I was all set to hate Sharny Kieser, I’ll admit it. I first came across her and her bikini pictures in an article declaring that moms should schedule a post-natal bikini shoot to have something to motivate them to not gain a ton of weight during pregnancy and to lose it all lickety-split afterwards. And she did say all that. Apparently she’s a personal trainer in Australia and she used the bikini pics motivation for herself and recommends it to her clients. Which… eh, didn’t we discuss this to death with the whole Fit Mom controversy? I mean, if you’re looking to provoke people Maria “What’s your excuse” Kang did it way better.
But the more I read up about Sharny, the more some of her message started to resonate with me. Not the part about pressuring moms to lose weight the second they pop the bun out of the oven (I still think that sucks and we should focus on helping new moms become confident moms, not skinny moms) but the part where she tells women to be proud of their post-baby bodies.
“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. She then goes on to encourage every woman to 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. Now, I’m not a bikini wearer (for religious reasons not self-esteem issues – I know, I’m as surprised as you are) but I definitely think that women should not be ashamed or feel like damaged goods because of the effects of pregnancy on their bodies.
For one thing, just like Sharny, my stretch marks go way past the realm of my tummy. I’m basically marked from knee to clavicle. True story: when my oldest son was two, he walked in on me dressing one day (ha, he walked in on me dressing every day – toddlers hate privacy like they hate having their hair washed). He exclaimed in awe, “MOM, I didn’t know you were the TIGER LADY!” And I earned every one of those stripes, son. At least he thought my claw marks were cool?
And then there’s the issue of loose skin and that infamous below-the-belly pouch. I love that Sharny doesn’t try to hide her stretch marks or (tiny bit of) sag. Which, if you believe Internet commenters, is basically the worst sin a woman can commit. How dare she be happy in her own wrinkly skin? How dare she call herself beautiful when she’s clearly not perfect? Well, I think she’s gorgeous.
The truth is, that’s just the way many of us look after having multiple babies. And the way some of us look without having babies! Puberty, weight loss, aging and a host of other factors can cause stretch marks, no kicks to the ribs required.
For comparison check out running pro Lauren Fleshman’s “keeping it real” pictures that she posted during a runway show for Oiselle:
And later that same week:
“People don’t walk around spray tanned and flexed,” Lauren said of the difference. “Everyone has thigh cheese.” (And because so many people doubted these photos could possibly be legit, she posted more on her blog, scroll down to the bottom to see the update.)
All of the beautiful sculpted abs you see on post-partum Jessica Alba, Gwen Stefani and the like? Genetics and photoshop. Airbrushed tans and surgery. They are lucky and they are enhanced. Yet with the current celebrity baby boom in full swing, I predict we’ll be seeing more glimpses of these silvery scars in the future. Seriously, I know Angelina Jolie is SuperMom but nobody has twins without stretching like a human slinky. Whether they choose to embrace them (coordinate with metallic heels?) or hide them under layers of makeup (it was rumored that Pamela Andersen had a personal make-up artist on Baywatch solely dedicated to painting in her stretch marks between takes) and fabric remains to be seen. Can we accept our celebrity mamas blemished? Can we accept ourselves scarred?
For most of us this goal of perfectly flat, smooth abs is not only unrealistic but downright crazy making. A little below-the-belly bulge is normal. Loose skin is normal. Stretch marks are normal. We are not broken. And while I’m still not a fan of making pregnancy into a competitive weight loss sport (Hello, baby anyone?), I do think we deserve 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.
Do you have stretch marks or other scars? Instead of feeling embarrassed, tell me what you love about your body’s scars. Tell me what your partner loves about your body. Tell me what your kids love about your body. And if you need ideas, check out The Shape of a Mother for more pictures of what pregnant and post-partum women’s bodies look like!