This is a long one, so grab your tea and settle in. 😉
Okay – you have 10 seconds to answer this question: If you suddenly had $24,000 what would you spend it on????
An article rolled through my inbox this week that proceeded to roll through my mind for a couple of days, so I thought it was worth commenting on. “Mommy makeovers: How some women are reversing the physical toll of having kids” can be found here. Although I intend for my blog to speak a lot about our physical bodies, I don’t really think anyone can separate her physical body from her own perception of that body’s image.
Kudos to Elizabeth Withey who wrote the article because I think she did a good job of trying to present two sides of a controversial subject – and in that vein, please stick it out and read the entire piece so you get to hear both sides. And please click both tabs at the top of the article so you get to see all of the photos (I didn’t notice this until later, but I was so glad I looked through them. Some are very powerful).
The article starts out by discussing the so-called “mommy makeover” which is a combination of plastic surgery involving either a breast lift or augmentation, and a tummy tuck and/or liposuction. These makeovers come with a hefty price tag too – the article quotes between $9000 and $24 000. A couple of women are interviewed who have had these procedures done – both locally and abroad in Mexico (hello Tim Ferriss and The 4-hr Body – has anyone else read the book and the section on “How to Pay for a Beach Vacation with One Hospital Visit”?). There’s a sense in the article that these procedures are “not about vanity but self-esteem”, and that women deserve to have the work done since as mothers they have devoted so much of themselves to their children.
Withey also interviews a body image expert (Tara-Leigh McHugh), and to flip the coin she then talks to/about Jade Beall and “A Beautiful Body Project”. That Project is a website and book devoted to images of post partum bodies (check out the website here).
My first impression upon reading the article was very similar to what Jade Beall talked about – I think its amazing that we live in a place where women have so many choices (including what they do to and with their bodies) and I want women to be empowered! But it also made me sad. And the more I thought about it, the sadder I got and the more it bothered me.
My heart goes out to the divorced woman in the article who cringed at the thought of hitting the dating scene in her current body. Hmmm… but consider now that her body conceived, carried and birthed her miraculous babies. She created 2 entirely new lives (okay, she had the help of one cell each time…) from scratch! Yet she feels so embarrassed by the body that did that.
What’s wrong with this picture? What does that say about our society and its ideals about beauty? Frankly, it says they are unrealistic. It says that you need a lot of money and a knife to achieve them. The media is constantly bombarding us with the simple message that what we are is… not enough.
I get it. When I first read the article I thought, ya – I would like perkier boobs and a flatter stomach. You don’t gain 70 lbs in your first pregnancy and come out without visible marks. A lot of angry red visible marks. I mean, what’s a little surgery…
Whoa lady. Stop right there. That’s a whole lotta negative self-talk and you need to love the skin you are in. Right now. That is not minor surgery – and all surgeries carry risks so when you are looking at “unnecessary” procedures suddenly the benefit/risk scenario is skewed toward the risks. I don’t want to be that mom who died from a fat embolism and left my children motherless because I wanted a flatter stomach.
Thankfully, I am one lucky lady because the events that shaped me as an adolescent left me on the other side with a strong self-esteem. I know I am not my body. My body does not solely define me. But I also know a lot of women who do not have this same confidence – too many women.
And guess what, when they started to do studies on women who received breast implants they started to find that they also have higher rates of suicide. And not just slightly higher, and I’m not talking just one study – there are at least 7 but see below for references from Canada, the US and Sweden (1,2,3). In the Canadian study (1), women who had breast implants were 73% more likely to commit suicide! In the discussion, the authors also quoted previous studies that found women who received breast implants were also more likely to have undergone psychotherapy treatment, to have lower levels of self-esteem and self confidence, and to have an increased prevalence of mental illness as measured by admissions to psychiatric hospitals.
Whoa. I think there is definitely more to this picture. It makes me wonder, if you go under the knife to “fix” your breasts and tummy, how’s your self confidence? Do you love your body? Who’s to say a few years down the line you won’t want to fix your butt? Or your thighs? And are you really “fixing” them? Aging is another unstoppable force…
Listen, I know its not as black and white as I make it sound. I know that not all women who undergo cosmetic surgery will have trouble with their body image (maybe you did the hard work and lost a remarkable amount of weight and you really do have skin hanging down to your knees; maybe you do have one of the FEW diastases recti I’ve seen out there that do need surgery to correct…) – but I still find the trends in this literature alarming.
