The first time I saw stretch marks on my stomach, I sobbed.
I coughed and choked on the salty tears and the “ruination” of the outward appearance.
Before I learned to criticize my body, I marveled at the wonder that was stretch marks. The zig-zagging lightning bolts streaking across my inner thighs and along my outer hips didn’t scare me at first. Only showed the signs of my expanding body, shaping itself into the woman I was meant to become.
But the stretch marks on my stomach, the angry red lines crawling up the soft folds of skin blanketing my body signified much more than just growing. It pointed to the much larger problem brewing under the surface: a fixation, an obsession, with my appearance. How I stacked up against other women. How I believed in myself.
Little did I know that they would become a neon red sign, screaming “Here! This is a trigger! Here!”
To me, a trigger is something that evokes emotion, usually, an emotion considered “bad” that is in all actuality, a sign of what you need to work through both consciously and unconsciously. Since the emotions I felt bubbling to the surface only heralded shame, grief, and anger, I realize now that the marks on my skin only served a greater purpose. To help me examine my priorities.
Culturally, women are pitted against each other, and even themselves. The internalized misogyny that we have subconsciously accepted as the “norm” has created an impossibly unrealistic standard which focuses heavily on “perfection” rather than reality. We are taught that our worth relies solely on our bodies, and how acceptable they are to a sexually driven consumeristic society that worships Photoshop skills over self-love and acceptance.
I was lost in a swirling mess of self-defeat, all from my own perception of body image.
Unlike the fairytale ending I wish I could write up, I don’t have one. I still walk by my mirror on the way to the shower and stretch myself up tall, peering at the fading, purple tinted stretch marks dashing across the skin of my belly. I tug and I pull and I prod. I hypothesize and I compare. I wonder what my life would be if I was “one of those girls” with the skinny waist and blemish free skin. I still inflict unnecessary emotional pain on myself.
But even though there is no ending to my triggers (because if there was I’d be dead), I have come to sit with it. Every time I look at myself with critical eyes, examining all the ways I’ve “gone wrong,” I examine the ways I’ve gone right. I choose softness, gentleness, and compassion with myself when discovering the raw parts that I would rather leave dormant than try to comprehend.
I remind myself that even if my stretch marks make me soiled goods in the eyes of a mainstream viewpoint that I will always love myself.
Tiger stripes, war paint, lightning marks and all.