I wanted to write this post from the perspective of a neutral observer. I planned to look at the pros and cons of tummy tucks, the satisfaction rates, and the relationship between plastic surgery and body image. But, then I thought, “Bollocks. I’m not a neutral observer, and I can’t speak for everyone, just myself” (yes, sometimes I use British vulgarities in my head).
I’ve never been against tummy tucks. I’ve always maintained that surgery is often necessary for closing large and burdensome diastasis recti. And on this blog I have been careful to remind women that deciding upon surgery is not a “failure.”
Nonetheless, my own thoughts about the surgery have been complicated. After my first child, I told myself “I WILL get a tummy tuck when I’m done having children.” But, over time, as I came to accept my post-baby belly with its extra skin and stretched out muscles, I saw major surgery as not only unnecessary, but as anathema to what I believed about body acceptance.
How did I get to that point? Well, I didn’t hate my belly. I had narrowed my diastasis recti and strengthened my abdominals without surgery. Sure, my belly wasn’t “fixed,” and I’d always be a little weaker and paunchier than before kids, but consistent physical and mental effort had made a difference.
Indeed, I had felt relieved I would never need abdominal flaying. I’ve had surgeries before, a notoriously painful one last year, and although I have a pretty high pain tolerance, recovery is unpleasant, not to mention a logistical nightmare when you have small children. Surgery also has risks, both physical and financial (most tummy tucks are not covered by insurance). And, the rewards aren’t guaranteed.
A few years ago, I was so confident in my decision to NEVER have the surgery that I emptied the small tummy tuck fund I had started after the birth of my first child. I had created this fund out of distress. I HAD to fix this belly. I HAD to get a tummy tuck. My doctors had never discussed surgery as simply a possibility; instead, they had nonchalantly mentioned it as an inevitability. My muscles were blown apart. My skin was stretched beyond recoil. Of course I would get a tummy tuck when I was done having children. Initially, I agreed. Yes, of course. Cut me open as soon as you can.
However, I eventually recoiled at this inevitability. I searched out other ways to strengthen my muscles. And it worked…mostly. I got stronger. I narrowed the gap. I can’t do all exercises, not just because of my DR, but also because of prolapse. But I can do enough. I’m not weak.
Therefore, over time, I realized I didn’t NEED a tummy tuck. I’ve looked at this stretched out skin for 6 years, and I haven’t fallen to pieces. The world has gone on. My relationship with my husband hasn’t deteriorated. My tummy hasn’t defined my body image. I’m proud of that mental accomplishment. It took a lot of work.
And yet…I starting depositing money into a brand new tummy tuck fund last month.
Binary thinking is uninteresting and dishonest. Thoughts are allowed to wax and wane. I don’t obsess about my postpartum belly, but this doesn’t mean I wouldn’t prefer to rid it of the extra skin that hangs over my pants. I don’t hate my body, but this doesn’t mean I wouldn’t like to permanently close my diastasis recti. Not hating my belly doesn’t mean loving it. And, I know getting surgery doesn’t mean I would love it either (surgery leaves its own marks). Indeed, I don’t think we NEED to love our bodies or that they NEED to look a certain way.
Therefore, you are probably wondering, “Why did you start depositing money into a brand new tummy tuck fund last month?”
Why would I do that?
Why would I proclaim acceptance of my body and then plan for a future in which someone slices open, cuts away, and resews me, creating a belly that might have less skin but that inevitability will look a bit like Frankenstein’s monster?
The simple answer: Because I might prefer it. Because I’m allowed to accept my body and prefer to change something about it. And because planning for a future doesn’t mean writing it in stone.
Creating this fund has muffled the “should I or shouldn’t I” thoughts that linger in the back of my mind. Surgery is not an option without the money (it usually cost between $8,000-$12,000). Therefore, even if I never decide upon the surgery, at least that choice will be mine and not my bank account’s. Mentally, this fund provides a reserve, a place to tuck away (pun intended) concerns about the permanence of my postpartum belly.
