When I was going for my Level 10 (the best shape of my life) I was looking for inspiration when it got tough. I was discouraged, downtrodden, sad, depressed, and just needed to know I wasn’t the only mom with damaged skin who wanted to get into shape. I searched online for “mom with abs” which only turned up flawlessly glowing bodies. Clearly not helping the situation. The search continued: postpartum abs, stretch marks abs, fitness model stretch marks, fit mom stretch marks, mom abs stretch marks. It all yielded nothing. I found a total of 3 photos that were promising. That was not enough. Where are all the women?! Surely there are fit women out there who have abs and stretch marks! Why can’t I find them?
In my judgement I remembered how I had felt about posting photos showing my own scars. Honestly, it would have been easier for me to post completely nude photos than ones showcasing my stretch marks. Maybe I was not the only one who feels the same way. Maybe other women out there are just as self-conscious, afraid, and hate their image as much as I did.
I never talked about this much, but after giving birth a few unexpected things happened: it seemed like forever for my stomach to go down enough that I didn’t look pregnant anymore and I was devastated by my stretch marks. Devastated. I have never struggled this much with my image before in all my life. I began to hate my body. I loathed the sight of those scars (and the postpartum pooch only added to this). The crazy thing is that before giving birth I couldn’t even see them. Afterwards, I could see I was covered with them. “My body is forever ruined. Forever. It will NEVER be beautiful again. My skin will never be beautiful again. It will be awful for the rest of my life.” I truly felt this way. It took a long time for me to accept myself and my body. First, I had to accept it, then I could appreciate it, then love it, then celebrate it. After all these stages I could finally share it with others.
I believe part of the reason it is difficult for us women to accept these scars and not find them ugly is because we are never exposed to them. I can’t think of a time that I ever saw a mom wearing a bikini and seeing stretch marks. My own mom never had one even after having 7 kids! I just never saw any on a woman and as a kid I can always remember moms wearing full-coverage swimsuits. Now, living in Europe, I see it a lot more. It’s not at all uncommon to go to the seaside and see women in all shapes and sizes in bikinis with stretch marks galore. Not just on the stomach area, but also butt, thighs, breasts, arms, and so on. It’s so normal. Isn’t that how it should be? This is how real life works. This is what naturally happens to our bodies and there is nothing shameful or unsightly about it. Although, the media would have you believe otherwise as we see in the tabloids that GASP! Guess who has stretch marks?? Or, just look at that saggy post-baby bod! Ew! Yuck! That is what we are fed from the magazines and websites. Then you have the, Look at her fabulous post-baby body! Which, of course, looks even better than before the baby. We are shamed for anything less than perfect and praised for perfection, but only if it is truly perfection by their standards.
Unfortunately, as I found out, stretch marks is almost entirely up to your genetics. From 15 weeks on, every morning and every evening I lathered my growing tummy in coco butter and aloe products. Every day. I was determined to not get a single scar. And I didn’t have any until about the 38th week. Then above my bellybutton they just appeared overnight. Like I said before, they were very light and almost unnoticeable until after birth. You can help or hinder the amount and severity of your stretch marks. Keeping your skin well hydrated and eating healthy will definitely help. Most importantly, avoiding excess or unhealthy weight gain during pregnancy can also help to prevent extra stretch marks, but I don’t believe it’s a matter of what you do will keep you from getting them or not. It’s more like, you do or do not get them and if you do, the severity can depend a little on you. Stretch marks are indeed scars and while you can’t get rid of them altogether, you can certainly do some things to help your skin regain its firmness and natural glow. I highly recommend using the Herbalife Skin Berry Scrub and their Herbal Aloe Soothing Gel. I’ve seen a dramatic difference in my skin since using these regularly.
Once I had accepted that I did my best and this was just the body I was given, I realized it was time to shift my focus. Instead of focusing on the appearance of my skin, how about focusing on the fact that my skin miraculously stretched so much to grow and protect my daughter? My body is incredible! It helped create this new life, nourish her, protect her, sustain her, give life to her, birth her, and then feed her after she was born! Thank you, God, for this incredible temple. This body is amazing in that it did all this without me having to tell it to do any of it. This is also when my motherhood affirmations came into play. Having a stable emotional state of mind really helped me make the transition from appreciating my body to loving my body. It didn’t happen overnight and I think deep down I kept telling myself that one day I could get laser treatment, but little by little I was feeling better about my body.
I was not solely responsible for learning to love my body though. Without the love and constant support of my husband, Luka, I don’t know that I would have ever been able to recover emotionally entirely. Even when I felt floppy, saggy, pudgy, hurting, and just plain ol’ ugly, he would tell me almost every day, “Gosh, babe, you’re so gorgeous! You’re so sexy. I just love your body. I love you!” Sometimes this made me laugh. But he was serious! Having a man like that in your life is beyond words. If your husband/spouse is not like that then I strongly suggest opening the communication to bringing that kind of verbal encouragement into your relationship. It takes a great deal of courage, humility, and vulnerability, but those are all things that will make us grow into better people. If your spouse verbally puts you down (and especially for your body) then change is crucial. An idea of how to start a conversation like this would be, “I’m struggling with my image and I want to feel better, for myself and for you and for our kids. It would help so much for me to hear good things about my body. Maybe you can tell me what you love about my body and me? This has also made me realize that I may not be giving you everything you need to feel fulfilled. Is there something I can do for you to make you happier?” These words are beyond difficult. Earlier in my life they were impossible. Slowly, gradually I worked away at my lack of communication skills and today the improvement is remarkable. Lots of personal development, lots of books, lots of audiobooks, lots of positive input, but that’s what I needed to do.
The jump from loving my body to celebrating it was much easier than any of the other leaps. Once I marveled at what a woman’s body is capable of, I added a lot of gratitude, and with time I could celebrate what my body has done and what it is today. I could truly celebrate it for all that it is. Sharing my photos is a way for me to give back all the love I had received and let other women who might share in the struggle that they are not alone. Women need to know that they are not the only one with these scars are it is not shameful or ugly. Women need to know that their body is beautiful and worthy of celebration, with its scars and battle wounds. In a way they make her more beautiful because they make her more human. We are not beautiful because we are fulfilling society’s standard of perfect; we are beautiful because we have given life. We are beautiful simply because we are women.
2 weeks postpartum
1 year later