So how many of you thought that if you suddenly came into $24 000 that you would buy some cosmetic surgery? Probably not that many. I still couldn’t help wondering – what could $24 000 actually buy in terms of whole body health and wellness… What if these ladies put some of that money towards the goal of improving their overall health and self esteem? What if it went towards help with healthy eating? (Personal chef?) Or towards exploring activities that made you feel really good about yourself? (A new hobby? Lessons to get good at something so you feel better about your abilities?) Maybe money to explore a bunch of different kinds of movement and exercise until you found something that just made you feel good while moving your body? Or maybe some $$$ toward some really good EMDR or other therapy to help lay those terrible adolescent memories to rest.
Society and the media are mean. We know they have unrealistic expectations so that is a good place to hit too – its pretty hard for any woman to look in the mirror and not want to see a flat tummy! (Raising girls? Check out the Toward the Stars website for good ideas on how to empower your little ladies). But that means you are going to have to put some effort in. I challenge you this weekend to find a way to nurture your body image – even for just a few minutes. There is going to be a part of your body that you don’t immediately love. You could choose to bash it with some negative self-talk, or you could choose to say something else (good) to yourself. And role model something else (good) to your children.
And this I know to be true:
You are a beautiful woman!
You are a great mom!
(And if you still need a little pick me up, check out this video)
1. Villeneuve PJ, Holowaty EJ, Brisson J, Xie L, Ugnat AM, Latulippe L, Mao Y. Mortality among Canadian women with cosmetic breast implants. J. Am J Epidemiol. 2006 Aug 15;164(4):334-41. Epub 2006 Jun 15.
2. Sarwer DB, Brown GK, Evans DL.Cosmetic breast augmentation and suicide. Am J Psychiatry. 2007 Jul;164(7):1006-13.
3. Loren Lipworth; Olof Nyren; Weimin Ye; Jon P Fryzek; Robert E Tarone; Joseph K McLaughlin. Excess mortality from suicide and other external causes of death among women with cosmetic breast implants. Annals of plastic surgery 2007;59(2):119-23; discussion 124-5.
I personally have had some body dismorphia when I look in the mirror lately.
Prior to getting pregnant, I had a very good clear picture of “me” in my mind that I never questioned and was quite fond of. Now when I look in the mirror I am like “who the hell is this person” its not the me I was so comfortable with or one that I can even recognize. But there is solace in that I do realize why this change has occured and I’m fine with the notion that this change is for the better.
While surgery after giving birth is not an option I would consider, I do think that I will still work hard to try and re-gain as much of that picture of who I am that I have in my mind. But naturally, I assume somethings will always be different on my body no matter what I do and think. It will be an interesting experiment to see how I deal with my next transformation, but I think you are right you really do have to love who you are.
Also the constant support of my husband during this time is a big factor for me coming to terms with the new me that is emerging. not to say that I need anyone elses opinion to make myself feel good about myself, but there is something to be said about someone you love outright saying “yes you look different then before, but I find this version of you very attractive”. I also think ti is pretty important to outright talk outloud to your loved ones about body image and what your are comfortable with. That way if you are struggling to try and reach a goal or not feeling your best, you can find support from them.
Just my thoughts. Good post Mandy,
I vividly remember during my first (unexpected) pregnancy, when I had a really hard time adjusting to the idea of having a “mom body” after pregnancy. Almost as soon as I found out I was pregnant, I distinctly grieved the loss of my body image and I had a lot of negative preconceptions about what my body would be like post-partum. When the pregnancy started to fail, I had to adjust to another reality, which is the loss of control that women have over their bodies during pregnancy. Sadly, I lost that baby, but I learned such a valuable lesson: all I can do is be healthy, and relax. That’s my responsibility. The rest will come and go.
Now I am a healthy 9 months pregnant mom-to-be. I still had a small grieving period when my clothes started to get too tight, and I had to gather up a lot of courage to walk into a maternity store for the first time. But I had a different perspective and a positive motto to focus on. Be Healthy, and Relax! Now the numbers on the scale are in crazy new territory and I find it really weird to look at photos of myself, but I am ok with my reflection in the mirror. My body is so different, and it’s doing it all on its own! I hope that staying focused on the “be healthy, and relax!” motto will help me with post partum adjustments. No matter what, my body will never be the same – it already will never be the same! So while I do have days where I feel a sense of loss for what my body was before pregnancy, I’m trying to focus on “healthy and relaxed” instead of numbers on a scale or on the tag of a pair of pants. I don’t know what my post partum body will look like, but it will truly never stop changing and evolving.