I have two children. I also have stretch marks on my thighs, a little doughy place on my tummy that no sit ups seem to tone, and breasts that are a full cup size smaller than they were before I got pregnant for the first time. I have a difficult time buying dresses because my bottom half is so much larger than my top half, and finding a bra that fits correctly is like looking for the Holy Grail.
One could argue that I am a prime candidate for a "mommy makeover."
Not familiar with the "mommy makeover"? It's plastic surgery for moms, designed to put everything back where it was before the baby: typically, it includes a breast lift with or without implants, a tummy tuck, and liposuction. The idea is to restore your postpartum body to its prepartum glory.
Never mind that your body probably wasn't perfect before the baby, either. It will be now. And we all know that having the perfect body is what really makes you a good mother. Right?
The "mommy makeover" is problematic for a lot of reasons; Natasha Singer, writing for the New York Times, points to the underlying cultural issues at work here.
Many women struggle with the impact of aging and pregnancy on their bodies. But the marketing of the “mommy makeover” seeks to pathologize the postpartum body, characterizing pregnancy and childbirth as maladies with disfiguring aftereffects that can be repaired with the help of scalpels and cannulae.
“The message is that, after having children, women’s bodies change for the worse,” said Diana Zuckerman, the president of the National Research Center for Women and Families, a nonprofit group in Washington. If marketing could turn the postpregnancy body “into a socially unacceptable thing, think of how big your audience would be and how many surgeries you could sell them,” she said.
I couldn't agree more.
What does this have to do with fashion and shopping? Everything. The way you feel about your body has a tremendous impact on what you wear and how you shop. When you are struggling to live happily in your body, it is hard to find the energy to dress well; this can be particularly true in the years after a baby, when you are tired and stressed and hyper aware of exactly how your body has changed. But I would argue that plastic surgery is NOT the solution, that there are other things you can do to get your style groove back.
Jessica at Kerflop is having her own "mommy makeover" this week, which involved a whole shipment of beauty products. Jessica is NOT considering plastic surgery, but she gets right to the heart of what women -- mothers in particular -- worry about.
It bugs me on some subconscious level that what I wear, how I do my hair, and whether or not my eyebrows are plucked should effect how I feel about myself. I’m a good person. I try to treat others the way I would like to be treated. I love my kids. I take care of stray puppies. I almost never fart in public. Why can’t I just allow my eyebrows to grow happily all over my face like they really want to and still be able to feel beautiful and worthwhile?
In the same vein, Must be Motherhood responds specifically to the Times article, and to the whole idea of the "mommy makeover."
If we molded and shaped and altered our bodies for pleasure because as a society we decided that was their purpose, because we are not our bodies, I could get into it. If our bodies were the toys and that which cannot be seen–our spirits, our souls–were understood as the real project to cultivate and grow and focus our attention on, I might shout a hip-hip horrah, or at least feel more neutral about the mommy makeover.
But that’s not what’s going on. What’s going on is women are being led along by society from childhood to death to believe that our bodies, no matter what feats of nature they have accomplished–hosted and birthed new life, survived cancer, laughed and loved–are never good enough and need perpetual improvement. I want to live in a society where women are not embarrased by the way their bodies change over time, as they live their lives. Furthermore, I want the lower breasts, pad of belly fat, and thicker thighs that often come with motherhood exalted as the medals of what our bodies have achieved. I want men and more importantly, other women (because nothing changes unless we women decide to push back on the cultural psychology on the subject) to revere the female body as it naturally ages.
Pregnancy changes your body; there's no way around it. And it's hard, sometimes, not to mourn the body you had before the baby, particularly since it's your life, not just your breasts, that have morphed into something new. For some women, plastic surgery may indeed be the road to happiness, and for those women I say good on you. But the "mommy makeover" doesn't seem to be about helping women get their grooves back; it's about reminding them that anything less than perfect is a complete failure.
Mom's Losing It sums this up nicely: "Moms, we are beautiful! And we are strong! Let's combine those qualities to show the world that mom jobs are not the end all! We can live a healthy lifestyle without going under the knife."
Coming Tuesday: Surgery-free strategies to look great after the baby.
Susan Wagner writes about fashion at Friday Style and The Working Closet, and about everything else at Friday Playdate.