By: Leah Solomon, Guest BloggerDecember 15, 2015
Image via scoopnest.com
My first set of stretchmarks appeared when I was 12, soon after I got my period for the first time. I had only just recovered from the trauma of period pains and tampons and then my body introduces another foreigner.
I never noticed them. Although I was a relatively chubby girl, my body was never my problem. I was far too preoccupied with having braces, freckles, glasses, and acne. That much construction on your face is distracting. The first time I encountered my stretchmarks was during PE. It was summer so our PE class consisted of doing laps of the breadth of the pool. The number of laps you did depended on what group you were in – Alligators, Beavers, or Crocodiles. I don’t think the PE teacher, a crass man with blood-shot eyes and alcohol damaged skin who wore rugby shorts far too small for him, was too concerned with the accuracy of his group naming. At least there was a ring to it. I was a Beaver – perfectly run-of-the-mill, a label I was used to. My sister was the
opposite. She was in the “A” class, funny, a decent sportswoman and a celebrated academic.
We all stood on the edge of the pool waiting for the dreaded whistle, the step up to the pool was cold and slimy like algae. All of the girls hated PE. At 12 and 13 you feel more vulnerable than you ever will. Bulges on your chest appear overnight and they hurt like hell too.
Your hormones are swooshing around like trees caught in a hurricane and you start to wonder if you’ll ever look like your favourite singer or actress. Now, take all of that and throw it into a one-piece swimming costume, locked firmly by the ogling eyes of pubescent pre-teen boys. It was terrifying.
As I tried to find a stance that hid the stray strands of newly grown pubic hair that escaped from my swimming costume a particularly annoying boy pointed at my thigh and asked loudly, “what’s that there on your leg?” I looked down and saw strange white lines imprisoning my favorite beauty spot just below the line of my costume. I stared at them in bewilderment and traced them with my nearly nail-less finger. I was literally saved by the bell as the signal to dive was sound. But for the rest of the day I was perplexed by the slithery, silvery-white lines on my thigh. What are these there on my leg?
Ever since that day I have had a tumultuous relationship with them. I had no control over them, they grew where they pleased. They travelled from my inner thighs to my hips, across the small of my back and then right up to the curve of my breasts connecting them to my arms. I had many moments with them as I grew up. At first, I saw them as a “rite of passage,” much like my period. In a way, I was happy they were there. They were more physical proof of my body forming into its womanly self. But as I got older they grew in numbers.
My hips looked like they had gills and my thighs looked like they belonged to a zebra. Boyfriends asked why I had them and what they meant and my skinny friends asked if they could touch them. Once again, I was ogled at like one of nature’s rarities, “the girl with stripes.”
Now, at 21, I still don’t like them very much.
One reasons is because I’ve always wondered about the term “stretchmarks.” It makes me think of an artist stretching a canvas over the wooden rods that hold it together. Where the marks are is where the canvas is most strained, like we don’t fit. I think a lot of damage is in the name.
Nevertheless, I am more informed and experienced in not liking them. Stretchmarks are the worst when you just get out the shower. Your skin is soft and your pores are open, so your stretchmarks show their true colours. They dance along the length of my love-handles, stopping just before my waist. They’re mostly straight with a few kinks in the road, like the road between Grahamstown and Port Alfred – curvy and bumpy but it takes you where you need to be. The base of the mark is pale and whiteish with a bit of a glare. It looks like spilt milk that has stained a wooden surface – a ghost-like, lingering white-wash. Usually, the tip
of it looks red and inflamed, kind of like the tip of an incense stick as you blow out the flame.
Each element of the stretchmark sounds beautiful but together they just look like awful scars. I’ve had my moments with them when I can’t bear to look at myself naked, and when I do, I sob. I sit on the edge of my bed completely naked and rub my hips and thighs until they’re red and stinging, hoping that if I rub my stripes hard enough they’ll disappear back into my skin. Ironically, that makes them worse.
I’ve also had moments where I embrace them and I accept the fact that the woman’s body is a marvellous shape-shifting thing, and that we shift to accommodate bringing life into the world. So what’s a little stretchmark for life, right?
There’s been a social media frenzy this year all about stretchmarks. It’s called “Love Your Lines” and it has been spreadng all over Instagram. Women, post-pregnancy, during pregnancy, skinny, chubby, fit, unfit, have been posting images of their stretchmarks to celebrate real women and their real bodies and that stretchmarks are nothing to be ashamed of. When I first saw this I was ecstatic. Finally, something that can help me deal with my stripes. I admire the women who have the courage to expose themselves on such a public platform. I don’t think I’m at that level yet, but it makes me want to stop trying to erase myself.
I don’t usually give into cheesy lines like “stretchmarks are the map and storybook to a woman’s body,” but at least I now know that stretchmarks have a message. I may not like the message, I may loathe it, but I get it.
How do we learn to love our bodies and what role might media play in encouraging girls to embrace their unique physicalities? Tell us about it below.
Leah is an avid writer, festival-goer and is in love with her home-country, South Africa. She hopes to write about the people who keep the arts in South Africa pumping. She is on that hustle to finish her degree in Journalism and Media Studies. She is also on a journey of achieving self-love and accepting her body for what it is and seeing the true beauty within, by writing about it. Durban is her favourite place in the world.
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