What is a time of joy for many women was my darkest hour.
When I had my daughter almost four years ago, I joined a city-wide mother's group that would mail out a monthly magazine with articles about parenting in San Francisco. Positioned between innocuous articles for new parents like "Date Night: Keep the Spark Alive!," "The Best Little Playgrounds in San Francisco" and "Bugaboo: Awesome or Even More Awesome?" were multiple ads for mysterious "mommy makeovers."
Until I started reading that newsletter, I could say that I was happily oblivious to the term "mommy makeover." I knew what a "mommy" was and what a "makeover" was, but I had no clue that these two words together meant something much more extreme than a sassy little "What Not to Wear" shag haircut and a smart jersey wrap dress that would amazingly make me seem ten pounds lighter.
For those of you who blissfully unaware of this term, it's plastic surgery meant specifically for women whose bodies (particularly the abdomen and breasts) have taken a beating with every human that has been expelled out of their body, be it from vagina or C-Section. It's usually some sort of breast lift, augmentation and/or reduction along with an abdominoplasty (tummy tuck) and liposuction. And it's a group of procedures that are usually all performed at the same time. I've heard dubious accounts of tummy tucks occurring immediately after c-sections but I think that's a bit apocryphal.
I had never been that concerned with my body (I was always slightly overweight but not so large that I was unhappy) and felt that if I had to choose, I'd easily pick personality over a good body. And guess what? It turns out I didn't even have to make that decision myself! It was like my butt and my stomach had my best interests in mind and decided it was time to really let my personality shine. After I gained fifty pounds with my pregnancy, reached a size 40 "G" during nursing, and was firmly in the fat camp (not to mention in a normal post-partum depression), I began to really hate my body, particularly my stretch marks.
It's then when the ads in the mother's group newsletter started speaking to me: In reference to one of my favorite Kids in the Hall sketches, I heard these ads beckoning to me with the siren song of "Cut off your gut, ca-chunk ca-chunk, lift up your breasts, ca-chunk ca-chunk." I learned that with the breast augmentation my nipples would have to be removed (and, I assume, placed on the doctor's tray for some way-too-long amount of time) while the doctor did his magic. And my gut? There wasn't just going to be a cute little hose that would suck it all out. Tummy tuck procedures ain't pretty. That's all I'm going to say.
I began to get obsessed by the new body these advertisements promised. With a new body, I figured, I'd be a happier woman! After all, my mother's group newsletter wants me to be a happy mother! It doesn't want me to be fat! Right?
And then, during all these thoughts about going under the knife, I started doing something that had nothing to do with surgery and everything to do with making me feel better about myself: I started sewing. The first dress I sewed was for an annual Gatsby picnic event that the local Art Deco Society puts on. I convinced all my friends to dress up and attend the event and we had a wonderful time. Addicted to the feeling of creating something just for me, I began sewing all of my own clothes. I made a pledge to not buy any clothes for one year and make at least one outfit, once a week. I even started a blog to document this process. I started by sewing fairly forgiving dresses from 1940s patterns -- dresses that were loose where they needed to be loose and could always benefit from a belt. I stopped buying clothes off the rack and in the process, stopped knowing what size I wore anymore. I learned where my curves worked and where they didn't. I fundamentally sewed my way to feeling happier about my body.
The act of sewing restored the personal style that I had loss during the years of pregnancy and early motherhood. Because I almost exclusively sew with vintage patterns and vintage materials, I was able to create a "vintage" wardrobe that fit me. I cared less about what my body looked like and more about how I presented myself. Still forty pounds overweight, I stopped caring about getting plastic surgery to make me feel better about myself. Instead of feeling embarrassed by how I looked, I felt proud to talk about the dresses I was wearing and the stories behind them.
Now here's the part where I sell out. I actually ended up losing the 40 pounds and now I'm at a completely healthy and maintainable weight. The motivation for me was that I wanted -- as somebody I know said once about their own sewing/weight-lost quest -- to be a better hanger for my clothes.
Although I still have my stretch marks and my breasts are still sad little deflated balloons, plastic surgery doesn't even cross my mind anymore -- it just wasn't the right option for me. The right option for me goes back to my constant decision to pick personality over looks. My sewing and love for vintage is my personality. It just so happens that it was the motivation for me to be a little bit nicer to my body.