WATCH ABOVE: It was supposed to be a relaxing afternoon at the beach, but it quickly turned into one of the most humiliating experiences of an Edmonton mother’s life. But as Shallima Maharaj explains, instead of staying quiet, she’s fighting back.
EDMONTON – An Edmonton mother-of-five is overwhelmed by the support she’s received since writing an open letter on Facebook about being viciously mocked over her less-than-tight tummy.
As her children played at Alberta Beach on Tuesday, Tanis Jex-Blake says she was trying to discretely sunbathe — her first attempt at doing so publicly in a bikini since giving birth to her first child 13 years ago.
“All of a sudden I heard, ‘oh my god, look at that, that’s f****ng nasty, that’s disgusting, look how gross that is,'” she said.
“So I peeked my eyes open and [two men and a woman] were standing above me, looking down, pointing at me and pretending to kick me as I lay there.”
The 33-year-old says she rolled over and ignored them, not wanting them to see how upset she was. But on the way home that afternoon, she couldn’t hold back her tears.
She says the fact that a fellow woman would participate in that kind of behaviour probably hurt the most.
After thinking of all the things she wished she had said to the trio, two of whom she believes were in their mid-to-late 20s and the other man slightly older, Jex-Blake decided to make a public post on Facebook. It has since been seen by millions.
“I’m sorry that my stomach isn’t flat and tight. I’m sorry that my belly is covered in stretch marks. I’m NOT sorry that my body has housed, grown, protected, birthed and nurtured FIVE fabulous, healthy, intelligent and wonderful human beings,” she wrote.
“I’m sorry if my 33 year old, 125 lb body offended you so much…”
She explains, “initially I posted it with the hopes of word reaching them…but now it’s gone so much further.”
After a local radio station shared the post on its Facebook page, Jex-Blake says she’s received hundreds of personal messages, and there have been thousands upon thousands of comments. The majority of them have been positive, with some women even sharing photos of their own post-childbirth stomachs.
“I love my wife’s mummy tummy,” one Facebook user wrote in the comments. “She blessed me with four awesome kids and, yeah, her body went from tight to not-so-tight. But…I think she’s sexier today (30 years later) than the day we married. Be proud. You more than earned your cougar stripes.”
“My wife has four kids…and we call her stretch marks ‘love stories,'” wrote another. “It’s beautiful! Real men appreciate those stretch marks.”
Jex-Blake says her own husband, who’s not the father of her children, has only ever known her this way and loves the way she is.
She adds that her own shame has now turned to a feeling of empowerment and hopes this situation will make other women feel more confident about their bodies — whatever their shape or size.
“There’s a high expectation that females have to be thin, they have to have the right hair, makeup; and obviously now for these people, you can’t have stretch marks. It’s an unbelievably unattainable standard,” said Jackie Foord, the CEO of YWCA Edmonton who mentors young women about inner beauty.
Foord was horrified that anyone would think it was acceptable to degrade another human being for not fitting a certain standard of beauty.
“Unfortunately there’s a lot of media, whether it’s ads…or magazines, if you look at most of the magazines that are targeted to young women, the front cover is full of ‘how do you lose weight, how do you get that six pack of abs.'”
Foord stresses the importance of women adjusting their definition of what’s considered beautiful, and accepting their bodies — something Jex-Blake has now embraced.
“I would love for someone with a body like mine to make front-page news, or a magazine say: ‘This is what women look like,'” she said.
“And this shouldn’t be any less beautiful than a super model with a tight, toned belly.”
For now, though, Jex-Blake is content with just inspiring women around the world to feel more comfortable in their skin. So far, her story has reached the U.S., and Europe.