After reading this article about a new children’s book called “My Beautiful Mommy”, I was itching to find my trusty soapbox and climb on up. First of all, I had a visceral reaction to the illustrations. The post-op picture of a “Barbie like” mommy standing there, twinkly stars all around her while her daughter looks on in awe, well… gag gag gag. I was grossed out. In the name of all that we know about The Beauty Myth, what the hell are we trying to teach our children about our bodies for cripes sakes?
But then I stopped, took a deep breath and reminded myself how I am actually totally cool with plastic surgery. I get it. Women have every right in the world to opt for it. If the size of your breasts (too big or too small) have made you unbearably self conscious, if your post partum belly has made you scream in horror at the mere sight of your bathing suit, if there is a part of your body that has practically driven you to avoid every mirror you encounter and surgery is an option for you, then go for it. It’s your body, you have every right in the world. Find yourself, figure out how to love yourself and be well.
However, it’s not the plastic surgery I have an issue with here. It’s the focus on beauty and its relevance to a child. I don’t think this book should be about making mommy “beautiful” per se. Rather, this should be about making mommy feel happy again with herself. Children honestly don’t care about beautiful mommies, but they DO care about happy mommies. Children love their mommy because they’re mommy, not because their breasts are now perky “c” cups. In fact, chances are, your child may not want you to change at all and the idea of surgery changing you physically in any way is an extremely frightening concept. Plastic surgery is about making the mom feel good about herself – and then her child will respond to that happiness, not her actual “beauty”.
So, can we call the editor? I obviously have some changes to make to “My Beautiful Mommy”. I am sure they won’t mind, right? Here’s what I would do. First of all, this book needs to clearly reflect the child’s point of view. And as we look through a child’s eyes at the prospect of her mother going through plastic surgery, I would argue a child will immediately react to two issues:
· How their mother feels: first, their mother is sad about her body, then she is in pain from surgery, and finally she is happier about herself.
· How their mother will look but not actually change: their mommy will have bandages, and then will look a little different, but that child needs assurance that she will be the same loving mommy she has always been.
So how would I address these issues? Let me give you an outline:
1) First and foremost, the book should state that we are born with wonderful, unique and dynamic bodies.
2) However, sometimes mommies can feel sad about their bodies. Each mother reading this book may explain how they feel in more detail if they think it’s appropriate.
3) Surgery should be explained as the final option and not an easy choice to make for any woman.
4) It is very important to discuss that their mommy will be in pain but she will get better. The bandages and pain will frighten children a great deal and they need to be assured mommy will be heal and she will be back to their usual routines soon.
5) Finally, once mommy has recovered, she will be happier and her child can be happy for her too. Does she look a little different? Ask them how she looks different. Explain that mommy has changed a little bit but she is still the same mommy.
When the mother and child close that book, it should be understood that while the mother may feel more beautiful, her child won’t see that. Her child will see she is happy and that’s what counts. The child should also feel comfort knowing that not only is mommy happier, but she is still the same mommy and loves her in exactly the same way as she did before.
Oh and how could I forget? Please. Those illustrations. (Excuse me as I am overcome with another bought of nausea.) I highly doubt any woman recovering from a tummy tuck will have the “wasp” thin waist this cartoon does. No Honey, Mommy won’t look like Cinderella when surgery is over. And no stars will twinkle or butterflies will flutter about her when those bandages come off. Plastic surgery is not Disneyworld and it disgusts me that these pictures even slightly allude to that. And did you see the muscle-bound “superhero” plastic surgeon? Oh don’t even get me STARTED on what that implies to me. I promise, I won’t digress any further. But ew.
Now that I have that off my chest, I do need to address one final point. There is no doubt that plastic surgery is becoming more accepted, common and affordable. I will support the “idea” of this book in that we need to be ready to address the choice and realities of plastic surgery with our children. But I will make one final plea to all parents: let’s do everything we can to give our children the ability to carefully mine out and treasure their own inner beauty. Let’s do everything we can to allow them to grow into happy confident adults who, with some luck and love, may never have to consider plastic surgery. It’s a lot to ask (we all know that, as I write this, soccer moms are promising breast augmentations to their daughters this June for high school graduations all over America)… but we can certainly try. And I don’t know about you but I am going to be dusting off “The Ugly Duckling” and reading that golden oldie to my sons tonight. They might not quite get its moral quite yet, but it will make this mommy happy – and THAT they get.
A postscript: Obviously, we are assuming in my edited version of “My Beautiful Mommy” that this mom will have done some work on the inside to resolve any body images issues as best as she can and is emotionally sound and ready for the physical change. We are assuming that no mother would think plastic surgery is a quick fix to any body image issues. That being said, then we can assume a post-op mommy would be a happy mommy and a happy mommy is a good mommy.