Kristen Thompson with her daughters. Photo: Dylan Tomlin
I’ve been procrastinating signing my toddler up for parent-and-tot swim lessons because it would mean wearing a bathing suit.
There. I said it. Ugh.
Signing up for swim lessons would mean buying a new one-piece, or donning one of my many old bikinis and baring this truth to the entire aquatic centre: My post-baby tummy is, well, not pretty.
“Who cares?!” you’re shouting from your computers. And bless you for this. Because you’re right. You’re so right. Who cares? I’m a woman, I’m a mother, I’m a human being. I don’t need to look like Chrissy Teigen. NOBODY but Chrissy Teigen looks like Chrissy Teigen.
I also know—on an intellectual level, anyway—the following clichés truths: Beauty is on the inside. Beauty is subjective. Current beauty standards are unattainable. Women don’t need to “bounce” back from pregnancy. I am perfect the way I am.
I know. I know. I know.
We all know. Yet most women pick apart aspects of their bodies they wish they could change. And while I sometimes get hung up over my “problem” areas, I mostly walk in my skin with pride. I accepted early in my 20s that I was (insert size here) and (insert shape here). And when I hit my mid-30s and my body did this amazing thing wherein it grew life, I (mostly) accepted the changes that came with pregnancy.
But try as I might, I haven’t been able to shake this nagging frustration over what’s happened to my stomach. And this has left me feeling incredibly conflicted. What kind of body-positive feminist am I?
The truth is, appearance does matter to me, and my stomach doesn’t match the rest of my body. It’s been more than two years since I gave birth, and it’s still soft and round. My belly button is a perma-outie, my stretch marks glow in the dark, and my skin has the elasticity of a 90-year-old woman. And then there’s my C-section shelf: a blob of flesh that hangs over my taught scar like a blob.
My shelf is probably my biggest hang up because it’s, well, weird. It’s not a “battle scar” or “tiger stripe” or “badge of honour.” It’s an abnormality, and I can’t exercise or diet it away (I’ve tried). It’s not going anywhere unless I get a tummy tuck, which is something I’ve seriously considered.
Would it make me happy? Would it restore my old sense of self-confidence? Would it make me a fraud?
Women tweak and improve the way they look all the time, in ways we’ve all decided are socially acceptable. We wear makeup, dye our hair, get braces and Botox. Some of us even go so far as to get surgeries. Friends have had nose jobs, breast enhancements, breast reductions, or had ears pinned. And their decision to alter a part of their body that made them self-conscious tended to be widely celebrated.
I get a sense, however, that body modification is less accepted when it’s done to address insecurities brought about by pregnancy. And that anything other than total acceptance of your new self is a slippery slope toward body shaming (of your own body, and by extension, the bodies of other moms).
But is this really fair?
Can a feminist who otherwise accepts her body the way it is change one thing that bothers her? Should I live with a belly like a deflated water balloon forever simply because it’s empowering to accept said balloon?
I want so badly to fully embrace every part of my post-baby body. Everything in my head screams: “You have two incredible children, and your one-pack stomach is a small price to pay for that.” But then there’s another voice that pipes up from the corner going: “Yeah, but…” That voice is called vanity. And no matter how much I try to shoo it away, it’s there, holding a magnifying glass to my stomach and whispering, “You don’t need to walk around with that if you don’t like it.”
The truth is: I don’t like it. I love my children, but I don’t love the paunch they left me. I can handle the extra 15 pounds, the outie belly button, the spider web of silvery stretch marks, the receding hairline (why do I still have Nicolas Cage’s hairline?). But I want to feel confident in summer clothing. And as long as I’ve got this belly, that will never happen.
Perhaps the real feministy (I made that word up) answer is for women to do what they need to do to feel confident and beautiful. That one person’s decision to change their body through exercise, diet or surgery doesn’t impact another person who chooses to leave their body the way it is.
Maybe it’s not about finding an answer at all, but instead, asking a question: What will make you feel comfortable in your own skin? What will make you happy?
For me, I think I know the answer.