Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Fear of fertility

I've been thinking, once more, about how today's standard of beauty is much closer to a skinny teenage girl, rather than a mature, fertile woman who looks as if she is ready to bear children. A fertile woman normally has feminine curves and a healthy amount of flesh - only a minority of women are naturally very skinny. A typical woman is not skin and bones. She looks soft, womanly and motherly.

I've been somewhat on the petite side all my life - never even close to overweight. I've also been blessed to have healthy food preferences during pregnancy. I developed an aversion to chocolate, sweets, and almost all types of fried foods. Instead I've been craving fresh vegetables (in particular tomatoes) and fruit, soft cheese, and fish. Also, while I experienced a certain increase in my appetite, I'm not consuming double or tripe portions.

However, as would be naturally expected, I'm slowly gaining weight and becoming curvier. And you know what? My husband is very happy with that. Contrary to what glossy magazines promote, men like women who look like women. Soft curves were considered attractive in all times and cultures.

Open any magazine for women, and in many of them you'll see an ocean of tips on how to shed pregnancy weight, and squeeze into those jeans you used to wear in highschool six weeks after you gave birth. What nonsense. I realize I will never look like a teenager again, nor can I be reasonably expected to. I'm not saying we shouldn't make efforts to eat healthily and stay fit - on the contrary. But we must be realistic. Age, as well as bearing and nursing children, will change the shape of our bodies. Our husbands, too, won't stay eternally young. Our health, happiness, and loving relationships should not depend on, or be damaged by, the simple fact that we are all growing older.

Of course, in a culture that encourages 16-year-old girls and 40-year-old women to dress the same way - and very immodestly - it's difficult not to feel inferior because you gained a few extra kilos, the shape of your body has changed in some places, and you have stretch marks. But when you are liberated from exposing your body to strangers, only the loving eye of your husband will see the markings of age - which you acquired during your life together, and through bearing and nursing his children.

In a world ruled by feminism, mature women are pressured to look like teenage girls, and men are encouraged to look and behave like teenage boys. Androgyny is promoted, and men and women who dare to look and behave like mature adult men and women may feel less than welcome. Masculinity and femininity have been sacrificed on the altar of "equality", to the grief of the part of humanity that still has some reason left.

Pregnancy, nursing babies, and motherhood in general are now regarded as a weakness. Of course it cannot be completely eliminated, but it can be minimized by pushing birth control down our throats, and subtly convincing women to put off childbearing until such time when they wouldn't be able to have more than one or two children. Maternity, which used to be as natural as breathing, suddenly became a hindrance to women who are taught they can have it all, and don't understand why it seems near to impossible.

A few weeks ago, I happened to overhear the conversation of two women, one of whom was a mother of an 18-months-old toddler, and very pregnant with another baby. She was bemoaning the fact that her babysitter quit while she is in the middle of exam time in college, and she is forced to leave her little one in the hands of someone she hardly knew and didn't really trust.
"But what am I supposed to do?" - she asked in sincere frustration, - "give up my degree?"

This young mother, whose love for her child was shining through her very eyes, was clearly torn apart. Maybe all she needed was to have someone close and supportive who would tell her: yes, in such a situation it's better to quit college and take care of your family. Your husband and children need you.

We can be so much happier and so much more peaceful if we only stop fearing our nature, our age, and the changes the cycle of life draws upon us. Let us be women; let us be mothers; and let us be proud of the way God shaped our bodies and designed them to function.

37 comments:

Anonymous said...

I agree with almost everything you say here, Anna, but I do think you're blaming the wrong group. Read almost any modern feminist thinker and you will discover a true celebration of the female body, with all its flaws and extra curves. Feminism revers the female in its natural form, which obviously is not Kate Moss thin.

Who demonstrates and protests against Barbies and Bratz dolls because of the distorted body image they promote? Feminists. Take a look at Wikepedia:

'Feminists criticise the excessive emphasis on body shape as part of women's self-image in Western society, and contend that an ample body shape is more typical of real women in the West than the ideal pushed by some parts of the Western media through depictions of extremely thin actresses and fashion models'.

If you ask me, worship of youth is to blame for the desire to remain stick thin. However, the current societal pressure for women to be crazy-thin is no better than other demands on women's bodies throughout the ages. For example, until very recently, a 'proper' woman had to be very fat in Tunisian culture. A bride would spend the months before her wedding being fattened up to gross proportions, because men valued huge curves (sign of wealth). By the time she had a few children, she had grown too stout to move comfortably.

