Bikini Body Revisited

I’m doing it again! Bikinis.

Yep, those scars are mine. My proof of life, of survival, of being beautifully human. And I refuse to hide them.

That’s right, no one-pieces for me. Not even when Endometriosis bloats my belly or when decades-old internal monologues pelt me with insults. But why?

Am I doing to to get attention? Am I doing it to show off my physique? Am I doing it to keep my diet in check? Nope. I’m doing it for my children.

I had four abdominal surgeries, three close-in-age children, breastfed my three offspring well beyond their first year, pumped breastmilk for donation that fed 30 other babies… this body has WORKED. This body has lived and struggled. This body has scars and strength, imperfections and curves, wrinkles and stories. This body deserves not to be hidden under sweaty layers of sandy lycra or regarded as “unworthy.” If it is a divine creation, it should be treated as such, with joyful celebration.

My children — my sons and my daughter — deserve to know that this is the body of a 36-year-old mom of three. That scars are not to be hidden but to be worn as badges of honor, because they mean I survived. That stretch marks are indicators of growth and life. That what makes us different makes us beautiful. That we shouldn’t hide ourselves out of fear of judgment and certainly never out of shame.

My children deserve to know that they should be proud of their own bodies and their own uniqueness. That they should accept others’ individual forms with loving appreciation. Because one day my children will have scars and stretch marks and individualities on their bodies. Because my children will encounter others with their own visible stories. Because one day they may love others whose bodies are different from their own, in one way or another. And I never want my children to regard those sacred memorials of life with anything other than love.

And as much as I’d love to communicate this message to my children from the flaw-hiding comfort of a perfectly ruched one-piece, how can I possibly effectively communicate this message of body acceptance if I am hiding my own frame? If I don’t demonstrate this, live this, and embody this, I cannot expect my children to love themselves and others without aesthetic prejudice. And, so, I must live it unabashedly myself. I must be an example. In a bikini.

When Memorial Day rolled around and Endometriosis had bloated my belly and winter stolen my tan, I truly wanted to reneg on my own self-imposed rule. Just for this summer. But I couldn’t. My children deserved better. I could do better. I had to be better.

So I put on my bikini and my smile. I ran and played and dug in the sun-warmed sand. And it was wonderful.

I wear a bikini because I want my children to see that THIS is a human body, a mother’s body, a real body. That THIS body, too, is beautiful. That THIS body is worthy of being shown and honored not in spite of, but because of, its imperfections.

I Am Worthy: Bikini Body Vow

After having three kids in under four years, after turning 35, after having four abdominal surgeries, I thought bikinis were off limits. Then I realized I was being an idiot.

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When I see women and girls of all ages and sizes, shapes and forms baring it in a bikini, I appreciate them and their individual beauty. Scars, cellulite, wrinkles, stretch marks, rolls, rib bones, freckles, skin variations… it doesn’t matter what the wearer looks like, I think she’s fabulous. I have yet to see a bikini wearer and think she is unworthy of the ensemble. So why did I deem myself unworthy?

I told myself I was too scarred, too imperfect, too “Mom” for a bikini. I knew how physically comfortable bikinis were but how mentally challenging they could be (especially now that I didn’t constantly have a crying/sleeping/cuddling/nursing baby blocking my midsection from view.) Yet one-pieces didn’t feel right either, and were way too uncomfortable. I’d look at matronly maillots and moan, but see a two-piece and think: “I can’t wear that.” Until I asked myself: “Why not?”

Why was everyone else a reasonable bikini body candidate except for me? Why did I berate myself whenever I donned a two-piece? Why was I unworthy?

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Because I had scars? Because I was insecure? Because I was imperfect? Because I was a mom? But aren’t those the exact reasons I SHOULD wear a bikini?

Being scarred meant I’d survived. I’d lived. That my body had surpassed hurdles and won. Did I really want to hide that? Did I want my children to think that their own scars were ugly? That these signs of life should be hidden? Did I want my children to view themselves or others as lesser because of their external marks?

No.

Being imperfect was being human. Being imperfect was being unique. Individual. I told my children to take pride in their individuality. Should I not value my own? Could my children  truly honor their own uniqueness if their mother lamented and hid her own?

No!

Being insecure meant I should counter my desire to hide my perceived imperfections and, instead, love them if not simply accept them. Society tells us that surgical scars are grotesque, that stretch marks are unattractive, that an imperfect midsection is unworthy of exposure. Did I want to impart those demeaning messages onto my children?

NO!

