I was first introduced to the expression “Tiger Stripes” while scrolling through Instagram. An individual whom I follow who preaches body positivity was discussing “rocking her tiger stripes” as a milestone and marker of motherhood. Tiger Stripes, as I soon learned, are synonymous with stretch marks, the lines a woman may develop during pregnancy—or with weight fluctuation, and then not exclusive to women—due to the weight changes she endures. They may be white, red or purple and typically appear on the stomach or torso.
This individual called them Tiger Stripes, denoting a certain fierceness and pride. She wrote about how when she looks down at her stretch marks she feels joy and strength as they remind her of what she endured to bring her baby into the world. They represent womanhood, and endurance and resilience, the battle her body went through and all it did for her to allow her to house and birth another human.
Well, readers—I have news. I recently had my first baby. My daughter was born at the end of February and, with gratitude to Hashem, baby and I are doing well. As a recovered individual and eating disorder activity/therapist I had a lot to process during my pregnancy. I thought countless times about how hard my body fought for me to enable me to get to this point; how years later, I was able to have a baby when some individuals with a history of an eating disorder have child-bearing complications. I reflected on my journey and how hard I worked with the incredible support of my loved ones, treatment team, dog, etc. to recover and build a life for myself. I processed my internal experience around my fear of growing up, and how having a child is just about the most-grown up thing I could have done.
And I thought about those Tiger Stripes. I thought about the feelings I had toward my body and toward the experience and my emotional journey at the thought of being a mother—what I needed to be willing to let go of and what I needed to accept. And I learned that Tiger Stripes and the concept of tiger stripes did not resonate with me.
I completely respect and understand the idea: thinking about stretch marks, this all too common phenomenon as something that should emit pride, and using a “warrior-stance” makes sense. It allows women and men to tap into empathy for their bodies and feel appreciation and strength. And yet, I think it best we not put that type of pressure on ourselves. Feel proud of your stretch marks? Wonderful! But if you don’t, that’s okay too. My stance, after careful consideration and thinking, is that there were some days in my pregnancy that I reveled at all my body could do and handle. And other days when I did not; I felt as if there was an alien inhabiting my body, pains that were new, and at times my body felt somewhat out of control. But still, this did not impact how I treated my body or myself.
That is the difference between body acceptance and body positivity. We need not create the pressure to buy into body positivity when perhaps we must start slower, with tolerance and then acceptance. I may not have always looked down at my stretch marks with a burning pride. But I also did not look down and make plans to alter my body. I accepted that they were part of the process and perhaps they would go away, perhaps they would not. They are a part of my body, and my body does so much for me. I can feel grateful, I can feel pride, but above all I need to accept this. Denial only leads to dissatisfaction, comparison and the untrue belief that altering one’s body will lead to happiness. Instead, thoughts and feelings about my body needed to be experienced, and I was able to put them in their place; my body was not the essence of my pregnancy. The new life that was coming into the world was the true focus, and all that came with it, including appreciation to Hashem, my relationship with my husband and the bittersweet notion that I am now a grown-up. These values, this life experience, was more meaningful and impactful than any lines on my body or changes in weight.
Adopt what feels comfortable. Perhaps that includes a way of thinking about your body’s resilience. Perhaps it means writing a gratitude list daily to keep in mind perspective and the “bigger picture.” And perhaps it means starting at tolerance and working toward the idea of love. Meet yourself where you are, and be sure to do the same for others as we have such great capacity to build one another up and promote this much-needed acceptance.
By Temimah Zucker, LMSW
Temimah Zucker, LMSW is the assistant clinical director at Monte Nido Manhattan and works in private practice in NYC. She is a national speaker on the subjects of body image, mental health, and eating disorders. To learn more, visit www.temimah.com