Today I went shopping with my mom, who is visiting for several days. I was looking for a dress for an event next month, and she bought me that one and another for a date tonight with my husband, which we have yet to plan, other than the fact that we are going on a date.
This is how it is now, still, two years after having a baby. Shopping for myself is hard to justify. If my mom wasn’t paying, I wouldn’t have even gone shopping in the first place.
And when it became apparent that I need real bras with actual shape and support, as opposed to stretchy, worn nursing bras, I was struck with the overwhelm of buying for my body. I still nurse, so I cannot commit to normal bras all the time. Thus, they feel extravagant. There was a sale: two for $59, and I thought, Jesus, that’s half a week’s groceries. So when the sales lady tried to push a third bra on me, because I “can’t wear the same one every day,” and I said I didn’t want to spend much, and my mom offered to buy them, and I said that wasn’t necessary, and the lady said, “She just wants you to be beautiful”… I just couldn’t talk for a moment.
A) How would three bras make me more beautiful than, say, two?
B) I don’t need a bra to be beautiful. No one will see it, and even if I will be more supported and perkier, the location of my boobs on my chest factors very little in my own sense of my beauty.
Sure, she’s trying to sell more product. And sure, that product is tied up in assumptions and stereotypes about gender, beauty, and worth. But still, I was kind of stunned. There I was, working to accept the cost of something nice for myself, something I wouldn’t normally buy, but something relatively basic, and suddenly it was as though my moderation was some reflection of unwomanliness.
I explained that I still nurse regularly, so I will still be wearing my other bras. I felt like I was trying to get away with something. For awhile, she stared at me, but I didn’t relent.
Later, my mom tried on some bras, and the sales lady came in to check on her. I was nursing my son in the corner of the dressing room. She told me about her daughter, whose baby likes to fiddle with the other nipple while nursing, and I said, “Oh yes, he does that too. It drives me crazy.” I softened toward her because she didn’t look away from me nursing a toddler, didn’t make me feel like an aberration for that. Still, I wanted to say, “Tell me I’m not beautiful as I am right now, with my stretch marks and puffy stomach and my boob hanging out, comforting my kid.”
I find it very tricky, the way my body is at once something I accept and respect and mostly love, post-pregnancy and post-birth, while how my body fits in the world is often at odds with that. I care less about flab or stretch marks than I used to, but the world is shouting about baby weight loss and stretch mark cream, specifically shouting at women like me, women who are mothers. I feel the urge to shop at maternity stores because their clothing is functional and accounts for a sagging stomach. During pregnancy and for awhile postpartum, I felt really free from the pressure to be sexy in the ways society deems sexy. I have held on to that most tangibly through extended breastfeeding because needing access to my breasts means making certain, limited choices about clothing.
But the moment I decide to treat my body less like an empty vessel and more like a body that’s my own, if only for a date, I am confronted with all these extra ideas: If you’re going to wear a pretty dress, your boobs should be perky, your saggy parts should be contained.
Your body should not be the body of a mother.
Your body should not be your body.