My scars and me

Here is the second blog by our guest blogger Jess! Her first one can be found at the bottom of the page…

Whenever I read posts encouraging body positivity, I’ve noticed that the emphasis is on embracing your imperfections and reminding yourself that your body is beautiful, whether or not it fits society’s idea of an ideal figure. This is a sentiment that I wholeheartedly agree with, but one that I find is often difficult when applying to your own body, especially if, like me, you are covered in scars with a less than pleasant backstory.

image2For instance, I have a perfectly circular scar on the back of my right knee, where my tumour used to be. In order to remove it, the doctors had to essentially excavate my knee and didn’t have enough left to sew it back up. So they drew around a mug on my stomach (or so my mum tells me), cut out a circle of skin and tissue and stitched it onto my leg. That’s a pretty weird and gross image to think about, let alone find beautiful.

image1On a similar note the scar it left on my stomach was so large it stretched the skin of my outie belly button into a sideways innie, and the scar on the other side of my stomach cuts down to my hip and gives one side of my torso a lovely, wibbly profile.

These are hard things to love.

What makes them even harder to get along with is how annoying they are physically. My leg scar gives me yet another reason why finding jeans that fit is difficult; not many clothing companies think to tailor trousers with spacious knee sections. It is also half numb because the nerves in my knee and stomach flesh are still present but not “connected up” (apologies for any massive errors in my medical knowledge here by the way, my own understanding of what’s going on in my body is not 100%).

The numbness is an odd sensation. If you’ve ever been in a freezing cold sea for any length of time until your nerves in your limbs start to deaden, it’s a similar feeling; the top layers of your skin feel as if your nerves have retreated far down into your skin, or like you’re wearing 3 thick rubber coats on top of each other.

My hip scar also cut nerves to my left thigh, leaving a large oval shape covering most of the front of my thigh which also feels this way, but with the added bonus of having occasional spasms that make my whole leg tense up and send a shooting, pins and needles feeling down it. I’ve found the easiest way to get it to stop is by slapping my thigh very hard repeatedly – I don’t know whether this paralyses the nerves or just overrides the discomfort with pain to be honest, but it tends to calm it down (with the slight downside that it tends to look rather alarming to anyone who’s standing near me at the time…).

My big stomach scar is actually the least troublesome, although I always will have memories of the nice neat appendectomy scar that was there before the doctors decided to go over it. It was so much cleaner in comparison. But I’ve been told that despite the large stomach scars, I should have no trouble getting pregnant, if I wanted to do that for some reason.

But even though I don’t necessarily find my scars actively beautiful, I don’t think I’ve failed at having a positive view of my body overall. My relationship with my scars isn’t negative, despite everything. It could be better described as bemusedly affectionate – they’re weird but kind of endearing at the same time. My hip scar draws a lot of the skin around my left hip joint taut, leaving a little ledge of fat that hangs over the top, which I refer to as my ‘fat bit’, usually while prodding it gently. I call my knee scar my ‘belly leg’, as that kind of is technically what it is, and when I recently had an ultrasound performed on it (for unrelated joint problems), I joked that my knee baby needed to be checked on and that I’d try and get a print out of the scan. That sadly didn’t happen!

So I think in a lot of ways, coming to find my scars beautiful never seemed like a particularly realistic goal for me, but we’ve arrived at an understanding on some level, and that’s good enough for me. It’s kind of like how you might feel towards your young child, who you know is beautiful on some level, but is currently in the process of mashing food all over their face while having a huge screaming tantrum. You still love them, even when they can be fucking irritating.

Also, having large, unavoidable scars from an early age has changed my attitude towards my body image. You’d think I might have been more self-conscious because of them, and I certainly do feel slightly awkward about them at times, even now. There’s always the fear that someone might yell something mean at me on the street (which has never happened) or that someone might ask how I got them (which has) and I have to decide whether to evade the question or reply truthfully, which often shocks people. But this is basically the extent of discomfort about how they affect my image.

Before I got even close to hitting puberty, I knew that my body was never going to look like the women on the front of magazines and on the TV. No matter how much I may have dieted or exercised, my body was always going to be different. Which, in its own way, gave me the confidence to do other things that went against societal norms. Who is going to care if I don’t shave my legs? That’s certainly not the weirdest thing about my legs. I have a bit of fat on my belly? Well I was always going to have lumps and bumps, as my scars carve my stomach into weird, lumpy sections. I may as well go for it and just do what I enjoy – there’s no point in aiming for an image of perceived perfection if it doesn’t seem in the slightest way possible.

And I think that’s a lot of the problem with these images of flawless women that young girls are always subject to. The discussion around photoshopping and all the dieting, exercise and often unhealthy practices that go with them are erased, leaving a narrative that tells young girls that they can have that body too if only they try hard enough. It’s made to seem a possible for everyone, but it isn’t. You then you end up with a lifetime of striving to look like something that your body may never be able to accomplish. And in that sense I feel luckier than a lot of my scarless friends. If anything else, my body is unique and I can concentrate on developing my own sense of bodily aesthetic, rather than being forced to share society’s.

For a brief time I considered getting my scars covered up somehow. I came across some photos on the internet of tattoo artists who specialise in large floral tats intended to cover up scar tissue. Getting a tattoo would be making a conscious choice about what my body looked like, whereas my scars were unavoidable and not my choice at all. But, while I entirely understand anyone who made this decision, I decided against it. For me, a large part of my identity is as a survivor. My scars are a testament to what I’ve experienced and they remind me that, despite it all, I’m still here.  After all that it’s been through, my body is still just about in one piece and that’s what’s beautiful.

Read Jess’ first blog post here.


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