Week 2: Scars

Wow. Such a beautifully powerful week. I love watching people grow and learn to love who they are and the skin they are in.

I was going to write a post for this, but then I remembered that years ago I’d already summed up everything I wanted to say today when I was writing for BlogHer’s Own Your Beauty Initiative. So I’m reposting it below, you can read the original here.

The Story of You, Perfectly Imperfect

As women, we are bombarded by ads and advice for products or remedies designed to cover gray, lift your butt, reduce the appearance of wrinkles, make scars go away, make your boobs look bigger, flatten your tummy, and in every possible way, minimize your imperfections. As mothers we must consider a whole other list of “must-have” products to minimize stretch marks and other pregnancy-caused changes. We worry our lives away about all these imperfections, each mark upon our bodies, never once stopping to consider them as the story of our lives, of who we are, etched into our bodies by Mother Nature herself. We are told through visual images, subtle words and sometimes even outright statements that we must fight against these things because they make us imperfect.

The fact is that we don’t have to fight this implied war. Because there isn’t a problem to begin with.

Every mark on my body tells my story: The scar on my forehead speaks of the time when I was two and needed stitches for running into a wall at full force. The stretch marks on my inner thighs tell of my incredible growth spurt when I was 14. The scar on my wrist tells of when I had surgery to remove a small ganglion cyst. And the stretch marks, well, everywhere else, tell of my first pregnancy, the one which changed every aspect of my being from soul to belly. They tell of the water I retained, and the amazing little girl who grew inside me. They are a part of me. Imperfect. Beautiful.

I recently watched Babies with my kids, a documentary chronicling the lives of four babies across the globe from before birth to toddlerhood. It was incredible. Honest, heartwarming, cutest stuff on the big screen, ever, and, most of all, enlightening. One thing that struck me was how the mamas in Namibia, who were always shirtless, looked like so many mamas I’ve seen on The Shape of a Mother, and not unlike myself in some ways -– but they carried not even a hint of shame. Pendulous breasts, swinging, yanked around by the baby -– and it was normal. Because it is normal! Their bodies tell their stories. They haven’t been told to live to the the standards to which we hold ourselves. Because no matter what, our bodies will change as we grow older gracefully. These mamas just sit there in all their normal beautiful imperfect selves. All women –- those who have birthed or mothered children as well as those who haven’t –- should strive to live that free.

I’m a people watcher. I’m drawn to imperfections. I happen to find them unique and lovely. I remember being in middle school and admiring all the cool girls, even their imperfections. The way their hair didn’t cooperate, or maybe their small breasts or rounded belly, their sloppy handwriting or scribbles, a nose that might be considered long or large –- these were my ideas of beauty. Of course I could not apply these beauty rules to myself until very recently, and even then only by some sort of mental force. I’ve had to work at it. Every picture of me with bad posture, or where I am making some bizarre face, or which shows my double chin, I’ve had to make the conscious choice to shrug and tell myself, “Oh well. That’s who I am. And I AM beautiful.” No excuses for it. No ignoring it. My beauty encompasses my entire self. My beauty, inside and out, tells my story.

“No one in the world ever gets what they want, and that is beautiful.” One of my favorite bands ever, They Might Be Giants, taught me one of my favorite quotes ever in their song, Don’t Let’s Start. I’m sure the duo didn’t intend it to be about body image, and yet, the quote fits the topic. I’ve met very few people who are fully happy with how they look –- most everyone feels this frustration of wishing they had something else. It is beautiful –- in part because we are in this together and can support each other in our journey on this road to loving ourselves wholly. More importantly, and more simply, it is beautiful because it is beautiful. You are beautiful. Your story is beautiful. Your imperfections, particularly, are beautiful.

The entire act of living is imperfect (and that is beautiful), so why on Earth do we expect this aspect to be any different? But what’s more is that once one has embraced imperfection, she finds that it, in itself, is beautiful. Each little line that caresses my belly, the joy springing around my eyes, the strands of silver hiding among my ash-brown hair -– this is my road map that will show you my travels. And the path my story has taken has been twisted and difficult at times, but I wouldn’t change it for anything because it brought me to where I am now. And my body will show you that. And that is perfectly beautiful.

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