I know this may sound naive, but no one told me that my entire body and life would change with a child. I think part of this is because my family isn’t exactly all for free and open sex talks not to mention the silence that the greater society takes with postpartum problems *but* that’s a different story. The point is that I did not know stretch marks were a thing that could happen. I have been ashamed to show my skin since realizing my once perfect flawless skin is saggy, baggy, marked with stretched skin everywhere and besides all that I could never shake those extra 10 – 15 pounds.
I am who I am. I can only try my best but the struggle and frustration that is ever present is not something that I normally discuss. It doesn’t mean, however, that I never have ugly days. 🙂
Anyway, there are two meme-ish type things circulating the internet. One is basically don’t be ashamed mom, you’re a tiger whose earned her stripes and the second is for every mom who hates her stretch marks there’s another mom wishing she had some.
I get it– they are trying to be “body positive” in saying it’s okay for you to have stretch marks– you can still be sexy! Or to take the ableism away from moms who forget that not all women can have children. Don’t worry, I understand that. However, there is a greater issue that I take with these popular ideas about postpartum body image and complaining about that body image struggle: it’s not yours to judge how well or how terribly or how selfishly I deal with my struggle. And besides…
I don’t need to earn shit. I don’t want you to try to repackage this stretchmark fiasco like I earned something. Being a mother or not being a mother is not what makes me a woman. I had stripes before being pregnant and I have stripes now. Sure, it’s a biological thing being a mother and it’s the result of penis goo doing something in a fertile uterus but that just earns me a kid (which is AMAZING don’t get me wrong you people reading this thinking “god it’s like she doesn’t think giving birth and kids are a big deal” NO WAY). I am a woman either way and to say that I earned my stripes minimizes the experience of bad ass bitches (all bitches trans* included) everywhere. WE ALL HAVE FUCKING STRIPES AND SOME AREN’T STRETCH MARKS FROM BIRTHING A TINY ADORABLE PERSON WHO SCREAMS AND POOPS A LOT.
No, I get what they mean. That’s not the point. The point is that this is the kind of thinking that gets feminists in to trouble and alienates women from each other. It’s like saying “you’re not a mom you don’t understand” instead of saying, “you’re a mom but I also understand.” Or saying “you’re not a mom but I totally understand.” It’s not about being a mom and earning shit. It’s about womanhood and dealing with the patriarchal bullshit that craps up one of the most momentous occasions in a person’s life (baby, mother, father, family members— babies are big deals) and every occasion before and after. It’s about dealing with the patriarchy at all telling you that your body is ruined, that you’re unattractive, that you should cover that up, that if you weren’t born a woman you aren’t a woman, that if you’re fat you’re ugly, if you’re too skinny that’s gross, if you make children your vagina is disgusting… the list is endless and it’s not about giving birth that earns you stripes– it’s about not losing your mind and living another day being happy in your skin in even the most basic way you can. That’s earning your stripes– not just birthing a tiny adorable person.
With that said, it sucks to know that you have stretch marks and to have to “deal” with your stretch marks and re-package them as tiger stripes and pretend like you’re a fucking bad ass when you feel like ugly shit (I don’t know— maybe you like them but I feel weird about them). You know damn well that your body is forever changed in a way that maybe you were unprepared for, maybe you weren’t happy about… You, as any woman, live in a male-dominant society that judges women on their looks and now you have the looks that society likes to say “ew” to. Even other moms or stretch marked ladies can still be heard gossiping about ladies trying to reclaim their body image with fatkinis or stretchmarked, saggy skin. So how can we pretend that just because not all women can have babies, we have no right to feel like shit about our post-baby bodies?
Because if all women were united we still have our internal strife and even if we shed that strife we would still hear comments from men and if we wouldn’t hear comments from men then we wouldn’t need to say we earned some goddamn tiger stripes to feel better about imperfections we can do nothing to fix.
And here’s the thing, even forgetting patriarchy and all other nonsense, I have the right to feel like shit about my stretch marks. I have the right to bemoan my youthful appearance dying in one quick little jaunt into the role of perpetual human caregiver. I have the right to wish the waters of youth would flow into the cracked riverbed of deserted wasteland that is my stretchmarked stomach area. I DO NOT WANT TO HEAR ABOUT THE MOMS WHO WISH THEY HAD MY STRETCH MARKS. It’s not because I don’t care, it’s because I have a right to feel however I am going to feel and it doesn’t have to honor or account for anyone else. It’s my body after all.
