When I was a teenager, I wasted far too much time focusing on what was "missing" instead of marvelling at my natural beauty and strength. Now I have many wishes for my daughters, one of them being that they're aware of their pure loveliness.
Looking back at old photos of my girlfriends and me lounging in the sun on the beach at Camp Cove in Sydney, what I see are exquisite young women, all with their own individual beauty. We wore impossibly high-cut black one-pieces, with thick gold bracelets and cuffs up to our elbows. Sadly, all my 16-year-old eyes could see then were the stretch marks I used to count in the bathroom mirror.
During my mid-20s I lived with a doctor who was training to be a plastic surgeon. While he was studying, I became engrossed in some of his textbooks.
I was particularly taken with the before and after pictures of breast implants. I had always been flat as a pancake and briefly flirted with the idea of getting a boob job.
Teardrop-shaped implants were new on the market and supposedly gave you a more "natural" appearance. Apparently the look that surgeons were going for was no longer Pamela Anderson's buxom breasts but more Elle Macpherson-style cleavage.
Thank goodness my implants remained a daydream. I would have looked absurd with big boobs, my body out of proportion and comical, like a Chupa Chups lollipop.
Early on in my courtship with my husband Peter, I often wore wondrously padded bras under white angora polo-necked jumpers. He still teases me about my "false advertising" during those days of getting to know one other. When my bra, which was a marvel of engineering, unclipped from the front, all it revealed was my AAA-cup breasts.
Once I became pregnant, I managed to let go of my body hang-ups. Those stretch marks, old and new, became the songlines of my body. During both of my pregnancies, I was able to briefly experience the joy of having bigger breasts and found myself frequently transfixed by my cleavage, looking down at a D-cup that was frequently flowing over. Previously, to get that line between my boobs, I had to wrap my arms around my body and give myself a hug!
Okay, so I ruled out having plastic surgery on my body, but years later I wondered if I was being a hypocrite for deciding to get some cosmetic treatment on my face. Grappling with my conscience meant I kept my Botox plans to myself. Instead of researching medical textbooks, this time I found myself studying friends' and strangers' faces as well as googling every conceivable article on injectables.
Eventually, I decided to talk to my dermatologist about the treatment. He had been treating me for adult acne and after each appointment I ended up grilling him about Botox, too. On top of my own research, I had been sneaking brochures about cosmetic procedures from his waiting room into my handbag, so I could study them more closely at home.
The first time I had Botox done was just before Allegra's first birthday. My dermatologist calmly explained the procedure to me, then got me to sit very still while he carefully drew spots onto my face as a guide to where he would inject the Botox.
Despite the numbing cream he had rubbed onto my face, it still hurt. But I wasn't going to complain as I knew the pain was self-inflicted, so I just closed my eyes, took deep breaths and tried my best to relax. When he'd finished, the strong smell of the alcohol-impregnated towelettes the nurse had used to rub the black marks off my face quickly brought me back to my senses.
Looking in the small, oval-shaped mirror I'd been handed, all I noticed were little red pinpricks on my forehead, around my eyes and between my eyebrows where I'd been injected. The doctor explained that I would probably start to notice a difference in a week or two – apparently everyone responds at different rates.
The redness disappeared quickly and over the next week I noticed that my brow looked tighter and those fine lines around my eyes didn't seem so deep. However, I was still able to raise my eyebrows high as I helped my daughter blow out the one pink candle on her Barbie birthday cake.
That first year of your child's life is all about survival, and this party was also a milestone for Peter and me. Licking the sweet icing off my slice of cake, my heart was full as I watched my husband snuggle our first-born in his arms. She was dressed in a white tulle fairy dress and giggled as her father paraded her through the party.
"Isn't she the most beautiful girl you have ever seen?" he said as he gently stroked her damp baby curls around her forehead.
Earlier in the morning, I'd clipped back part of Allegra's long fringe with a small, glittery butterfly clip. While I secured it gently into her fine, blonde hair, I spoke softly into her ear.
"Oh my baby girl, we have come such a long way, my darling. Thank you for being patient with your mummy."
Edited extract from Diary of a Crap Housewife (Allen & Unwin) by Jessica Rowe, out now.
This article appears in Sunday Life magazine within the Sun-Herald and the Sunday Age on sale April 14.