When I was pregnant with my first child, I assumed my body would simply ‘bounce back’ after my son’s arrival to how it was before childbirth.
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I’d seen countless celebrities unveiling their post-baby bodies on the cover of magazines and scrolled past scores of social media influencers showcasing their flat, postpartum stomachs online.
And so I, albeit naively, assumed that I too could grow a new human, give birth, and bear no evidence of that momentous event on my body. I didn’t want a puffier, softer body thankyouverymuch, I wanted my pre-baby body back. And I genuinely thought I’d get it, too.
Sure, I had packed on a few pounds during pregnancy but I thought a few walks around the block pushing my new baby in his pram would soon see me dusting off my bikinis and resuming life in my body as I had always known it.
Here cometh the stretch marks
What I didn’t anticipate was that regardless of how much I exercised (or didn’t) my upper body would resemble a melting candle, all loose skin and a smattering of angry red stretch marks. I was devastated. Tiger stripes, wiggly lines, silver scars – whatever you like to call them, more than half of all women are estimated to develop stretch marks during pregnancy. If you (like me) fall into that camp, the chances are you’ve either tried to get rid of them or vowed to keep them firmly hidden from view.
Instead of hiding our stretch marks, we should celebrate them
Instead of feeling embarrassed about something that so often goes hand in hand with growing a baby, a social media movement is calling for women to celebrate their ‘strength marks.’
I first came across the movement when scrolling through Instagram late one evening and stumbled upon a picture of a woman that stopped me in my tracks. Her stomach looked remarkably like my own: not entirely flat and decorated with faded, silver lines. But instead of hiding them under 17 layers of clothes, she was sharing them with the world. What’s more, she looked beautiful doing it.
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You will grow all you need to grow inside my spine . And then take what you need to take, what's yours is mine . . . #AtlasWilde @ohdaughter #motherhood #takebackpostpartum #stretchmarks #strengthmarks #homebirth #homebirthbaby #postpartumbody #postpartum #birthofamama #fourthtrimester #fourthtrimesterbodiesproject
There’s so much beauty in the imperfect
“Your stretch marks tell a story of strength and beauty in the imperfect,” read the caption. “Your white hairs and wrinkles show the world you’ve gained some wisdom throughout the years. Your soul and wellbeing is worth so much more than a body.”
Following the hashtag #strengthmarks, I discovered that hundreds of women had shared pictures of their own stretch marks to help show how entirely normal and beautiful they are. In a world where everything seems to be airbrushed and filtered to perfection, this feels important.
“I have these suckers on 70% of my body,” wrote another caption. “Gaining 60 pounds in nine months will do that to you!”
Even Chrissy Teigen has them
So why do some women get them and others don’t? It’s all to do with the elasticity of your skin. When we’re pregnant, our skin stretches at a rapid rate, which is why those pesky red squiggles can not only pop up over our growing stomachs but on our thighs, hips and breasts too – everywhere that’s expanding. While trying to keep your weight in check could help, genetics play a huge part in whether or not you’ll be afflicted (the chances are if your mum has them, you will likely get them too).
They don’t discriminate either – Rihanna, Chrissy Teigen and Lady Gaga are just a handful of celebrities who aren’t afraid to show off their stretchies. So while I probably won’t be posting my own #strengthmark picture anytime soon (I’m not that brave – yet!), I’m not going to dive under the parasol at the beach and stay rooted to the spot until home time either.
Instead, I’m going to get up and play with my sons. I’m going to think about the beautiful boys I brought into the world every time I glance down and see my scars and wrinkles. I’m going to choose to love my body.