Awaiting Stretch Marks

Elizabeth Hanna Pham

I’d always heard about being comfortable in your own skin, about how every body is beautiful, about how you shouldn’t let the media affect how you feel about yourself. I knew that models were airbrushed and pushed up and manipulated in all sorts of ways and that they didn’t represent “real women.” I’d even been told that I was beautiful. But despite what I was told, I always felt like I knew of a deeper truth- that there was an ideal, far more perfect than I was and that I could never reach that ideal. As it does for many females, that idea stung. And it stung deeply. I’d try to reason it out. You don’t need to be perfect! You don’t need to be flawless! Nobody expects that of you! They love you as you are! Imperfections are lovable! But it didn’t matter. Though I believed it in theory, I didn’t believe it deep down, or at least, I didn’t feel it all the time. I didn’t feel it when faced with what I considered the ideal.

And then, I got pregnant.

I’d always heard the pregnant woman hailed as the beacon of femininity—and I interiorly scoffed—yeah maybe when the bump is small and cute! But beacon of femininity when she possibly weighs more than her husband? Come on! And I’d seen websites of women sharing their post-natal bodies—stretch marks and all—with pride. This body gave birth to new life and I’m proud of it! They’d say.

Good for you! I’d think, but my body better never look like that!

And now? Sure, I’d prefer it didn’t. But I’m not so concerned about it anymore if it does. All of a sudden I actually feel beautiful. A type of beautiful that is irrelevant of anyone else’s affirmation and irrelevant of what imperfections may happen upon my body. A type of beautiful that only I could convince myself of.

Because now I know what makes me beautiful. I can actually see it for myself. Now I know why the female body was made like it was. It actually has a purpose. And things are beautiful not just because of how they look, but because of what they are, what they’re meant for, what they can do. Pregnancy has forced me to see what my body can do.

I don’t mean to claim that the female body is only beautiful because it can be a pregnant body. Not at all! The female body is beautiful because it can love. And that is the most beautiful thing in the world. It’s just that pregnancy is one of the many ways in which the female, body can love. Hopefully, those who cannot, or have not, or will not ever be pregnant see that they have that same beautiful body capable of just as much love. But for me, it happened to take pregnancy to understand that.

Pregnancy forced me into an ultimatum. That is, either you accept that you won’t be physically, sexually flawless and culturally “perfect” or you don’t ever let your body fully love and do the amazing things it is meant to do. Because love hurts. Love stretches and bends and breaks and wrinkles and tires. Love wears on the body. But love gives the body purpose and meaning.

The old Skin Horse explains this phenomenon perfectly in his dialogue with the Velveteen Rabbit:

“Generally,” he says, “by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

Pregnancy is teaching me how worth it is to be Real. For some of us, it may be a different lesson, but we can all be Real. We become Real when we love in the ways we were meant to love and when we accept fully the ways in which that love may bend and break our bodies (and even hearts.) It is in becoming real, that like the Skin Horse, we may one day look at all the new stuffed horses and think for a moment, “It’d be nice to look like them again,” but if we have really loved and lived we will surely laugh at such a thought. Laugh because the beauty of physical perfection, while nice, pales in comparison to the beauty of love.

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