Being a mom meant I needed the utilitarianism of a two-piece bathing suit (Hello, peeing in a public pool restroom with a toddler resting his fingers on the door lock!) It meant I likely required a different size top and bottom. It meant I’d earned every damn stretch mark and scar I had. It meant this body didn’t just do… it MADE. This body grew and birthed three lives, sustained those lives through breastmilk for a minimum of a year and a half each, and nourished 30 other babies through peer-to-peer milk donation. Was that achievement not to be celebrated? Did I want to show my children that the remnants of their creation, the souvenirs of their births, the signs of their nourishment were shameful? Should I indicate that the raw strength and soft beauty of a postpartum body are to be concealed? To be hidden in disgust?

NO!!

Realizing the idiocy of it all, I said: SCREW SOCIETY! Heck, screw myself for believing that slop and imposing it on myself! I made a vow to myself — for my children — that I would wear only bikini bathing suits (no one-pieces) all summer in order to show to them and myself that all bodies are beautiful, that scars are a sign of survival — of life lived –, that moms are beautiful too.

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At first I felt jittery with my midriff bared at the pool and then at the beach. I had to silence that internal voice telling me others were judging. I reminded myself: so what if they were! That’s their problem, not mine. Others’ thoughts — perceived or real — were none of my business and shouldn’t confine me.

Day after summery day, I became more comfortable. More confident. I was content in my own skin. I rocked my scars. I shrugged off any jiggle. I smiled at the stretch marks. I owned my physique. I was standing as an example for my children to accept themselves and others as beautiful individuals. I was happy.

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I don’t want my children feeling lesser because of their scars; I want them to rock them as badges of honor! I don’t want my children feeling ashamed of their bodies; I want them to cherish them as gorgeously unique vessels! I want my children to appreciate others’ uniqueness as well. Because we’re all different. And different is beautiful. Scars, sags, stretch marks, and all.

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I’m a 35-year-old mom with scars and, yes, I wear a bikini. Because I’m scarred. Because I’m imperfect. Because I’m a mom. Because I’m worthy.

My Birth-related Trauma: After Effects

I had a traumatic vaginal birth with my first child (story here.) It left me scarred in more ways than one. 20 months later, I went on to have a jarring c-section birth with an inept anesthesiologist (story here,) followed by a second c-section that went well — for which I cried tears of joy as they sewed me up — until the epidural fell out of my back on transfer from the operating table to the gurney, meaning I had zero pain relief immediately following invasive abdominal surgery. To say I have traumatic birth memories is an understatement. But birth is natural, right? Everyone on Earth arrived by way of birth. So how can something so commonplace leave such an emotional scar? It’s not like I went to war.

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But, in a small way, I did. At least, it was the closest thing I’ve ever experienced — or hope to experience — to war. There was blood and pain and true risk of death. There were tears and little control and so much fear. It was war in the delivery room. A battle to overcome.

That said, birth isn’t actual war. It’s the bringing of life. It’s something done everywhere every day. How can some women birth over and over without issue, whereas others are tormented by the memory of just one birth? How can similar experiences manifest so differently in individuals? Truly, I don’t know. They just do.

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What does my birth-related trauma look like? Not much from the outside, honestly. I keep it well-hidden. Fortunately, 6.5 years out, my bouts are much less frequently triggered than they used to be. I used to sleepwalk every night with baby-in-peril dreams that, at best, caused me to scream in my sleep and at worst spurred me to unknowingly sob while digging holes in my pillow. Even the hint of birth in movies or TV would cause me to become faint and nauseous. I had to switch to another OB in the practice because I couldn’t bear to see the doctor’s face at the other end of an exam table.

6.5 years later, when my trauma does flare, I generally know what to expect: episodes of panicky breathing, rapidfire vivid memories on an uncontrollable loop, edginess and irritability, a clenched jaw and subsequent headache, sleep disturbances  (ex: nightmares, sleepwalking, insomnia), feelings of sadness and shame, emotional detachment, and fatigue. Sometimes the trauma sticks around for a few hours, other times for days. It’s hard to predict its schedule.

During the episodes, I welcome as much mental clutter as I can to pile on top of the birth horror reel that’s constantly spinning in the back of my mind. It is the quiet time I fear. Closing my eyes in the shower, a lull in radio programming during a drive, that period before sleep when you close your eyes and welcome rest, those are the times when my trauma tightens its grip. Every birth memory I tried to shove beneath carpool and dinner prep, homework help and playdate scheduling, social media pings and friendly texts fires through my mind like an emotional inferno  All of the things I tried to forget I am reliving.

If I do sleep, it won’t be well or for long. I will likely sit up in bed thinking I’m awake when I am really somewhere between wakefulness and slumber. I may possibly sleepwalk into the closet or jump from bed in a terrified dream state. I will wake far too early exhausted but unwilling to close my eyes again for fear of repeating the process. I just want the day to start so that I can push the memories beneath the surface, weigh them down with the everyday. Bury them with the life I love.

