I’m actually one of those "weird" women who find stretch marks to be pretty cool. I mean, I just think that bodies in general are great and magical and wonderful, no matter what. And I felt that way especially when I was pregnant. I was so excited to see my body change and grow, and I couldn’t wait for those first couple of stretch marks to appear. And appear, they did! At first they came in very slowly, just a couple of tiny red lines to remind me that my middle was expanding. Then towards the end of my pregnancy, they completely took over my abdomen. I never did anything in any attempt to “prevent” them, and mostly I do think that they are great. However, nine months after the birth of my child, I have to admit, I have a lot of stretch marks, and I wouldn’t mind if they toned it down just a little. So when the idea was presented to me to try coconut oil on my stretch marks, I jumped on it.
I love coconut oil, both for cooking and for its many cosmetic uses. I also loved the idea of trying something that I'd already have on hand, rather than running around looking for the perfect product. Because I don’t think that there’s anything wrong with having stretch marks, I figured that if it did work, that would be sort of cool, but if it didn’t, well then, no big deal. At the very least, I'd have done something nice for myself, and my stomach would be really well moisturized, right?
So I set up for the experiment. For one month, at least once a day (usually before bed) I planned to moisturize my stretch mark-covered belly with pure coconut oil. Once a week I took pictures to show any progress. And like I said, if it worked, great! But if it didn't, I wasn't going to think any less of my body or its abilities. So with that in mind, I set out to see what would happen.
Here's how it went:
When I took photos in preparation for this experiment I was honestly surprised by the extent of the marks. More than being surprised by the effects of pregnancy and childbirth on my body though, I was surprised by my own surprise. I have historically been a woman who is pretty in touch with her own body, so the fact that I just didn’t know what one part of my body looked like at all felt really unusual for me.
However, that made sense. After my son was born, my c-section incision got infected and had to be re-opened surgically. For weeks it was a gaping wound, and to even glance at it would make me feel sick and panicky. So I just stopped looking at my own body at a certain point. And being a new mom leaves you with less time for navel gazing, both of the metaphorical and literal variety.
I started to really dread looking at my own body.
The First Week
I didn’t notice any change in the stretch marks themselves after one week of coconut oil treatment, but I did notice a few other things. At first, it was extremely difficult for me to remember to apply the coconut oil before bed. It just wasn’t a part of my routine, and it felt like a huge pain to try to work it in somewhere. I would be tired and my wonderful spouse would finally get the baby to bed, and I would just want to pass out, not slather myself in oil. But after a few days it got easier. And then I started to almost look forward to it. Self-care is so important, and sometimes it is the littlest things that help.
Looking at my lower belly every day, and photographing it at least once a week, was wearing on me. I couldn't help thinking about all the ways my body had changed since having a baby, and the fact that it doesn't seem in any kind of hurry to change back.
For those of us engaged in the active struggle of parenting, it can feel impossible to find the space for those kinds of things. Yet, there I was, finding the space for this one thing. My poor, neglected, belly was finally getting the attention it deserved. Without meaning to, I'd stumbled upon something truly nice I could do for myself, and I really loved that feeling.
The Second Week
While the first week it felt exciting to be doing something simple for myself every night before bed, the second week it just became one more thing to remember. I'm a mom, a housewife, and a freelance writer, I'm always trying to remember something or other, and it's really difficult. At least half of the nights I found myself laying in bed after a long, intense, day, suddenly thinking "oh, crap, I have to get up and smear oil on my belly!" The novelty had completely worn off, and I would grumble and drag myself back up to stagger to the kitchen.
In retrospect, I should have put some oil in a container in the bedroom, rather than just getting annoyed night after night to go back down to the kitchen and get it. By the end of week two, I still wasn't noticing any appreciable difference, but I figured it was totally possible that it was right around the corner.
The Third Week
The third week was when I kind of expected to start seeing some results. Not coincidentally, it was also the week that I started to get fed up with the whole thing. Going into this experiment, I had imagined that even if it didn't "work" it would be a good exercise for me. By three weeks though, I had to admit that useful exercise be damned, I wanted all of this effort to DO something.
It was also getting really hard to make myself actually do it at all. I typically have a pretty positive body image, but looking at my lower belly every day, and photographing it at least once a week, was wearing on me. I couldn't help thinking about all the ways my body had changed since having a baby, and the fact that it doesn't seem in any kind of hurry to change back. I started to really dread looking at my own body, and had some real self-esteem issues. And I think, maybe, that feeling this way kind of made sense? I guess if you're observing a strict skin-care regimen and watching that skin like a hawk for signs of change, of course you're going to obsess over the fact that we should constantly be aspiring to "better" bodies.
Rubbing coconut oil all over my stomach just felt like a big, stupid chore.
By week three, I still hadn't noticed any "shocking" change. I know I wasn't exactly waiting or hoping for one, but we're so engrained to think that if our body doesn't respond to something (like a beauty or fashion hack) in the right way (or at all), it illuminates a failure on our bodies' part. And against all logic, I stood in my bathroom with my camera, feeling like a failure.
The Fourth Week
By week four I was totally checked out. To put it simply, I just wasn’t interested in the experiment anymore. I could no longer sustain excitement about results I wasn’t seeing, and I felt that, if I was going to take time out for some kind of self-care every night, it should be something nearer and dearer to my heart. Rubbing coconut oil all over my stomach just felt like a big, stupid chore. I actually considered dropping the experiment altogether, that’s how sick of it I was, but I’d already spent so much time (and oil!) on it that I just plowed ahead.
Looking at the photos altogether at the end, I actually feel like my stretch marks might have gotten just a tiny bit less dramatic? I don't want to say that they got "better" or "worse," because my body is a good, talented, capable, able body no matter how it looks or no matter what the end results show. But even if they do look slightly less pronounced, it's still so hard to tell; it could just be the tiny, unavoidable, light differences. But whether there is a small change or not, I am done photographing my belly for a little while, that's for sure!
Coconut oil is totally awesome, and it works great for so many things. But it didn’t “cure” my stretch marks. Why? Well, for that, I decided to do some research. According to Web MD, the way to treat stretch marks is to boost collagen growth. Hydration treatments (which is what coconut oil would fall under) only seem to help while the marks are forming, not afterwards. And the treatments that did work on existing marks took upwards of 12 weeks, not four weeks, and even with that you're still cautioned not to “expect big changes.”
So if we can’t magic our stretch marks away (not even with the magic of coconut oil!) we’ll have to come to terms with them. That might be really really hard, but frankly, after a month of rubbing oil on my stomach, I'm honestly OK with that.