When you look up “stretch marks” on any given social media site, you’ll find a slew of photos and links dedicated mostly to one of two purposes: helping pregnant women feel empowered by their “tiger stripes” or providing countless (not to mention questionable and ineffective) remedies to rid your body of the scars. I find this frustrating, discriminatory and misleading. Here’s why.
Stretch marks, clinically referred to as striae, (or as I like to call them: “what the fuck happened to my body?”) are off-color marks on the skin that range from silver-white to dark purple caused by rapid growth and stretching of the skin. While they typically occur mostly on pregnant women, they also appear on post-pubescent teens, weightlifters, those who have gained weight quickly, and basically anyone and everyone who has skin. That’s right. I said it. Despite what we’re told about this cultural taboo, a large majority of the population has some form of stretch mark on their body.
I always had light-colored marks on my hips and breasts from when I went through puberty, but they didn’t stick out too much so I never concerned myself with them. I used to see friends with darker marks on them and think to myself how lucky I was not to have to deal with that. “When I’m pregnant I’ll get them, but at least I’ll have an excuse,” I’d think to myself. Little did I know, I’d be joining the stretch mark club sooner than expected.
When I first moved to Austin, Texas, I went through a breakup with my “first everything” guy. Leaving him to move here was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do, despite the mentally and verbally abusive relationship we had. On top of the emotions I was feeling about him, it was also the first time I’d ever lived away from my hometown of Houston. I was working from home in this new city, so I had basically no friends or real connection to my life in Austin. I felt alone, worthless, broken, depressed in a way I’d never been before. I took solace in food paired with wallowing and inactivity to dull the pain. I drank more alcohol than I typically would, which led to even more late night eating with little regard to the consequences. I’ve always been an emotional eater, but this time was different. I was more than overeating. I was binging. I would eat until I was physically sick and then I’d eat some more. I knew in my head that I didn’t want another bite, but this empty and hollow feeling within me kept shouting, “Fill me. Fill me up.” Food was, I thought, the only thing I could truly count on.
I noticed jeans not fitting and tops being too tight, but I ignored it. Before moving to Austin, I had just finished losing 35 pounds and felt on top of the world about my body. So to admit I was gaining it all back was unthinkable. About a year after the move I remember standing in the bathroom with my shirt off, seeing a small reddish mark on my stomach. I thought I had bumped or scratched myself, but on second look I felt a rush of nerves course through me as it started to click. “It’s a stretch mark. Great. I’m fucking getting stretch marks because I’m so fat.” I thought this negative self-talk would be enough to motivate me, but there’s so much more to weight loss than meets the eye. So, I started therapy to get down to my real issues with food, life, and love. To this day, I am still battling with the mental hurdles that come with trying to lose weight. I have finally allowed myself the opportunity to take my time with weight loss and make sure I do it the healthy way, but I have yet to conquer one of the biggest issues my weight gain has caused me—my stretch marks.
See, regardless of if and when I lose the weight, these pink tattoos from that year will never go away. Even if I become a ripped, svelte version of myself, the permanent marks of the toughest period of transition in my life will remain a constant reminder of the insecure and desperate-for-fulfillment girl that got me the marks in the first place. I am confidently able to say that I am OK with knowing weight loss will never be easy for me, and that to get there will take a lot of time. What I have yet to accept is that no matter how far I get physically or mentally I will not have flawless skin on my tummy, arms or thighs ever again. I’ll have to have the conversation with my future boyfriends about what chapter of my life’s story these stretch marks represent. I’ll have to go back to the pain of that year every time I look in the mirror or put on a swimsuit. And, most difficult to accept, I’ll have to learn to love this part of my body.
I’m sad to say it took me getting stretch marks to realize the truth about them. While they may appear ugly from a societal viewpoint on body image, they are beautifully telling. They hold a story about life for every individual plagued with them. Stretch marks are so much more common than we think and more beautiful than we give them credit for. Unlike what we’re taught, you don’t have to have a baby to excuse yourself for having them. They are a part of you worth loving regardless how you earned them. I say that simultaneously knowing that it is true and yet still questioning it for myself. I wonder every time I date a guy if he’ll find me less attractive for having them. Will friends see them at a pool party and judge me for eating the queso anyway? The only thing I can tell myself is that if any of that is the case, I should be having sex with better guys and spending time with more loving friends. Because at the end of the day, I can’t erase these stretch marks any more than I can erase the history and emotional scars that caused them.
The ones that truly love you will do so scars and all.