This morning, I happened to look down at my belly the moment the light caught my stretch marks just so, illuminating the translucent-purple lines that grace my naval and slink out across the expansion of flesh. I am not pregnant. But I have been. Seven times. My once-flat stomach has stretched itself wide over the last 11 years, making room for new life. Of course, after each baby, recovery and nursing allowed my body a little recourse, but I still have that soft ridged flesh my kids lovingly call my pizza-dough belly. My flat tummy is indeed a thing of the past.
And I’m okay with that.
At 33 and with 6 living children which my body grew and bore, I am about 20 pounds overweight. My last baby was born a mere 8 months ago. Yes, I still would like to lose some weight; I still angst over my body when it refuses to fit in my favorite pair of jeans. In moments of self-doubt I miss my 22 year-old body, the one that easily fit into size-2 jeans, the one which seemed to look good in just about anything. But – BUT! I also love that my kids snuggle into my doughy belly when they aren’t feeling well. I love the curvature of my hips and the roundness in my shoulders. I love that my husband likes to squeeze my soft flesh when he hugs me. This body was born right along with each of my children. In my own right, I have settled into this role of motherhood in complete abandonment of my former body.
I know I am beautiful.
And, I don’t need your validation. I don’t want you to tell me that my body is beautiful. I won’t insist that you make me feel like my body is something beautiful even though I have extra weight challenging my small frame. I don’t need any Instagram campaigns or Facebook groups or any silly slogans to know how utterly beautiful my imperfect body is.
What’s more, I don’t need to pose for naked photo shoots baring my body for the world just to prove that point.
My body is mine. And my husband’s. It belongs to us, and I can’t imagine that he would be okay with me sharing images of its naked form across the Internet. I’m not. It is for him to see and love and call beautiful if he wants. It’s a treasure which holds secrets, wonders, and new life. It can grow, birth, and nourish my babies; surround them in comfort; move gracefully (and sometimes not so gracefully); and love. I know this. You probably know this, too, about both me and yourself.
I don’t need to show the entire world my whole body just for the sake of insisting that it’s beautiful.
With the advent of social media came this umbrella-idea that we need to blare our entire lives across the web. And we’ve lost our autonomy in a way. We’ve lost our right to just be and live without feeling the need for acceptance; without feeling the weight of obligation to broadcast it all. Everyone expects us to be wide open, believing that they are allowed to have an opinion about each other’s lives, even about such a personal, sacred thing as our human body. And everyone feels the need to not just seek validation among the masses, but insist upon it.
And I have to ask. What’s left for us? What’s left for our husbands? What’s left of our lives and ourselves to be kept secret, to be special and important enough to hold onto and keep to ourselves? Modesty has become such a dirty word but you know what? It’s not! It’s beautiful. It’s beautiful because it protects us from the need for validation, or to press upon others that we know — and therefore they should agree — that we are beautiful. Modesty is the protective veil on our autonomy, our lives, our beauty, so that we may treasure ourselves and our life-giving abilities, our imperfect forms with scars and extra skin, without the obligation of proving something to the world by baring it all.
Along with social media, there are the magazines and the porn industry to consider in all of this. What has it said to the women and men of the world when everywhere we look, there are images of women in provocative poses, wearing nothing or next-to-nothing, claiming beauty? How can we combat that? How can we compete with seemingly “perfect” bodies with our own?
More importantly, why do we feel we need to show all our secrets just to outshine theirs?
Aren’t there other ways in which we can support and empower each other? Why is it that to prove that our life-giving bodies and our nourishing breasts are beautiful, we have to strip down and show ourselves off? Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the beauty in the human body’s form. I love pictures of pregnant and nursing women and don’t find immodesty within tastefully-done photography that highlights the beauty of these forms without showcasing every inch. But I also respect that the entirety of that beauty is not meant to be shared with the world. Each individual has something special in her imperfection. It’s like a delicious secret, something sacred she shares only with her own heart and her husband. I don’t understand why we should show ourselves off — stark naked — to prove that beauty. I don’t want to be in public in my naked form. Not because I am ashamed, but because I’m not. I want to keep that beauty here, in my home, just for me and my husband and children. I have a special gift in my womanly shape, and I don’t want to share that with the world.
My body does not belong to the world. Neither does yours. You don’t need to seek acceptance or validation for it any further than your own self. If you can’t find it at first glance in the mirror, look a little closer. Trace along those silvery lines meandering through your abdomen and remember the life which you grew just beyond them. Pinch that extra soft flesh around your middle and think of your children nestling their heads and hands into it when they are tired or sick. And look inside your own heart. If you truly can’t accept that you are beautiful, being naked in front of the world insisting that you are isn’t going to change that. Think of the secretive things yet undiscovered in the world, creatures and life in the depths of the ocean which hide there, unseen. Mirror that in your expression of your body, and you’ll find how truly beautiful you are.
Our Selfie Culture What would you think if you found out one of your friends spends five hours a week staring at her face? If you are a woman between the ages of 16 and 25, that friend is probably you. Thank you, selfie culture. Collectively, our selfie culture devotes