A tummy tuck fund is mostly a mental release valve for me. It allows me to put off the decision, while keeping the decision open.
I started this fund because I’m un-idealistic about my body or my relationship with it. I realize I don’t NEED surgery to make me feel whole, while at the same time I can acknowledge that I might prefer to have it. I have come to terms with my body as it is, while also allowing myself to prefer it otherwise. I don’t imagine surgery as a panacea, yet I understand it might make me look and function better.
In other words, I can accept my body and also entertain the idea of changing something about it. Being honest about my mindset means living in the space between body loathing and unequivocal zen acceptance. Like most women, I hover in this intermediate space. In the past, I fell too far around the body loathing end, but now I hang out in a mostly satisfactory middle. Nonetheless, I allow the following thoughts to percolate:
- Would I prefer a belly that doesn’t sag into dimpled skin folds? Yes.
- Would I prefer a stronger abdomen that doesn’t gap between my rectus abdominis? I’d like that.
- Would I prefer to see a slightly different image in the mirror? Sure.
I’m okay with these preferences. I make myself see the difference between preferences and demands. If I demanded a belly that doesn’t sag into dimpled skin folds, I’d be distraught every day I looked in the mirror. If I demanded a stronger abdomen, I’d be upset every time I drop a plank. If I demanded a slightly different image in the mirror, I’d spend my days in a cycle of negative self-talk. And yet, if I demanded I not have my preferences, I’d be lying to myself.
Overall, I don’t know if these preferences warrant major elective surgery. I don’t know if these preferences mean I will reschedule my life to allow for the physical recovery as someone else watches my three children. I may have started a tummy tuck fund, but I don’t actually know if I will ever get the surgery. If I’m honest, I’ll even say I probably won’t.
But I might. And this little might means setting aside some money every month. It means acknowledging that I can accept my body and still prefer it look different. Hoping for a different belly doesn’t mean I’ve suddenly become an aspiring Barbie or a vain fool. It doesn’t mean I’m trying to get my pre-baby body back. I’ve let that body go. I’m focused on the one I have now.
We are allowed to accept our bodies in the ways that work for us. But we must accept them. We mustn’t pin our self-worth or our hopes on a particular outcome (indeed, the outcome of surgery is not guaranteed. Tummy tucks generally have a high satisfaction rate, but not everyone is happy with the result and complications are possible). Whether I have the surgery or not, I need to accept my body right now. And I do. In fact, I accept it enough to acknowledge my own complicated feelings about it. I accept that I can be okay with my body and still want cosmetic surgery.
Body Image is Complicated
Body image is complicated, even for my six year old daughter. She often comments that she doesn’t want to have a “squishy” belly like mine when she gets older. I tell her sometimes I don’t like my squishy belly either, but that I don’t mind it all that much. And then I start talking about what it was like to have her inside my belly, to feel the belly grow, etc…
When I restarted the tummy tuck fund, I asked my daughter what she would think if I ever got surgery to make my belly look different. I was surprised by her immediate answer.
She said, “I wouldn’t like that.”
I asked, “Why not?”
She replied, “I don’t want you to get rid of my…I mean your wrinkles.”
Interesting. “Why not?” I repeated in as neutral of a voice as I could muster.
She said, “Because then you wouldn’t look like you and you are supposed to look like that.”
She doesn’t want to be saddled with a belly like mine, and yet can’t imagine a world where mommy has a belly without “wrinkles.” We are all allowed our contradictions.
My belly wrinkles aren’t me. And they aren’t not me. They just “are.”
Maybe someday they’ll be a “were.” Or maybe they won’t.
P.S. Some of you are probably wondering, “Where are the pictures? Show us this belly you talk about so much.” I’m not extraordinarily modest, but I’m not NOT modest. Basically, I’m a giant contradiction. Plus, that’s not really the point. (If you are especially curious, there are pictures floating around on Facebook, in the Program’s Introduction, and in the Newsletter archives.