Turning the Lights On: My Body and Motherhood
Editor's Note: This article first appeared in Issue 13 of Holl & Lane Magazine.
Words and images by Shelly Nino
The women in my family have never been shy. My mother, grandmother, aunts, and great-aunts undressed in front of me and one another with no fuss, comments, or self-deprecating jokes; it was all very natural and matter-of-fact. I am convinced this is why I was never self-conscious as a child despite my physique, which fluctuated between average and somewhat squishy. It was not until teenage-hood that I became aware of my body and the fact that others were aware of it too—perhaps a little too much. Like most—if not all— teenage girls, my body became a source of pride or pain depending on who its commentator was at any given time. One minute I had a beautiful hourglass figure, the next my backside was too flat for so-and-so’s liking. And even though I mostly liked my reflection, the voice of one or two critics haunted my esteem like faint laughs echoing in an abandoned home.
If the seeds of doubt were planted in teenage-hood, those suckers bloomed into something resembling venus flytraps when I became a mother. Any self-confidence buzzing within my grasp was snatched up at the sight of stretch marks and extra weight looking back at me from the mirror. Not to mention what pregnancy and nursing did to my breasts.
When my girls were younger I liked to save time by showering with them. The three of us scrubbed and lathered and laughed away in that little 5x5 foot space, rushing to get our days started. Though, while most people consider their shower a daily sanctuary, a luxurious space to wash away the grime of each day, I went there and lost my dignity. Once, my youngest daughter who was four at the time, wanted to know something: namely, why my breasts were taking a nap on my belly. I thought to myself, Good Lord, is it that bad? The insecurity I felt from my daughter’s unsuspecting, innocent shower remarks extended beyond shower time. I remember beginning to feel insecure about my body during sex, and what once felt like my time to shine and connect with my husband became time for lights off and pretending I was cold so we could use the covers. My husband insisted I was still the sexiest woman in his eyes and I assured myself, you’re still sexy by default; you’re having sex.
Stretch marks and extra weight were only the beginning. Six months after the birth of my first child, I incurred a large third-degree burn on my right forearm and smaller burns on my legs from a kitchen fire. The burn on my arm was large and deep enough that it required a skin graft in order to heal. The new skin was taken from a 8x2 inch space between my hip and thigh, leaving me with fresh new scars on three areas of my body. I went from feeling practically flawless one year to being riddled with flaws and scars the next. I felt like a completely different person, a carnal crash test dummy.
But something changed over time. I gained another kid, thus new stretch marks and even sleepier breasts. I gained new wrinkles from smiling and laughing, and a few sunspots from basking in the sun. I gained a few pounds, lost them, and gained some more back. What I lost was giving a hoot. I didn't want my mental state to be dependent on my physique or skin anymore. I accepted that stretch marks are irreversible and my breasts would never again look like they did when I was 18. I changed my perspective on my scars and thought of them no longer as flaws but as being a part of my story. I decided that my imperfect body performed the most selfless act: giving life and nurturing those lives. It was time to lead my children by example and swim again, dance, let those sleepy breasts breathe, and for goodness sake turn those bedroom lights back on.
After all, a body is just a body. But a body with something extra, now that’s a somebody.