I can only hope that by the time my daughters enter womanhood, the only demand on their bodies will be to be healthy and active, not thin or fat. Well, one can hope.
Tammy

Anonymous said...

OH....I forgot to add. The young lady in the middle of exams, at a loss as to what to do. The situation you describe is so painfully familiar, from my life and from those close to me.

It's not so simple. I really doubt her husband would want her back home to 'take care of him'. Indeed, her husband most likely would be absolutely livid if she left college during exams. The year's tuition has been paid for. He is counting on her future income, and likely is not willing to live a 'simple life' on his income alone (this one can be blamed on capitalism or feminism or modernism, take your pick).

The young mother is the one being torn apart. I really feel for her. There's no easy answer; she can't delay her exams, because she has another baby on the way.

It's true, a woman 'can't have it all' (neither can a man...). I will encourage my daughters to finish their BAs before they have their first baby. Afterwards, it is very difficult. They can always do an MA slowly later, or other enrichment; but the BA necessary for every basic job these days should be completed before motherhood. If a woman starts college right after high school, it means she can start having babies in her early to mid 20s - the perfect time, I think.
Tammy

Mia said...

Thank you for that wonderful post, Anna. I agree... we are encouraged to dress like teenage girls, and that's not appropriate at any age! Our world does indeed promote androgyny, and if we would dress according to God's principles, we would not feel so much pressure to look so unnatural.
As for sacrificing college/career for child rearing, I agree that one should put family first. I can't understand why a woman would even become pregnant again if she were unable to devote her life to her child? It sometimes makes my blood boil to hear people talk so matter-of-factly about daycare, and the "necessity" of allowing others to raise one's children.

Mrs. Anna T said...

Tammy:

The reason why I believe feminists are so keen on dominating fertility and everything that represents it, is because having babies is the area where men and women are most obviously different. No matter what they do, women will be the one who get pregnant, breastfeed, and "lose job opportunities" because of it. That's why androgyny is so attractive to "true" feminists.

By the way, in Israel a young woman can go to college right after highschool only if she doesn't go to army for two years, and doesn't need to work in order to save money for college after that. I started university at 19, and it was considered ridiculously early. Most of my fellow students were 3-4 years older.

Terry, Ornament of His Grace said...

Well said, friend. Well said!

Sarah K said...

I would respectfully disagree that feminists encourage women to dress like teenaged girls. Instead I would suggest that most feminists encourage women to embrace their own bodies and not give in to stereotypes. I have read a number of articles (and been involved in many discussions!) criticising toys like Barbie dolls, and fashion models and how they are living up to perceptions of what men/society wants, rather than rejoicing natural bodies and femaleness.

laura said...

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Gothelittle Rose said...

I and many of my friends went for the college-first route. I was lucky and found a man in college, marrying at 23. Still, I ended up not having my first baby until I was 26.

Many of my friends, though, have been less lucky. Working on establishing a degree and career, they've missed out on husband-seeking until the "good ones are taken" and are now getting into their late 20's and early 30's with no children in sight. In addition, by the time you raise even one children to adulthood, your degree is nearly 20 years old and you are simply not competitive in the workplace!

I'd encourage women to do exactly the opposite: Get married, have your children, and start college when your kids are getting through highschool or earlier/later depending on your kids and where they're being schooled. You'll be doing your coursework with a much better financial footing, and your degree will be current for a post-rearing mini-career.

TheRetroHousewife said...

Great post Anna.

Anonymous said...

Anna - I live in Israel myself and know that women here usually serve before they study (I'm not necessarily for women serving, but that's another post). So the norm is for a woman to serve till age 20 and 1/2, and then study till age 23 and 1/2. Remember that in Israel most first degrees take 3 yrs, rather than 4.

Of course, if a woman must work to earn her tuition first, it could take much longer...but perhaps grants/loans could be taken. In any case, by age 24-26, most Israeli women who are going to do a BA have already done it. I see no problem with marrying while in school, I would just advise not having kids till you're done. I don't think mid 20s is a late age to start child-bearing (although if there were no need to serve in the military first, women could start earlier).