Then, as quickly as it arrived it is gone. My trauma after effects trail away, a mental vapor. Leaving me content once again and appreciative of my unglamorous beautiful life as a stay-at-home mom of three. The memories fade and sleep is welcome once again. Until next time.

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If you — or a loved one — suffer from birth-related trauma, know it does not make you weaker or lesser or broken. You can love your child and your life, you can be a loving and appreciative parent but still suffer from the emotional wounds. It doesn’t mean you’re ungrateful or unfit. You are simply a human who survived.

Get help if you need it. Talk about it. Give it voice. Know it will get better. You are a survivor. There is no shame in that. Ever.

Scars of Victory

Scars. Everyone has them. Whether from tragedy, clumsiness, or medical procedure, we all have some line, dent, or mark that tells part of our story. Still, people lament the marks, cover them, tattoo over them, regard them as embarassing imperfections. They wish them away and fret their revelation. But scars are not just pieces of our anatomy, dog-earred notations of our life chapters, and signs of our struggles. They are proof of our victories.

I have numerous scars. Some from good times and others from bad times, some tie to strong recollections and others mental blurs. However, one of my most obvious scars has been with me since almost the beginning.

You see this scar here? Some might hide it. I own it. Sure, I’ll never have a “perfect stomach.” Instead, I’ll have MY stomach. I still rock a two-piece swimsuit when I feel so inclined. I’m not hiding it.

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That scar came from a life-saving surgery I endured as an infant. I survived corrective surgery for plyoric stenosis (a genetic malformation of part of the digestive tract that causes all food to be forcefully regurgitated instead of digested.) That scar is proof that I am a survivor. It is just as much a part of me as my nose and my laugh.

I don’t hide it. I don’t lament it. It is simply a part of me. It may not be pretty, but not everything in life is.

What I hope for you is acceptance of your scars. You needn’t “rock” your scars, if that’s not within your comfort zone, but I hope you at least won’t be embarrassed by them. I hope you own them. I hope you realize you are braver, stronger, wiser, and emotionally richer because of them. They are signs that you have survived, grown, overcome, lived.

Instead of framing hard-won or regrettable scars as reminders of challenging times, regard them as badges of badassery. Trophies of success, determination, fortitude. They’re nature’s tattoos, showing the world — and you — that you are more than just a delicate flower. You are force, a beautifully unique collection of experiences and growth. Whatever lead to that scar shaped you. Love yourself. Love your scars.

Scars are not blemishes. They’re proof of victory.

You won.

Appreciating the Scars

Our kitchen table is worn. It’s weathered. It’s scratched and marked and mottled with imperfections. It’s not artfully or intentionally aged. There’s no shabby-chic crackle finish or sandpapered paint. It’s simply ragged in the way well-worn items are.

At first, when we inherited the large, solid wood table as recent newlyweds we were pleased. We figured it would suit our needs, at least temporarily, until we eventually refinished it or upgraded.

Occasionally, we’d flip through catalogs and dreamily contemplate which new table to purchase. The flashy trendy set ot perhaps the simpler, classic arrangement? Then, we’d see the prices and close the catalog, turning our minds to what new finish or paint could make our table look presentable. We didn’t have the time to devote to such a task, so we abandoned the flirtation. Glancing down at our patchy table in scorn, its flaws were amplified against the shine of the new.

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Then, came the children. Each child adding paint flecks, scratches, and scuffs to the already unevenly worn finish. As I looked at the bald spots and etching, rough edges and glitter embedded in deep scratches, I became embarrassed. I wanted to hide and cover the marred table. To disguise the wear and tear of its service.

Then, one day, while cleaning the crumbs from the tabletop, I looked up and saw my children’s chairs. I traced my finger along the pink paint left behind from the baby shower for my first child. I felt the fork scratches in front of my middle son’s seat. I saw the grooves left behind by my daughter’s overzealous hand as she’d begun to learn to write her name. Then, I saw the worn patch, the permanently blond spot on the edge of the table where Nonna, my grandmother-in-law, had sat. Her seat at the table was still clearly marked so many years after her death. That’s when I realized: these aren’t imperfections, they’re memories!

Each scar tells a story. Each fleck signals nostalgia. Each worn patch stands as a place marker, mapping the seats of dearest loves.

This table wasn’t flawed. It wasn’t broken. It was beautiful in an organic, simple way. It was strong.

Every day the table served us, absorbing our abuse and displaying our lives in a tapestry of wooden memoriam. It’s not perfect.  It’s loved. It’s ours.