A confession to my fellow mothers: at 32 years old, I have the worst body-image issues I’ve ever had, my plump freshman 15 years included.
I knew there was a chance I’d be less than impressed with my body after the birth of my son; I thought a few pounds might linger, stubbornly settled on my hips and belly. But then – yay! – I lost all of my pregnancy weight when I went back to work full-time. I was a stress ball with no time to eat, still exclusively breastfeeding and barely sleeping; it was a ruthless combination…but I did lose weight.
So now that I’ve got both the weight and the working mom routine under control, you would think I’d feel lucky… Instead, I feel old and matronly, decidedly unsexy! When I see other women in their early 30s, I certainly don’t see “old and matronly,” but since entering this motherhood bracket, that’s all I’m able to see in myself. It’s partly my tired red eyes and my dull, uneven skin. My hair is different too, coarser and speckled with grays. Haggard. That’s the word that comes to mind when I see myself in pictures or an unexpected reflection in the mirror, I look haggard.
But worst of all is my relationship with my breasts. I should be grateful to the mammaries that single-, er, double-handedly fed and nurtured my son for his first six months, but instead I’m obsessed by how small they now seem. They were not especially large to begin with, so I was sorry to see the fullness ebb when we weaned at 10 months. And I’m frustrated that the adjectives I diligently ignored before getting pregnant and breastfeeding can all be applied to my girls: deflated, empty, saggy, floppy, stretched and small.
So I obsess about beauty and sexiness and waste hours on the computer researching how to get better boobs. Trust me when I say I have spent an embarrassing amount of energy and tears on this subject. I’ve read about chest exercises, herbal breast enhancement, and looked at before and after shots of breast augmentations (yes, I definitely look more like the “before” shots, sigh). I debate the pros and cons of implants, yet kind of hate myself for it. How can I be so vain? With an abundance of positives in my life, why am I focusing on a (literally) small-scale negative?
It would be logical to focus on the basics: simple, cheap fixes that would improve my overall appearance, like getting more sleep, avoiding dorky sock-and-shoe combinations, or brushing my hair more often. But for some reason frumpiness only makes me want a boob job more: I think if I had big, perfect, perky boobs, I could get away with crusty hand prints on my unstylish mom-jeans…yes, I’d be so obviously sexy, I could get away with anything.
This mentality makes no sense! Or does it?
There are some major realizations that come with having a child, such as the 24/7/365/forever responsibility and the intensely fierce love we feel for this tiny being.
There are also the personal perspective shifts, ones that perhaps I was less prepared for: I now have a child, which means I have now entered the “tied-down,” responsible phase of my life. While acronyms like MILF exist, and while women in their 40s, 50s, and older have never been so celebrated as beautiful and sexy (hello Halle, Demi, and Helen), I’m now sharply aware of this new “life bracket” I’ve entered. Being a mother has underlined the fact that I am not and never will be in my 20s again, and I will never again be a singleton. And although I, unfortunately but honestly, do not have the same generous genes as the women I listed above, my partner must find me, average, mortal me, attractive enough to be with forever. Perhaps my desire to be sexy in a most basic form stems from these newly-acknowledged facts.
Even more importantly, however, I must again find myself attractive. I truly do believe confidence is what makes a woman beautiful and sexy, not perfection. I must take care of myself, like exercise, wear clothes that make me feel good, even put on a little make up! I need to do things that lift my spirits and nourish my soul, like read, dance, and get together with friends. As a mother, carving out time for ourselves sometimes feels selfish, but it isn’t: it’s self-preservation. Of course no one feels like Halle Berry all of the time (maybe not even Halle herself…), but the majority of the time the confidence and contentment has to be real, if for no other reason than faking it is too tiring.
As for the boob job? Well, I’m not saying never, but I think it’s reasonable to say not right now.
Even though I now have a being in my life that I would make absolutely any sacrifice for, I also know I can’t neglect another relationship in my life: reestablishing and maintaining a positive and healthy relationship with myself.
ELIZABETH VALENTE has an MFA from University of San Francisco. She currently resides in her home-state of Maine and works on her novel one nap at a time.
Melanie Mayo-Laakso is the Content Manager for Mothering.com. Mothering is the birthplace of natural family living and attachment parenting. We celebrate the experience of parenthood as worthy of one's best efforts and are at once fierce advocates for children and gentle supporters of parents.