I do agree with a previous poster, though; if you're not planning on working at all till your children are adults, obviously this degree will not be too useful in the workforce.

I think balance, as always, is the key word. There is no need to divorce yourself forever from the workplace already at age 18; on the other hand, ignoring the reality of the rules of fertility and waiting till you're in your 30s to think of motherhood is just folly.
Tammy

Sammybunny said...

Amen Sister!

Anonymous said...

I totally agree! I am finding much more peace as I realize your last paragraph in my life!

What a blessing to be a woman and to be free to be at as God intended!

"We can be so much happier and so much more peaceful if we only stop fearing our nature, our age, and the changes the cycle of life draws upon us. Let us be women; let us be mothers; and let us be proud of the way God shaped our bodies and designed them to function."

Sarah L

Anonymous said...

I agree, Anna, that feminists support adrogyny (or flexibility/blurring of boundaries) in terms of gender roles.

I thought you were referring to body image in your original post. If anything, feminists are the last people who can be blamed for encouraging women to look like teenage Barbie dolls.
Tammy

Millie said...

Thank you for this post.

I've been curvy all my life and haven't always enjoyed it. I wish I'd had this post to read earlier in life when my changing body seemed like such an embarrassment. When you think about it, with all the things they can do, our female bodies are amazing and ought to be treasured, not criticized.

I find that the more television I watch, the less I like my "mom" body - I find comparing myself with the other women on TV, even if it's just newscasters on the nightly news. As women, the biggest break we could give ourselves would be to stop soaking ourselves in the media's ideas of what women "should" look like.

dandelionmom said...

Every time I stop by here I am amazed by the ages old wisdom coming from the hand of one so young! AND I wish I had been so mature and grounded at your age. To spot the poison of feminism in its outright form is easy enough but the underlying attitudes that have become part of our very mentality without even knowing it is a difficult thing. A young woman CHOOSING to be mother and homekeeper ONLY? Maybe if she goes to college first to "be sure" (you know-in case she discovers something more valuable to do or to have something to "fall back on"--they don't send aspiring astronaughts to car-mechanic school so the have something to "fall back on"!!)
YOur strength and ideals will serve you well and your child is indeed blessed -as is your husband!

Kelly said...

Well said Anna!!!!!!

Shelley said...

I just found your blog. I really like it. And I agree with every single thing you said in this article. God Bless you.

Elizabeth said...

Thank you, Anna! :) You know, this is one reason why I dislike being SO thin ... but it's natural and I have to accept the body G-d has given me, skinny-ness and all! I'm thrilled because I've gained half a stone since I was in Israel! Yay! Maybe in half a dozen years time I'll be married and have some children and look soft and round and motherly! That would be nice ...

Hopefully, they'll be an email headed your way soon! :) *Hug!*

The Quiet Life said...

Another wonderful post! My husband and I were married right out of high school. We both went to college, but it wasn't long before I was depressed. Quitting the university was the best thing that I ever did. Staying home and caring for my family and homeschooling, I actually feel that I'm doing my part. Courses for SAHMs are not a bad idea though. I am currently working on a Master Herbalist program. I don't plan on making any money, only helping my family and friends in their time of need. Is this what you plan on doing with your degree?

Bethany Hudson said...

Haha! I loved reading this post, Anna because it reminded me exactly of the feelings and thoughts that I had while pregnant with my daughter. I have always been short and thin and I was afraid that my husband might not like the pregnant me. Well, he can't wait for me to get pregnant again! Whenever we pass pregnant women in the store or something he'll always look at me and say, "You were so gorgeous when you were pregnant." Oh, and I also had an incredible craving for tomatoes in my first and second trimesters. In the third, it was all about pineapples and strawberries--I ate them by the bowlful! And I also got a bit of an aversion to chocolate and heavier foods--though I did love drinking hot chocolate instead of coffee on Sunday mornings :)

I'm glad to hear that you pregnancy is going so well. I can't wait until I'm pregnant again (we're waiting on God for #2)
~Bethany

Laura said...

Actually this is one area that conservatives and feminist can agree on- women's bodies come in many shapes as size. Some women are naturally skinny with few curves, and some women are on the larger side and everything in between!

Tammy said...

Great post, Anna.

I remember feeling so dissatisfied with my body when I was a teen, that I would even beg God to change me. Now I understand that I am fearfully and wonderfully made!

