Standing in front of my bathroom mirror taking note of my late pregnancy body, I sigh. At the end of my maternity fashion choices, I find myself frustrated and disappointed when those wide-banded shorts won’t make their way over my protruding abdomen. Belly button gone, a varicose vein bulges in a twisted pathway the full course of my left leg. Leaning in closer, I spy the gray hairs that refuse to be disguised and the red blood vessel that tattoos my face.
Still staring at my myriad imperfections, it hits me that I’ve made this same self-deprecating evaluation before. Throughout most of these last seven and a half months of pregnancy, I’ve been unsatisfied with my body. Oh sure, I’ve smiled and said thank you to the compliments from friends, but all along internally balking. They were just being polite, of course. What’s really beautiful or glowing about swollen, rounding and stretched out body parts?
Now it occurs to me that my persistent dissatisfaction might really be a sign of ingratitude. Do I really believe that the body is a temple of the Holy Spirit? If I do, how can I abuse the facade God gave me? If I am made in the image of my Creator, how can I spend so much time grumbling over His portrayal?
One doesn’t have to look far to see where I’ve developed these distorted notions of beauty. Flip the pages of a modern woman’s magazine and you’ll find perfectly airbrushed, sleek bodies scantily clad in size-two frocks balancing on stiletto heels. Even in the average ob/gyn’s office you’ll likely find pictures of fresh-faced mothers with tight baby bumps that will never expand (by choice or force) more than twice.
Hollywood seems a bit more interested in motherly tummies as of late, but alas the praise is generally reserved for cute little bumps. And the greater achievement is highlighted later on when Star Mama flaunts her return to pre-prego size just six weeks postpartum.
It certainly doesn’t help when well-meaning allies casually question whether I might be carrying twins or, oh so charitably, equate my size to that of a “house.”
With nips and tucks, botox and Spanx, the female form is cast and there’s no room on the red carpet for a Botticelli girl. There’s a cream, treatment, procedure or prescription guaranteed to improve your odds of attaining post-Renaissance perfection. And there’s contraception to insure our fertility doesn’t leave us vulnerable to too many motherly expansions.
Blessed with two lovely daughters, I must reconsider my personal evaluation lest they adopt my lowly opinions of physical maternity. Truth be told, when in the company of other women, I’m inspired by their beauty. The difference is that I see them, the “whole” them not some deconstructed parts, and they are each and every one beautiful. So, too, I want my children to see, themselves and others, with genuine clarity not through the cloudy lens of our sterile, sexualized culture.
Taking another look, a deeper view, I consider those gray hairs represent my years of experience and the wisdom accumulated during a life well-lived. My blood vessel tattoo reminds me of my first home birth when after 25 hours I pushed my sweet son, Jude, into the wide world. The lines around my eyes came from so many smiles erupting at the sight of my children’s achievements. Rounded hips have made ample resting places for transporting toddlers.
My sagging breasts invoke memories of hours spent gazing down at little ones as they satiated their hunger. Well-worn tummy muscles provide a safe and comfy home for growing life. And that lost belly button was sacrificed in trade for the joy of watching tiny parts stretch and kick from my inside out. Stretch marks are the badge of my vocation and swollen varicose veins signify my body’s task of providing for two.
So much more than these visual parts, I am a woman, a mother, a wife, a daughter, a sister and a friend. I’m a volunteer, a teacher, a writer and a helpmate. Every appendage and organ serves a purpose, like the architecture of a temple, but what use is a temple if it stands as an empty facade? The Holy Spirit has work to accomplish, so this temple of mine was never meant to remain pristine.
Indeed there is value in accentuating the positives and nurturing a healthy, strong body, but wishing away the marks of time is pointless. If God made this body, then this body is good. So, from now on when I pass a mirror, I am going to try my best to step back and employ some far-sightedness. Vanity may be a sin, but right perspective has the potential to inspire appreciation for the gift of this temple that I call me.