by guest blogger Renee James, humorist and blogger
When I was 16 years old, I had major surgery on my kidneys, which left me with an enormous, obvious scar. It starts in the middle of my back and winds around my waist to my abdomen. There were no fade creams in 1975; I applied cocoa butter, which was mostly useless. The scar has faded a tiny bit over the years, but is still very noticeable. Having someone see it for the first time has always been an uncomfortable moment.
But maybe it’s a good thing I entered adulthood with it. Sixteen years later, on what turned out to be the last day of my pregnancy with twins, my brother commented, with great affection, about my enormous girth and wondered how my body had accommodated it. As my gift to him, I declined to show him my bare tummy. He was young and single, and I feared that once revealed, he’d never “unsee” what I was carrying under that maternity tent. I’m pretty sure that upon close examination, even today, you can trace a reasonable facsimile of U.S. Route 50 on my abdomen. (Skin’ll do that to you when you deliver three babies in 16 months.)
So the question is this: For someone as pathological as I about using creams and scrubs to stave off the inevitable, why have I never addressed the leftover reminders of pregnancy that have staked a claim—hell, they’ve built an entire little town—on my body? Possibly because my surgery scar had already kind of marred the canvas, if you will. But I think it’s more than that.
Obviously, I know what our culture seems to covet. Like every woman in the Western hemisphere, I see images of perfect, shining, smooth, flat, airbrushed abs on models every single day. And because it’s been 40 years since I had a completely smooth torso, I can barely remember what it feels like to have anything resembling that look. Then I channel my inner Elsa and try to let it go. But it’s tough.
Maybe my decision to do nothing is more of a public/private thing. Our faces are in public daily. And many women, at least those older than Katie Holmes, want to appear fresh and vibrant (and younger.) Most women I know have earned every single fine line, every single spot, and every single sag. Doesn’t mean we love them. We smooth them over using the miracles found in one of the 19 jars in our medicine cabinets.
I’ve earned the stretch marks on my abdomen, too, but they’re different. I present them to the world not ever, but I’ve never tried to diminish them or erase them. There is exactly one other person on the planet (not counting my gynecologist) that sees them on a regular basis, and he’s part of the reason they exist! Yes, earned every one and—believe it or not—love every one, too.
This little post notwithstanding, they are mine and mine alone. The visible marks my boys have left on me. (More on the invisible ones some other time.) They remind me every day that even something as perfect as an infant’s birth brings with it some measure of imperfection. It feels like if I visited my friendly neighborhood plastic surgeon and had each one erased, I wouldn’t be me. Is that weird? Don’t get me wrong. I wouldn’t miss my surgery scar one bit. But I’d feel “less than;” I’d feel diminished without my “perfect imperfections” as John Legend so kindly sings to every woman who ever drew breath.
Then again, “perfection” is meaningless. It’s fair to say that a small part of me envies a model’s slender profile and her smooth, bump-free curves. I suppose if I committed to a relentless training program, I could achieve some measure of that look, featuring stretch marks that won’t go away, no matter how long I hold a plank. There are millions of women (and men who adore them) who wouldn’t spend even four seconds contemplating that goal.
What can I say? I know we’re infinitely more than our physical selves and excessively focusing on appearance makes no sense. I’m trying. I salute every woman who accepts her own private road map every single day. I’m cheering for my sisters who ignore the subconscious “less than” voices that whisper to us when we look at those touched-up miracles in the media. Yes, those models and their abs look amazing. Impressive. But given the choice—and it is a choice—I hope most of us have found the skin we’re in will do just fine.
Underneath all the lumps and scars, I hope we all feel pretty amazing and impressive, too.
Renee A. James works at Rodale Inc. and wrote an award-winning op-ed column for The Morning Call, the Allentown, Pennsylvania, newspaper, for almost 10 years. Her essays were included in the humor anthology, 101 Damnations: A Humorists’ Tour of Personal Hells (Thomas Dunne Books, 2002), and are also found online at Jewish World Review and The Daily Caller. She invites you to Like her Facebook page, where she celebrates—and broods about—life on a regular basis, mostly as a voice in the crowd that shouts, “Really? You’re kidding me, right?” (or wants to, anyway), and she welcomes your suggestions, comments, and feedback to the mix.