The other morning, I was lying on my back in bed (topless, as per usual) when my older son grabbed my breasts and started pushing them together towards one another.
“Um. What are you doing?” I asked him.
“Oh, I’m just fluffing your breasts so you have more milk for my brother.”
I’ve finally reached the end of nursing with my 18-month-old (hallelujah!) but now – as my preschooler pointed out – I’m in the sad post-weaning-empty-husk period of chestiness. It really is amazing how much change this one area of a woman’s body goes through over the course of pregnancy, breastfeeding and weaning. A girl could find herself bra shopping every two months. Anyway, after my four-year-old alerted me to the tragic state of my breasts, I began to think more seriously than ever before about a topic that I’d railed against my entire life: plastic surgery.
I’m no stranger to the idea of breast augmentation. In my early twenties, my own mother suggested, not so lightly, that perhaps if I were to go up to a “nice C cup,” I wouldn’t have so much trouble dating the button-down-blue-shirted finance guys in New York City. When she’d say stuff like this to me, I’d muster up all the feminist rage I’d acquired in my four years at Barnard, yell about the patriarchy, then go about the next few days parading around my parents’ house braless just to prove a point.
But now, after two kids, breastfeeding those two kids, and so many changes in bra sizes that I have an extensive collection of bras in my closet each in gallon-sized Ziploc bags labeled “super tiny bras”, “small bras”, “medium bras”, “nursing bras” and “enormous bras,” I am downright enthusiastic about revisiting this whole plastic surgery idea.
And it is not just me. So many of my mom friends – the same women who, like me, used to think women who had elective plastic surgeries or even minor non-invasive procedures were superficial and insecure – are singing a similar tune. We’re not only talking about breast augmentation to resurrect our post-baby-boobies to pre-baby-fullness, but other things, too. Suddenly, words that we thought were only reserved for the cast of Real Housewives – Botox, fillers, Fraxel – are all on the table. I have friends who I’ve never seen wear makeup now happily, and without any pretense of keeping it on the down low, head to the dermatologist for Botox.
I’ve found that when I’m with friends, once I’ve opened the door to talking about the aesthetic tweaks we would make (if money were not an issue), nearly every woman has something on her wish list. Maybe it’s because we are older, or maybe it’s because we’ve gone through childbirth and now feel like we deserve it, but suddenly we’re comfortable talking about the “stupid stuff” about our appearances that we’d kind of like to address. Things that have always bothered us, but that we never felt were OK to admit or worse, to really do anything about: We want someone to fix that mole on our chins that’s bothered us since we were seven. We want whatever the latest painful thing is that promises younger, dewey-er skin.
Maybe before we had children, it didn’t feel right complaining about the parts of ourselves that we wanted to change. We were afraid of people thinking we were vain, or superficial. There are so many more important things to be worried about in life, so many other things to focus on besides looks. And yes, those other things may indeed be more important. But that doesn’t make wanting to make changes to our appearance unimportant and something to write off.
Are we letting the patriarchy win? I don’t think so. Most of the dads I know are totally indifferent to boobs now that they've been silent bystanders of breastfeeding. I'm sure they'd be mildly stoked about the idea of their partners getting boob jobs, but most of them probably wouldn't care what those breasts looked like just as long as looking at them (and maybe even touching them!) in a sexual way is back on the table.
This isn’t about meeting some kind of standard of the male gaze. This is about taking care of ourselves in whatever form that may take. Childbirth and childrearing are filled with so much endless giving – of our patience, of all the love we can possibly contain and more, and of course, of our bodies – that a woman’s desire to tweak parts of her appearance shouldn’t be met with disdain. Are these kinds of procedures that much different from splurging on a crazy expensive pair of Jimmy Choos that may help a woman feel more sexy and confident when going out? Or a tennis bracelet? Are eyelash extensions OK? Laser hair removal? Where do we draw the line, and also, who is anyone to judge?
At this point in my life, at age thirty-five, I can say that I like the way I look. But . . . there are a few things I wouldn’t mind sprucing up as they start to get a little worse for wear. I’m not insecure about them. I don’t like my breasts right now, but that won’t stop me from wearing a small bikini on the beach or those nothing-type bras with no shape or padding (my fave). I think it’s ok to love your body, but to also to acknowledge that there’s room for improvement. Now that I’ve endured the complete body assault that is pregnancy I have given permission to myself to want to make a few changes. I only wish I didn’t feel like I needed permission to feel the way I do now.
There exists, in our society, a sense of virtue in the endless giving of motherhood. That to sacrifice is to love. The mom who didn’t have time to shower or brush her hair must be a better mom than the one with the lipstick on. A woman giving back to herself has the tendency to strike people as the opposite of sacrifice: it is non-maternal, cold and selfish. I think we can hold up these two ideals side by side without them contradicting each other – a mother can be generous to her children and to herself. How we give back to ourselves might mean different things to each of us. But no matter if it is Botox or a boob job, a personal trainer, or crazy expensive heels, my hope is that we don’t feel we have to justify it to anyone. We’re doing it for ourselves.