Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last couple of years, you’ve probably seen the viral photo of Taryn Brumfitt’s beautiful, naked post-childbirth body alongside one of her looking slim but being miserable. Last night, as I scrolled through movie rental selections, I was reminded that she made a documentary that I really, really wanted to see: Embrace. It highlights body shaming, celebrates body positivity and sounded totally up my alley. I clicked play, and settled in for what I expected to be an experience that made me feel empowered and connected to womankind. I prepared to feel accepted and excited about the body positivity movement. I looked forward to feeling, well…Embraced.
Within the first few moments of the film’s opening, a film that focuses on ending body shaming, I felt shamed. Yup. A huge group of women had the shit shamed out of them, right down to parading their naked photos across the screen. It wasn’t because we were too fat. It wasn’t because we were too thin or too tall or too short. It was because we had had plastic surgery. Millions and millions of us.
My husband and I watched as women who had had surgery to change their bodies were used as an example of what’s wrong with the world. He carefully gave me the side-eye and said, “I don’t know if we should watch this.” He had read my mind.
I am one month post tummy tuck surgery. My husband knows how I struggled with the decision to have the surgery. He knows that I shamed myself for being a bad feminist in the days leading up to the surgery. He knows that I shamed myself for what I worried might be setting an eventually disastrous example for my 8 year old daughter. He knows that I shamed myself for being shallow. For spending the money on myself instead of on my family. He knows how much I worried that people would judge me.
He knows that I spent 5 years thinking about it before I finally decided it was time, all the while being quietly supportive and reassuring me that he thought I was a total babe. He made certain that he had no influence on the decision, but that I knew he understood why I struggled. Not discouraging me made him feel like a bad feminist, too.
I loved my pre-surgery body. It bore me a beautiful little girl. It carried me through an industrial accident that nearly left me unable to walk. It carried me through a spinal injury that really did leave me unable to walk until I had neurosurgery. I’ve thanked The Force for being with me every day since then. I can walk. I can talk. I can wrap my arms around my loved ones. With a few ibuprofen handy, I can even run and jump.
You know what I couldn’t do? I couldn’t get dressed without thinking about my belly, without changing clothes several times, without finally giving up and turning to my Fred Flinstone-esque closet and grabbing leggings and a flowy top every damn day. This, from someone who loves fashion, watches Project Runway like a fiend and really, really wanted to wear some other shit once in awhile. The whole process was taking up valuable real estate in my head and I wanted it back.
For five years, I thought that if I was woman enough, if I was strong enough, if I did the work and the therapy enough, that I’d be able to love my belly while I was dressed in something that wasn’t essentially a chiffon potato sack. I did the work. I went to therapy. I maintained a healthy BMI. I learned to love myself more than I ever have in my life, but I still thought about my belly every time I got dressed, every time I had to shop for clothes. It was still taking up space in my life. I didn’t have body image issues. I had belly image issues. I started to feel like there was something wrong with me for not magically waking up one day, putting on a body-con dress and feeling grrrrrreat about it, belly flap be damned. The guilt and shame over not achieving belly-love made not having belly-love even worse. So I had a tummy tuck.
It was the greatest act of self-love I’ve ever committed.
I worried that, post-op I would look at my scars and think, “What have I done to my poor body?” but that thought never came. Instead, my repeated thought was, “Look what I’ve done for this wonderful body of mine!”
The worry that I would somehow damage my daughter’s fledgling body image also vanished. I realized that I had taught her that it’s okay to do whatever the hell she wants with her body, for whatever reasons feel right to her. That making big, controversial, life changing decisions that scare the shit out of her can lead to peace and empowerment.
I connect very deeply with the body positivity movement, I believe that change should come from both within and without. That it’s fucked up that society holds women to unachievable standards of beauty and that we shouldn’t let it make us miserable anymore. That instead of trying to out-skinny, out-pretty and outsmart each other in order to claw our way toward relevance in a society that was constructed to keep us down, we should link arms and become the force that we deserve to be.
The movement is about loving every body. It is no one’s place to judge me for a decision I made about my body. Whether it’s cosmetic surgery or abortion or tattoos or piercings or fucking dying your hair jet black until you’re 103, I love you. I love all of us. And I think you should love me, too. I’m pretty awesome.
So if you’re a photographer, the next time you do one of those beautiful shots of women lined up, representing women of all shapes, sizes, colors and ability levels, give me a call. I wanna be the one who beams over my bad-ass tummy tuck scar.
This author has chosen to publish anonymously