From a recent ad in my local newspaper: "HAVING KIDS IS GREAT. WHAT IT DOES TO YOUR BODY ISN’T." The ad goes on, ostensibly in the voice of the perfectly beautiful, well-endowed woman in the photo, to bemoan the damage that having kids does to the female body. It ends by urging us women who are not perfect to "Do it for you."
For us? More likely for the bottom line of the advertising plastic surgeon, whose business may not be so brisk these days, and so is offering $1500 off breast augmentation, a tummy tuck, or something called a "mommy makeover", which apparently involves liposuction.
I don’t know why these ads get me crazy. I understand that the societal ideal of Woman and the reality that we women live are completely different concepts. Most mothers I know would not trade their children for a beach-worthy body. Wear and tear on the human body, even childless ones, pretty much goes with the territory of being alive and progressing through time. Even if we take excellent care of our bodies, which most of us do not, we still age. Even if we treat our bodies as precious gifts from God, as temples of the spirit, which most of us do not, we still eventually wrinkle and gray and sag. Some of us do it more gracefully than others, of course, but the only alternative to the ravages of physical life is physical death.
I guess my beef with these kinds of ads is their intent: the sense of inadequacy they engender in those of us who are already mothers, and the fear and trepidation they encourage in young women who are not. The message is not that having kids is great, but that having kids is somehow wrong for your body. If you really care about your body, implies the ad, you will be ashamed of and try to undo whatever imperfect vestiges of childbirth your body may exhibit. After all, every mom, if she’s worth her salt, should be able to pass for a porn star.
Hogwash! We mothers live in bodies that proudly bear our scars and triumphs. Our bodies have embraced conception, have nourished a fetus, have stretched to improbable proportions and back again, have brought forth a new life, have produced rich milk, have rocked and comforted and protected our children. Our bodies are temples of love and possibility. Our motherly bodies, glowing from the inside, with all the failings and imperfections that are uniquely ours, are somehow still bodies that fathers can love.
I am not saying that mothers should "let themselves go": obviously it’s important that we take care of ourselves, that we believe in exercise, in sound nutrition, in plenty of sleep, in sunshine, in a strong faith life, in mental balance. No plastic surgery can replace true care for the temple. And are perky breasts really what we are about? It’s the misplaced priority of physical perfection, not having kids, that is anything but great.
The Body as Temple