Jill, 36, is only five months pregnant with her third child but she already knows what she’s doing six months after the baby is born — and it has nothing to do with finally sleeping through the night. Knowing this will be her last child, she’s already booked a “mommy makeover” where she’ll leave her kids for two weeks with her in-laws while she travels to another state to have a surgeon enlarge her breasts and tuck her tummy.
Jill is part of a new trend of moms seeking plastic surgery to make their post-baby bodies look more like, well, pre-baby bodies.
“It isn’t even about looking good naked, although that would be nice,” she says. “It’s about repairing the damage done.” She’s talking about her diastasis, a two-inch wide gap where her ab muscles never came back together. Not only does the diastasis give her a “mummy tummy” that cannot be fixed by diet or exercise but Jill says at night, when she’s not pregnant, she can see her organs pushing through. “I wouldn’t even call it cosmetic surgery, but more like reconstructive surgery,” she adds.
And she’s not alone in her desire to look more like her old self. A recent Nutrisystem survey found that one in three Americans say they haven’t worn a swimsuit in more than five years. As our society becomes more bare, women are becoming increasingly worried about their perceived flaws. A RealSelf survey found that of moms who’ve had plastic surgery, a whopping 98 percent said it increased their overall happiness in life. That’s a lot of satisfied customers. So if you have the money for it, why wouldn’t you do something that would make you happier?
The double standard
But is this all misplaced vanity? Shouldn’t we all feel comfortable in our bodies? I have stretch marks, saggy boobs and an “apron” of skin left over from having my five children and while I won’t say that I love those things, I do absolutely love my body — both for what it looked like before kids and for all the great things it does since having kids.
Pregnancy is not a disease and a postpartum body isn’t broken. Still I’m not immune to the pressure to lose the baby weight in mere weeks and be back in my bodycon dress and stilettos by the next PTA meeting. (Because that’s what we wear to PTA meetings, right?) The problem is we’re supposed to look like we’ve had surgery but we’re not supposed to be desperate enough to actually get surgery.
It’s this double standard — not only must we be beautiful but we must be effortlessly beautiful — that makes mommy makeovers so difficult to talk about. Indeed “Jill” isn’t even Jill’s real name as she didn’t want to risk being identified by other moms in her area. The gossip mill was a big factor in her choosing to go out of state for her surgery. While she says she’ll be honest with close friends, she won’t volunteer the information that she’s “had work done” to more casual acquaintances.
“I’m not ashamed of it at all,” she says, “but I’m not exactly proud of it either.” She adds that she doesn’t want to feel judgment about “caving in” to society’s standards but after sacrificing to have three kids she feels like she deserves to do something for herself. “It’s not about wanting to look good for anyone else. This,” she gestures to her stomach, “isn’t me, it’s not who I am! And I just want to feel like me again.”
We’re in this together
Yet as more and more moms get plastic surgery the stigma is becoming less and less. At a recent girls’ night out a friend announced her recent boob job by giving us all a flash in the ladies’ room. While exact numbers are hard to find, a quick search finds thousands of doctors specializing in surgery just for moms. A 2011 poll of women aged 18 to 30 found that seven out of 10 want plastic surgery and I’m guessing that number is higher among moms. An informal poll of my friends found that 90 percent would get plastic surgery somewhere if they could afford it. (RealSelf estimates the average mommy makeover costs about $12,375 — not exactly chump change.)
In the end I think it’s about choice. Women shouldn’t feel like they have to have surgery to be beautiful. But we shouldn’t judge each other for making the decision to get it either. After all, how many of us wear makeup, dye our hair, get Botox or fillers or get hair extensions or wear padded bras? The line is blurring between “surgery” and “enhancements” and most of us like to do something to enhance our looks. We need to remember that we’re all in this together — who better to understand what we’re going through than our sisters?