Here’s something you don’t see very often in our Photoshopped, airbrushed and spray-tanned world: Australian personal trainer and mom of five, Sharny Kieser, showed off her toned postpartum tummy in a racy bikini shoot, complete with loose skin and stretch marks. And it's not just a couple marks discreetly tucked away on a hip or breast. Oh no, these are full-on, I’ve-birthed-a-baby-and-no-amount-of-Mederma-will-ever-fix-them stretch marks.
And I couldn't be happier. Nearly every woman has some stretch marks, loose skin or tummy pooch. The lucky girls only have a little bit, courtesy of puberty. The rest of us — whether it's from pregnancy, aging, weight loss or just genetics — look more like Kieser. My 2-year-old actually called me "the tiger lady" upon seeing mine. It would have been funnier had it not been him that caused the claw marks.
So I’ll be the first to say that they’re not the most attractive feature. And yet for those of us unwilling or unable to have a tummy tuck does that mean we should be banished to muumuus for the rest of our days? What’s next, burqas for acne scars?
Kieser, who was initially in the news for suggesting that pregnant women should schedule a post-baby bikini shoot as motivation to lose the weight quickly, said that for her it was also about overcoming her insecurities. "After having kids you believe that your days in a bikini are gone. For me, I had a lot of stretch marks; I was too embarrassed to get in a bikini," she said in an interview.
Sharny's husband, Julius, encouraged her from the beginning, saying, "I love stretch marks. I think that nothing symbolises womanhood more than a tummy criss-crossed with those pale crescents of beauty." He adds, "Real beauty in my opinion is a direct result of hard work, of sacrifice. Be it emotional or physical. Being born perfect is an amazing gift, but hard work leaves signs. Scars. None sexier than stretch marks."
With her husband's support, Sharny donned a bikini and hasn't looked back since. She now encourages every woman to get fit and wear a bikini if they want to. If you go on to read the comments on the piece (and I really don't recommend it), you'll find pages of people harping on her for her stretch marks and loose skin, calling her hideous for something she can't even control. While I'm not a fan of making pregnancy into a competitive weight loss sport, I definitely think that women should not be ashamed or feel like damaged goods because of the effects of pregnancy on their bodies.
The Shape of a Mother, a website dedicated to showing the reality — both beautiful and not — of stretch marks, saggy boobs and all other accoutrements of motherhood, agrees. The site owner got the idea after seeing a woman at a restaurant carrying a baby.
"As she lifted it up to fit between the tables, her shirt raised and I saw that, although she was at a healthy weight and her body was fit, she had that same extra skin hanging around her belly that I do. It occurred to me that a post-pregnancy body is one of this society’s greatest secrets; all we see of the female body is that which is airbrushed and perfect, and if we look any different, we hide it from the light of day in fear of being seen."
All of the beautiful sculpted abs you see on postpartum Jessica Alba, Gwen Stefani and the like? Genetics and Photoshop. Airbrushed tans and surgery. They are lucky and they are enhanced. For most of us this goal of perfectly flat, smooth abs is not only unrealistic, but also downright crazy. A little below-the-belly bulge is normal. Loose skin is normal. Stretch marks are normal. We are not broken.
We deserve so much better than shaming ourselves or judging other women for their scars. We have gestated and birthed babies. We have cuddled lovers. We have cradled the very old and nursed the very young. We are beautiful the way we are.
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