Now that I am a mom many times over, I am able to embrace the changes in my body. Much of the thanks for that goes to my loving husband, who tells me how beautiful I am to him. Makes a big difference when the changes take place within the security of a solid marriage, and as a direct result of a loving relationship :o)

Beverly said...

Another EXCELLENT post Anna. :)

Anonymous said...

Anna, what a fantastic post!!! I will be 40 in just a few short months. Here is something for all you good ladies to think about: almost 2 years ago I took a VERY physically active job working with animals. I was on my feet, running and active all day. Without any effort I dropped back down to the size I was in high school - terrific, right? NO. Suddenly my face looked tired all the time and those lines around my eyes more prominent. My own brother thought I was ill! I lost too much weight "on top" and even though I was in great physical shape, my "problem areas" never went away. Plainly put, getting back to that young size may not look as flattering as you think. After I left, I gained back a good deal of the weight and look much better again.

At this stage in my life, the health of my body matters. But spending hours chasing a perfect figure? I would rather work on my spiritual condition, my relationship with God and caring for others. That's the joy of getting older!

M, USA

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this post - it is a good reminder for me that after giving birth to and nursing 4 kiddos that i shouldn't look the way I did when I was a newlywed - and my husband doesn't mind either - it is a battle that I fight in my mind.

Anonymous said...

So well put, Anna. No, we are not the same after we bear children. It's a shame that this is seen as abnormal. I am not much heavier now than I was as a younger woman...but it certainly is distributed differently, & no amount of exercise will change that! :o) What is (I feel) most important is how I carry myself, basic grooming, attitude projected toward others....these are things that tell the world I haven't "let myself go". But I have moved on to a different stage of life, that's all.

Brenda

MarkyMark said...

Ladies,

It's late, so I didn't have time to read the previous posts. I was going to sign off and go to bed-UNTIL I read this! When I read Anna's thoughts on this issue, I had to weigh in with a hearty AMEN!!!

I don't know WHO it is that's giving women the idea that skinny is cool, that men like skinny women. I most assuredly don't! Sheesh, give me someone with some MEAT on her bones, please! Don't give me Twiggy; don't make me afraid to hug her, thinking she'll go Rice Crispies on me-snap, crackle, and pop!

I simply do not get the appeal of Jennifer Aniston, Calista Flockhart (Ally McBeal), or any other modern actress; I don't get it at all. My preferences are more old school. I like Marilyn Monroe (my ex GF was built like her-yeah!!), Sophia Loren, Jayne Mansfield, Greta Garbo, Rita Hayworth, etc.; you get the idea.

You know what's REALLY messed up? If Marilyn Monroe or Sophia Loren were trying to break into showbiz today, they would NOT be able to get jobs? They're seen as too fat (Marilyn Monroe was a size 14-good size as far as THIS Jersey boy is concerned!); too fat?! Come on!! What the *#@!, over?!

I'm going to sign off. From a man's perspective, I do NOT like skinny women who look like teenage boys or preteen girls; no Ma'am, give me a real, grown woman any day of the week, please! You can keep Jennifer Aniston and the rest of them, and I'll keep the REAL women like Marilyn Monroe, thank you. Have a good night... :)

MarkyMark

Gila said...

I am with a lot of the other commenters:

1) Well said....

2) Though I agree with the comments that the feminists are not to blame for the wacked out body image stuff... For an interesting article on the insanity of style see http://www.fashion-era.com/beauty_is_shape.htm . In particular, note the bit on corsets during the Victorian era. It should be noted that the Victorian ideals in respect to gender roles and society were, in many respect, markedly similar to those of Orthodox Judaism.

Incidentally--it was the Victorian feminists who crusaded against the organ-crushing corsets.

3) And education is important. The labor market has changed. There simply are not as many jobs out there for women (or men) without an education or some vocational training. Even in the ultra-Orthodox community (where the girls generally do not serve and do marry young) it appears to be the practice of many to make sure that the girls get some vocational training. When I worked at an accounting office in J'lem, the place was full of the 20 year old haredi girls who studied accounting after high-school and before the babies.

Your article is well-timed though...have been thinking a lot recently about the whole issue of shape and curves.

Gila

Mrs. Anna T said...

