First surgery scars.
My first surgery scars came in high school from putting my shoulder back together after a weird overuse accident. (labral tear– the tissue that holds the ball and socket in place was torn from the bone) After being misdiagnosed for eight months the 3 one-inch-long scars felt like battle scars. (I also did the classic sports injury side effect: ballooning 30 pounds and numerous stretch marks due to my appetite staying the same and my metabolism slowing down– I had been weightlifting and distance swimming daily and immediately had to stop.)
A year later I had a breast reduction, three pounds and some drainage tubes later there are almost two feet of faint pink scars. I have yet to meet a man who noticed my scars until about a month of pillow talk later… it’s been quite the confidence booster. My other surgery scars are from having my appendix plucked out a few years after that. The scars are consistent with an ovary removal, but luckily it was my appendix that was infected and dying instead. The surgical scars could almost count as battle scars — except my belly and boobs have faced no true trauma.
Living life scars.
All along my arms and legs are bug bites. My ankles and shins are regularly disaster areas. Ants and mosquitoes for the most part, but the occasional family of chiggers or no-see-ums will try to take up residence under a flip flop strap. Many bites have scabbed over, and some have finally left smooth purple discolorations that no amount of cocoa butter or shea butter has fixed.
My legs have not seen a razor since January 2011 — thighs alone even longer. Luckily the hair is rather blonde and thin, so I don’t need to worry about shaving over bug bites and opening up scabs. I’ve also got my fair share of old scraped knees and shins from work as well as my years of tree climbing and mud-pie-pancake making in the back yard. Additionally, no guy has noticed my leg hair until I’ve actually pointed it out to him. (Women on occasion have noticed the leg hair… hhm?)
What men have noticed are my stretch marks… on my arms, the underside of my upper arms, up to my armpits. It’s been a (heart-breaking) favorite to point out since my mid-teens. I’ve even encountered a few over my shoulders. Moving down, I have those crazy pregnancy stretch marks all over my belly, my hips, and creeping around to my low back and sides of my waist. I have never been pregnant, and did not “earn” those scars. Of course my outer thighs haven’t been excluded, and my inner thighs have just begun to catch on to the stretch mark idea. (They’re also big on the rub-together heat rash during sun dress season, which is about 9 months out of the year here.) Stretch marks on my boobs are a given, but they are much fainter in the years since the reduction.
My belly has stripes.
My belly stretch marks began arriving about a year after one of my good friends showed me hers in an angry embarrassed confession. I did my best to be kind and comforting, but I was horrified. Then mine arrived in college (unlimited dining plan = forever stopping by for a coffee refill and a handful of cookies for the walk). First one, then three, then six, then you just stop looking at your belly in the mirror because you don’t have anyone to confess your stretch marks to, and you find that you can only be angry with yourself for causing your own stretch marks. (you know, because fat people made themselves fat, on purpose, and it’s all their fault, like trolls love to remind me.)
I love wearing tank tops (my boobs love the ventilation), but they often show off the awkward underarm and shoulder stretch marks. This means tank tops are only ever for confident days. (regardless of whether or not I’ve shaved my pits in the last week or not, because you couldn’t pay me to give a fuck about pit hair ever again) My legs are very skinny (in relation to the rest of me, I’m a V shape– which isn’t featured in any magazines. ever.) and are glow in the dark white, and my belly looks like it has a stress-beer-pizza baby growing in it.
On my not-confident days I feel the need to find a bigger shirt to cover my belly and upper arms and a way to cover my legs down to my toes. (And obviously keep that belly covered, no peek-a-boo allowed!)
Often I have to skip one (I mean, 95 degrees plus humidity for a huge chunk of the year…) and then if I’m not careful I’ll have a near-meltdown in a bathroom over my bug-bitten white legs showing, my shoulder stretch marks showing, my clothes being too tight across my belly… myself conforming to the shame that society places on fat people, and the overwhelming desire to hide my “unacceptable” body from other people’s judging eyes and potential comments.
Additionally, my pasty porcelain white skin is quite prone to bright red splotches. All over my face, ears, chest, neck, shoulders, and upper arms. When I drink I turn red, when I’m hot I turn red, when I’m embarrassed or uncomfortable or feel stupid I turn red… It’s rather common to find me at some point most evenings– even with taking my anxiety meds — in that bathroom talking myself down from a panic attack while applying wet cold paper towels to my face and neck and chest. If I wear makeup (which is absurdly hard to find in “white as a sheet of fucking paper”) I will turn splotchy under the makeup and be even more embarrassed. The worst is around my parents and grandma — judgement is passed about size and lack of makeup and my blood pressure skyrockets, and then there is constant loud worrying over my red face.
Work in progress. Body love in progress.
I am fully aware that I’m regularly embarrassed by my body (size, stretch marks, farting) but that I’ve personally conquered the hair and scars that adorn me. I often walk around my new place in just my underwear (and not just to save on the electric bill), and my boyfriend doesn’t care. At all. (and since I discovered my body confidence, neither have any of the others, minus a few POS boys that really didn’t work out.) (Yep, when you drink, I definitely don’t look like your favorite porn star.)
I try my best to think and talk positively about my body, and to think and talk positively about all bodies. But this is always a work in progress. It will always be a work in progress. You have to love your body before you can change anything. You have to love your body before you can lose permanent weight through lifestyle choices (eating, exercise…); you have to love your body before you can love the clothes you put on yourself; you have to love your body before you can truly love your partner’s body.
You have to love your body before you can better your body. You must accept your flaws and your fat, you must accept your stretch marks and the hair that does or doesn’t grow everywhere. (Seriously, I have dark blonde hair and light blonde eyebrows, and black pit and pubic hair. You glance over at me and you don’t see eyebrows. Where are my eyebrows?!)
There is no way to tackle your high cholesterol and your overbearing depression, your aching joints and your crippling anxiety, your chronic illness and disdain for leaving the comfort of home until you have accepted yourself. (And yes, this is speaking from personal experience.)
Fuck the haters.
Fuck society’s opinions, fuck the status quo, fuck anyone that has a problem with your body. You and your health is yours and your doctors. (And if your doctor wants to size shame you, or offer any other sort of physical shaming, get rid of that mother fucker.)
Yes, parents/partners/best friends are allowed to be concerned for you. They are not allowed to berate or harass you, belittle or shame you, in any way, in their expression of concern. And you have every right to tell them that, repeatedly, until you become rude. (Once, my concerned grandma gave me money for a 6 month gym membership because I told her– politely– to get the fuck off my back about my belly unless she was genuinely willing to help. Today I’d rather have a yoga studio class card, but don’t underestimate people’s willingness to help you help yourself.) Those that truly love you will help you however they can; once you can express your love and acceptance of your body, and your desire for productive and permanent change of any sort, get rid of anyone left in your life that does not support you in a kind and productive way. There is nothing wrong with having a time-out year (or five), or very limited contact with rules, with a family member.
The golden rule (treat others as you’d want to be treated) is always in effect. Do no harm, but take no shit. Love and accept your body, it’s the first step in treating your body better. And when you value treating your body better, your life becomes better, and you can start to rediscover some of the happiness that society’s ideals have taken from you.
To the CFF community — what about your wonderfully imperfect body have you been able to accept and overcome? What has been the most challenging aspect you’ve worked on? What have you worked on and not conquered?
Need more body-love inspiration images? http://bust.com/fck-your-beauty-standards-16-body-positive-illustrations-to-boost-your-self-love.html#.U0Q37K1dU6F
Need some body-love gifts for yourself or others? Check out some of my favorite feminist artists and their work on etsy!