Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about the pretty poor self-image I’ve had since Baby Taylor was born. In all honesty, I’ve never had a great relationship with my own body and there has always been a long list of things that I would change, but I had a much better relationship with myself after Toddler Taylor was born than I do now that I’ve been through a second pregnancy. My first pregnancy didn’t really change me much. I lost my boobs completely after I was done breastfeeding, but it’s hard to mourn what was never really there in the first place. Otherwise I remained largely unchanged. I remember with startling clarity the cold sweat of horror I felt during my second pregnancy when I spotted stretch marks for the first time. Once they appeared my husband was categorically not allowed to see me naked, or even in underwear. I think I probably let him see them once in low lighting and when he said “they’re not that bad” I believe I swore at him and shut myself in the bathroom. I have such a huge amount of admiration for women who can just accept stretch marks and wear them like battle scars when I’m so ashamed of mine that literally nobody is allowed to see them.
It seems kind of odd when I look at it like that. I have scars literally all over my body and I never really give them much thought. Sometimes I’ll look at them and think that I would probably look a whole lot better without them, but they don’t bother me particularly, and that’s probably because I caused them in the first place so at least I had control over them. Back when I’d just had Baby Taylor and I was still feeling really raw about the stretch marks, I posted a photo of them on instagram because I hoped it might be liberating. A few people commented to say “But you got a beautiful baby from them!” and while I was so hugely grateful to them for trying to make me feel better about myself, all I could really think at the time was “I know that. But it doesn’t help.”
Thinking about it, some of my self-image issues were probably started, inadvertently, by my mother. When I got to about the age of 11, I remember her telling me “I don’t think you’ll ever be pretty so much as just attractive. You’ve got very strong features.” At the time I don’t think I really had much of an understanding of what constituted for physical attractiveness, but it was something that stuck nevertheless. As a result of that one off-hand remark, I developed a bit of a thing about my nose. I convinced myself that it was the “strong” feature she had referred to and decided, all on my own, that “strong” was obviously a euphemism for “gi-fucking-normous”. I’m not playing the blame game here, and I’d certainly never say to her “it’s all your fault; I’m fucked up because of you” because that wouldn’t be fair and it wouldn’t be true. My many, various and often colourful neuroses are a direct by-product of my own poor decisions, and I think probably a lot of my self-image stuff is tied up with that too. However, the fact that I will never accept any human being on the planet telling me I’m “pretty” is very probably down to my mother. But who even likes the word pretty anyway? It’s all frills and pinkness and it doesn’t suit me, so that’s okay.
I think the phrase “you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone” is particularly apt when I look back on how frustrated I used to feel about my body when there was really nothing wrong with it at all. I can’t honestly remember what I looked like before I had babies because there are no photographs of it. My self-esteem was so cripplingly low that I never allowed anyone to take photos of me in a bikini – and I certainly have no fear of “revenge porn” ever happening to me because the idea of me sending risqué pictures to anyone is, frankly, laughable -, but I do know that, actually, I was pretty much okay really. After I had Toddler Taylor and realised that I’d come out of the other side of pregnancy relatively unscathed, I actually started to appreciate my body. I learnt to ignore the parts I hated and celebrate the rest. There are photographs of me in my back garden wearing a bikini about a year after Toddler Taylor was born. So I finally felt kind of okay about my physical attributes... And then I had another baby. And I came out of the other side of that pregnancy feeling cringingly ashamed every time I looked in the mirror.
This is another one of those things that mothers just don’t talk about, and I do understand why. I know that hating a body that has given me two beautiful babies makes me feel guilty and ungrateful. I also know that feeling like that actually creates this self-perpetuating cycle of feeling shitty about my body and then feeling shittier about feeling shitty about it because feeling shitty about it in the first place makes me a shitty person. But shouldn’t it really be okay to be honest if stretch marks feel more like bad luck than a badge of honour? I know from looking through dozens of different forums on the subject that sometimes mothers do try to talk about this, to seek solace in the words of other women, and more often than not the replies are the same: “Just look at your beautiful baby and realise how wonderful your body is and how lucky you are.” So there are mothers out there who have tried to reach out and they’ve pretty much all hit the same brick wall of stoic put-up-and-shut-up responses. But we’re not all the same, and for me throughout my relationship history, I’ve never really been able to understand why anybody would be attracted to me and I’ve always tried to hide that behind being witty and vaguely sarcastic. So now I just try to believe my husband when he tells me that he doesn’t notice the stretch marks and other myriad imperfections, turn them into a bit of a joke, when actually I’m thinking “how do so many other woman manage to just shrug this shit off?”