The Quiet Life: I'm not sure whether I'll ever make any money with my degree, but I think it will be primarily useful in taking care of my family.

Gila: I'm pretty sure the girls you refer to didn't *delay* marriage and babies because of their studies. There's a difference between that and investing 10 years in a PhD to find yourself alone in your 30-s.

Mia said...

AMEN!
Thank you for posting this, Anna! You've given me a great topic to ponder on, and research the origins of this horrendous idea that a size 2 is ideal and reasonable! This is so unfortunate. I'm just glad that I'm already comfortable with my body--for many other 17 year old young women I know, this isn't the case.
Thanks again for a well written and insightful post!!

--Mia

USAincognito said...

I agree with your posting about women not needing to fit some barbie image. I think our society does push a Brittany Spears image onto our children and young adults way too much! Some of us, like me, are born naturally small-bones and "skinny." But to me, I do not view myself as skinny but rather as in shape. I was made this way by God. My sister is medium-boned and has more curves. This is the way God made her. We are all perfectly and wonderfully made by God - and we should not try to fit some ridiculously Hollywoodized image!

Anonymous said...

Wow, I was heartened at the number of comments pointing out that feminists are definitely the last people to be blamed for the narrow standard of beauty demanded of women in the popular culture. Feminists have been vocal and consistent in our opposition to expectations that women be forced to conform to a particular desired body type or a particular standard of dress. (Thus, a feminist may oppose demands or pressures women dress modestly but also would oppose demands or pressures on women to dress in a sexy or revealing way. And a feminist would certainly oppose the idea that a woman's worth or character is determined by her manner of dress one way or the other.)

Very conservative women and feminist women have at least two areas in common that have been touched on in this blog: (1) A commitment to increasing public and cultural support for women who choose to breastfeed; and (2) An opposition to cultural pressures on women to conform to a certain body type.

-- Pendragon

Anonymous said...

A couple more points on feminism:

Anna mentions in a comment that feminists are keen to dominate fertility. I would just clarify that to say that feminists are keen to give each individual woman the ability to determine (to the extent possibile) her own fertility.

The androgyny issue is interesting. Before reading the comments here, I would have said that feminists don't necessarily advocate androgyny and I think I still stand by that statement. After all, I am a feminist, and no one could possibly mistake my dress or appearance as male or masculine in any way. But if androgyny means an abandonment of rigid gender roles, then I suppose you could say feminists want androgyny.

This still feels wrong to me though. Even though I think that men and women are far more alike than we are different, there are still some differences. I am physically and sexually and reproductively different than a man, and have no desire to change that fact (even if I choose not to use my reproductive system). Indeed, I happen to enjoy those differences. While I have no problem with the fact that some individuals choose to blur or change their sexual or gender identity, I don't think that it is fair to say that feminism requires androgyny.

-- Pendragon

Mrs. V. said...

Bravo Anna! I am from a family where all the woman are round. I was small and thin before children, but it took constant thought and work. Now two children and many years later I am shaped like the rest of the women in my bloodline and I am quite happy. I may lose a few pounds, but honestly, even if I got back to my pre-pregnancy weight things still would not be in the same place as they were! We are women, not little girls and it's foolish for society to expect us to look like them.

Gila said...

Actually, in some circles, delaying marriage to age 22 or 23 (the age needed to acquire a degree) is seen as excessive, and a single 23 year-old is seen as an old maid. (Take a look at the badforshidduchim blog). It is all a matter of degree.

Buffy said...

You raise a very important issue here. Women are totally out of tune with their bodies these days. Menstruation is denied and ignored or considered shameful because it makes you weak. The body shape considered desirable (big breasts, skinny every else) is unhealthy and impossible for 99% to achieve, pregnancy is seen as ruining your body, we don't eat the right foods and wear our bodies out with unnatural exercise...I could go on and on.

Vera Prince said...

Anna,
I've been a long time lurker but thought I'd put my 2 cents in here. I can't tell you how true this is. I remember in Health class the teacher taught us about Anorexia and that when women become too thin they stop menstrating and cannot have children if they do not resume a healthy diet. The general concensus of the class (sadly mine too, at the time) was that that was only a bonus. You mean if I stop eating I'll be thin and I won't have to worry about getting pregnant? Sweet deal! There is something very, very, very wrong with that thought process.