The Aftermath of Pregnancy

Debbie says:

I never heard of “mummy jobs” until I read this article about how they are spreading from the U.S. to England.

Make Yourself Amazing [is] a company which promises “a life-changing experience that revitalises, rejuvenates but most of all reassures”. It recommends breast surgery, tummy tucks and liposuction for the post-birth body – the aim is to erase all evidence of childbirth from a woman’s body.

The Californian surgeon David A Stoker was one of the first to market the mummy makeover, offering an all-in plastic-surgery package that includes a breast lift, with or without implants, tummy tuck and liposuction. Women, says Stoker, need no longer feel “self-conscious or resentful about their appearance”. Last year, the American Society of Plastic Surgeons performed more than 325,000 mummy jobs on women aged 20 to 39, up 11% on 2005.

Diana Zuckerman, president of the US National Research Center for Women and Families, recently said that if marketing could turn the post-pregnancy body “into a socially unacceptable thing, think of how big your audience could be and how many surgeries you could sell them”. In short, making women believe that their bodies look disgusting after childbirth is a marketing man’s dream.

It is probably not difficult to achieve. On the parenting website Mumsnet, a popular thread about the post-baby body includes detailed and lengthy descriptions of inside-out belly buttons, loose skin, caesarean scar overhang, “diabolical stretchmarks” and handlebars sitting across hip bones, with everyone claiming that their disfigurement is the most hideous. “Does anyone know how this can be improved except for surgery?” asks one mother in desperation. A 2005 survey by Mother & Baby magazine found that 87% of new mothers were “positively unhappy” with their figures: 50% would “consider surgery”; 25% said they would “definitely have surgery”.

In 1994, when Laurie and I published Women En Large, we included a beautiful piece by Lani Ka’ahumanu, called “My Body Is a Map of My Life.” Here’s the picture the piece goes with, and an excerpt.

Laurie's portrait of Lani Ka'ahumanu

I perform a ritual when I remove my clothes with someone, whether it’s to sunbathe, sauna, massage, or to make love.

I tell the stories of my scars.

Besides the pearly stretch marks that texture my arms, legs, breasts, and belly, that I acquired during my two pregnancies, there are scars: a long think pink one that follows my right rib line for 6 or 7 inches (from gall bladder surgery between the births of my son and daughter); a seam line from hip to hip and one around my belly button from surgery that removed three pounds of hanging skin; an appendicitis scar; and one-inch wide stretch marks–after I lost the 120 pounds seven years after I gained them.

MY BODY IS A MAP OF MY LIFE, A PATCHWORK QUILT THAT IS WARM AND SOFT AND STRONG.

Lani’s writing was all I could think of when I read the mummy job article, which includes several interviews with women who have had the post-pregnancy surgeries. These are not women who were pregnant against their will; they are women who wanted children. Their children will leave a wide range of marks on the mothers’ lives, marks that go much deeper than the stretch marks or unequally sized breasts. What does it mean to erase an intentional pregnancy from your body? It can be construed as modifying your body to lie for you–to tell an incomplete and untrue story of who you are and what you’ve done.

I could rant about profit motives, social pressure, and lots more. Laurie and I have done that before, and we will again. But right now, all I can think about is that our bodies are our selves, are one way we carry our history. Because pregnancy and childbirth are occasions for joy and delight, it makes me sad that anyone would want to erase that story, and sadder still that there seems to be a movement of women making that choice.

Thanks to Oursin for the link.

women, pregnancy, plastic surgery, mummy job, feminism, Lani Ka’ahumanu, body image, size acceptance, Body Impolitic

12 thoughts on “The Aftermath of Pregnancy

  1. I think I got more compliments on my appearance during the first year after my daughter was born than during the entire previous 42 years of my life. I’m not sure why — maybe just because I was extremely happy, and it showed. But I also think it’s because I am surrounded by friends who have worked hard to resist patriarchal ideas about beauty. Erasing the physical signs of motherhood is just about the purest expression of patriarchal ideology I can think of.

  2. There was a Cathy cartoon in which she explains that women’s breasts optimize at one age, and their rear ends optimize at another age, and everything’s perfect for about 20 minutes–and then you get pregnant. (Sorry, I don’t have a cite for the cartoon and the text is very approximate.)

    When I saw that cartoon, I realized that modern standards of beauty are completely anti-biological.

  3. my lord, this post made me cry. i’m new to this crazyradical idea of loving your body the way it is and am now finding there are whole loads of women who already know about it. why didn’t you ladies clue me in ten years ago??

  4. So let me get this straight:

    As little girls, we are encouraged to race ahead as fast as possible to grow up.

    As teenagers, we are encouraged to fear the inevitable weight gain in the form of hips, thighs, breasts, and buttocks, and so we see “healthy dieting” articles in tween/teen mags.

    As adults, we are supposed to diet ourselves smaller and smaller every year.

    As mothers-to-be, we aren’t supposed to gain too much weight, and have the “perfect bump” that is “all baby”.

    As new mothers, we are supposed to bounce back as quickly as possible and diet away the pregnancy weight in a few weeks. If dieting doesn’t work, we are supposed to erase any existence of a real life lived through invasive surgical procedures.

    Can someone explain to me why we have to disappear ourselves all the time???

  5. We are supposed to disappear ourselves to make up for our increasing presence in the world. We are allowed in public, in full participation in our world, at least legally, in the US now. But the more power women gain, the more we’re encouraged to focus all our energy, time, and money (!!) on “perfecting” our bodies. Imagine what would happen if the women of the US revolted, and instead spent the time and energy, and yes, money on, say, getting involved in politics. It would be a revolution.

    I’ve just discovered this blog, and I have to say I love it. Thank you for being here.

  6. im married to korean yet i thought for them having a baby would be the best of it … for a while . yet after delivery they focus on me im 49kgs. still not thin for them every ……day i struggle to diet. reading the article helped find myself and appreciate the sacrifice of motherhood…..rather than trying to livein their f***** standards

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