’ll keep looking at myself in the mirror, and hopefully one day I will believe it as I say, YES! This is the beauty of motherhood.