I have several girlfriends now who have gone in for plastic surgery of some sort. All of them looked conspicuously better than I do now when they went in to have the ostensible damage rectified. I’ve tossed the idea of following their lead around in my head ever since I had Anabel and saw what the housing of her inside my belly did to the skin enveloping the outside of it. You’d have to look long and hard to find someone with stretch marks to compare to mine. And it’s not just stretch marks, either. It’s also the fact that the surface area of my skin is now significantly increased. When I bend over, I am an accordion. Nothing is tight about my midriff anymore. When I run, I have to have good sturdy running pants or shorts to keep me all tucked in and secure or I can actually hurt myself with all the waggling and jaggling. When I dress in the mornings, I have to carefully steer clear of jeans that have a low-rise, for fear of the infamous muffin top that seems to have multiplied exponentially in this mommy-generation (is it because we’re fatter now than ever before or is it because we’re all desperately trying to squeeze ourselves into our daughter’s jeans?). I have to shop in obscure stores to find underwear that are neither a skimpy thong of no use to me at all nor the stereotypical grandma underwear that my own mother wears. I spend exorbitant amounts of money on these hard-to-find body shapers. I am that strange woman you sometimes catch a glimpse of in the public swimming pool, the one that strikes fear into the hearts of all the adolescent girls who’ve caught sight of her that day in her bathing suit. I’m not overweight (or not very much, anyway) and yet my pale skin, for lack of any real elasticity, doesn’t fit my body anymore. My pregnancies have stretched it beyond what any poor skin should be expected to bear. I try to be discreet while exposing my nearly naked self in places like public swimming pools and yet I can see the quavering fear in the eyes of all the 15-year-old girls, wondering if someday this will be their tummy, too. I want to reach out to them, comforting them and assuring them otherwise and I would too, if only I weren’t sure it would alarm them further. I remember when I was their age and I was terrified to think that my own positively hideous body might possibly become more so one day. I want to tell them not to worry and to be kinder to themselves. I want to tell them that they’re perfect and strong. But of course I don’t. And in the meantime, I make sure I always use the private change rooms, so as not to further panic them, poor, dear, cruel things.
And so I contemplate plastic surgery. I don’t judge women who’ve resorted to it. They want to feel their best and they believe that looking their best is a tangible step toward procuring this evasive, idyllic state. There are some plaguing questions that bother me though. I see my two little daughters watching me. Unlike with the girls in the pool, I can reassure Anabel and Lola that it’s very unlikely that their tummies will ever look like mine. I elaborate at some length about the perfect skins of their grandmothers and of their aunties and assure them confidently that undoubtedly their genes, too, will be so inclined. They ask me all about mine. They love the butterfly-wing softness of my belly and love to touch it. When they were little, they would press their tiny faces into it, rubbing their cheeks back and forth on its velvety surface. The excess skin untouched by sun made for the very most satisfying zerberts. I think I’d be more inclined toward the nip and tuck were it not for the fact that I have my daughters. They don’t miss a thing and I don’t know what I’d tell them, in explanation. The message they would hear would be a fight upstream from what I’ve always told them about loving themselves, cherishing themselves, accepting themselves and being kind and gracious to themselves. I think - for the time being at least - of my battle-scarred stomach as a testimony of the rigors of a life well lived. It’s imperfections remind me of the poignant sadness of losing two unborn children before I had the chance to hold them in my arms, before imprinting the sweet-smellingness of their newborn necks on to my brain. My sagging stomach and the stretch marks meandering their way across it like dewy spider webs in the early morning trace the intimate history of the four perfect, healthy children that I helped usher into the world, of the attendant joys of raising them into beautiful people. It reminds me that I’ll always be imperfect and that for now, I’d rather work on perfecting my insides a little more. I’m inclined, just now, to be kind to me and to be gentle. I always find that there are harsh critics with exacting standards in abundance out there in the world and so right now, for the time being at least, I’m going to choose to just touch that sagging old stomach and appreciate all it has done for me and for mine and leave it alone in peace.