Is it because I am unsympathetic to their cause? HELL NO. It’s because I don’t want my pain or frustration or shitty experience diminished because someone else has it worse. Someone always has it worse. That does not take away from the frustration and pain that I feel after having the birth experience I had and having stretch marks and being negatively judged by myself and others for those stretch marks. I know it is sad for women who want to have children and can’t. Believe me, I really get it. Just because I have kids doesn’t mean that I don’t understand. But please understand that I have a right to my grief or frustration or whatever it is as much as they have a right to theirs. We are both suffering under the same idea that a woman’s worth is in her ability to perpetuate humanity. We are both suffering for this stupid idea of what women are, what women do, what women should be and should do. It is unacceptable, to me, to compare the pains.
No one wins at the oppression olympics.
All women can have kids— not all women can have children biologically and not all women can adopt. That doesn’t mean that non-biological children or non-human children are any less your children or you’re any less a mother. Its incomparable to what a woman who has birthed children has gone through. Please do not compare the pain of not being able to birth to the pain of giving birth. They are pains rooted in the same oppressive structure but they are pains that should not be minimized or compared. You have the right to feel embarrassed and upset about your stretch marks. I have this right. You have the right to feel embarrassed and upset about your infertility. I have this right. Whatever we are experiencing, it is completely valid. Whether or not children are “in the cards” for us, we still have the right to feel like shit about our bodies. I can look at my stretchmarked body and feel uncomfortable just as another woman can look at her non-stretchmarked body and feel uncomfortable for reasons just as valid. NO MATTER WHAT, WOMEN HAVE THE RIGHT TO FEEL LIKE SHIT ABOUT THEIR EXPERIENCE AS A WOMAN.
Both of these “pep talks” are talking about how we as women put value on our body and how we view ourselves. We as women do put value on our outward appearance and it is stressful to know that your body is not the mainstream idea of acceptable. That your body is not ideal, not youthful and flawless not the narrow definition of skinny teenage white girl with biggish boobs and a nice butt (and please do not disregard the entire post because I said “skinny white girl” and you feel that’s discriminatory. If you think about the girls that celebrity and why and what they look like, you will see the Hannah Montana and Lizzie McGuire Lauren Conrad thing is a thing. Britney Spears in a school girl uniform, Lindsey Lohan— you know the type whether you want to admit it or not). That you can’t lose the last bits of your pregnancy weight, that your skin and breasts sag, that you are riddled with stretch marks all over your once perky breasts, your stomach, your thighs and everywhere you grew to accommodate the tiny adorable person that grew within your uterine walls. That your body has a scar stretching from hip bone to hip bone or your woman parts are riddled with micro and macro scars from ripping and tearing to let the baby through…
Birth is amazing, intense, pain. I do not need to go through it to know this but having gone through this, it is cemented in my heart and soul and mind. I do not think that I am more of a “tiger” now. I don’t think there is anything easier or harder about being a mother. It is just being another part of society that is not valued because of the gender affiliation and patriarchal nonsense that surrounds femininity. So really, while I appreciate the sentiments to these images, I feel so irritated by being told that my pain is not okay. If I am a tiger that earned my stripes, I earned the right to bemoan my scars. If there are moms or women out there that wish they had my post partum body, then they will understand when I tell them being cut open or ripped apart and having your body forever changed bears with it its own set of frustrations (to say the least).
I feel that women are often trying to help each other to see things in a more egalitarian and inclusive perspective. But we are also so quick to pass along feel good agendas without really seeing that many of our sadness and frustration and alienation from each other, ourselves, and the woman experience comes from the oppressive structure of patriarchy and that what we’re saying actually reinforces those painful and hurtful patriarchal agendas. I really truly want to have all women realize that our struggles are all valid and there is no need to minimize, prioritize, or otherwise speak over the struggles of each other. We are all tigers, we all have stripes, and babies or no babies we are valid in our pain.