"It is a fact that you will lose your looks having children. But you will lose your looks anyway, so you might as well do it having children! At least then you will have all these beautiful creatures in your house that remind you of how attractive you were at one time." -- Dr. Janet Smith
And yet, some fellow had to claim that this was simply "relative thinking", and when I objected that childbearing did cause objective physical changes, some of which were less than aesthetically attractive, I was told that it was really just a matter of "self-perception" and perhaps I had been brainwashed by the fashion industry. Ah. The fashion industry is responsible for my stretch marks. My tortured veins, the most grotesque of which are fortunately not visible to the public, are simply "self-perception". My muddled female head can't understand what beauty is because I myself actually find my daughters' smooth and beautiful young legs to be more aesthetically pleasing than the purple web of spider veins that crawl up my own.
To be sure, not every aesthetic change wrought by childbearing (which is specifically what Dr. Smith is covering) is negative. Some women who've always wanted curves may find themselves blossoming out in the right places; flat-chestedness is certainly ameliorated; for some the glow of pregnancy brings fabulous skin (for others, rosacea). Some positive aesthetic changes are wrought by maturity; I certainly have better posture now than in my slimmer college days, except in the evenings these days when I'm bent almost double by the agonizing ache in my groin caused by the fashion industry putting excess pressure on everything south of my navel. And that's fine, because this is how a child comes into the world. Our bodies are meant for more than physical perfection; they're meant to be given in service of others.
Here, an image of pregnancy:
Ah, lovely. Look at that smooth, hairless, glowing, perfect stomach, those pretty arms, those manicured hands. This lady sure hasn't lost her looks by having a child. Yeah, and this bears no more relation to my pregnant body than a model in a bikini does to most women in a swimsuit. This is how the "fashion industry" depicts pregnancy, and it's no more universally applicable than anything else the "fashion industry" does. My differences from this image are not just a matter of "self-perception". My body simply doesn't look that beautiful when I'm pregnant. That doesn't make me worthless or unattractive. It makes me a woman with different genetics, whose body has already endured multiple previous pregnancies, who may have increased in age, grace, and wisdom, at the small but bittersweet sacrifice of some forms of physical beauty.
Childbearing permanently alters the body for better and for worse, and it's okay to mourn those changes because they can be traumatic. Women don't have to view our stretch marks as "tiger stripes" or battle scars or precious badges of honor; they can simply be stretch marks. Being pushed to acknowledge the marks and scars of childbearing as beautiful when our aesthetic sense rebels against such a designation is simply a form of cultural conditioning.
Simcha Fisher wrote an excellent article on this need to call everything beautiful:
And yet. What are we really aiming for here? Do we want society to acknowledge that there are many forms of beauty? Or do we want society to start pretending that there is no such thing as beauty? Because that's where we're heading at the moment, and that way leads to disaster. We're telling people, "Everything is beautiful. Everyone is acceptable. Beauty is subjective, and therefore there's no possible way to say that any one particular thing we see before our eyes is not beautiful. Thin is beautiful, fat is beautiful, dressy is beautiful, messy is beautiful, everything is beautiful, and don't you dare say otherwise."
What's dangerous about this? Surely it's a good thing when we are pushed to stop judging each other, right? Surely it's a step forward when we are discouraged from labeling each other.
But the problem is, we don't stop. We just start being afraid to say it out loud. We learn to guard what we say in public, but on the inside, we all still have pretty steadfast ideas of what we find beautiful. There is no power on earth that can make me think that Rosie O'Donnell is just as beautiful as Lauren Bacall. I also think that Kim Kardashian is more beautiful than the Flannery O'Connor. Thinking so doesn't make me a sexist or an ageist or a sizeist, or shallow or arrogant or prejudiced. It just means I have eyes.Another implication to the "everything is beautiful" trope is that something less than beautiful is so worthless that it only gains value by declaring it beautiful, by fiat. But beauty is no measure of worth. It is simply a measure of certain aesthetic values which in no way denote the fullness of a person, nor even the measure to which one person may be attracted to another. Being attracted to another person is not the same thing as finding everything about them as physically appealing as it could be, because beauty, despite its literary, artistic, and societal connotations, doesn't have anything to do with affability, intelligence, virtue, charisma, dignity, clubmanship, charm, or any other of the myriad things that make a person dear to others. Nor does physical perfection correlate with physical attraction, as just about every one of us who has loved another real person can attest.
This one of the reasons that I value the safeguards of marriage. It's okay that physical beauty fades away, because not only does Darwin remember what I used to look like, and can still see me that way, but he knows me so well that he sees past my appearance and indeed, can almost name each mark and when I acquired it. And that's only the slightest part of our relationship, which transcends physical beauty without belittling it.