During puberty, I made a bucket list. It wasn’t the usual camp-under-the-stars and save-pocket-money bucket list, but a beauty bucket list. On one side, I listed all my “imperfections” and on the other, solutions to become “prettier”.
It started out easy enough:
#4: Make my hair silky and straight. Solution: get mum to chemically straighten my hair, even though it burns.
#3: Get rid of spots. Solution: drink more water and get mum to buy me Clearasil – tick!
#2: Get longer eyelashes. Solution: buy Shout! Magazine for the free mascara – tick!
But there was one thing that always topped my list and remained unticked.
#1) Get rid of stretchmarks. Solution: no idea.
I didn’t notice them at first, but I remember getting changed for PE in Primary school and hearing a girl shriek in horror, pointing at my hips: “Ewwwww, you’ve got worms!”. I followed her hand to where she was pointing, as I didn’t realise she was referring to me. I looked down at my right hip and saw light, jagged lines that ran up my hips. I was mortified. My best friend stepped in and informed everyone that they were just stretch marks, and the exchange was over. But I didn’t forget that interaction so easily.
I had a freakish condition and it seemed like nobody else did. Was it a black girl thing? Was it really worms? Was it a skin condition? Was it because I had developed faster than the other girls? The girls in magazines didn’t have them and the girls on TV certainly didn’t have them. None of my family ever spoke about it, so I convinced myself that I was alone.
Soon after, I became obsessed with my body – my weight in particular. I weighed exactly 5 ½ stone at the age of eleven, but all my friends were in the four stone region, so I believed I was overweight and had developed stretchmarks as a result.
Fast-forward 8 years and I’m in a hair shop searching for the “miracle cream.” The cream that will remove the demon marks from my body within days. The bottle looked sketchy – no label with ingredients and instructions, just a clear bottle with a white cream inside that smelled strongly of bleach.
I rubbed it all over until the lotion disappeared into my pores. When my skin tingled, I knew it was working. However, the tingle became a crazy burning sensation and pain I will never forget. I jumped in the bath and washed it off as quickly as I could, but the pain intensified with the cold water running over my body. Later, through watching a documentary on skin bleaching, I realised that the cream I used contained illegal chemicals and mercury. This was the wakeup call I needed.
Someone on Twitter took a screenshot of a bikini-clad ASOS model and thanked the outlet for not airbrushing the model’s stretchmarks. At the time, that single tweet had over 163 thousand favourites and 332 comments. A carefree woman not showing something society told her to be ashamed of. There were no comments questioning her health (due to her slim, covetable figure) or trolls calling for her to cover up. Although a part of me thinks that had this been a plus-size model, the comments would have been very different.
But what I found so fascinating about this image was the fact that so many people did not know that women of all shapes and sizes could develop stretchmarks – myself included! According to CBS News and the Huffington Post, 80% of people have them in an array of different shapes, sizes colours and locations on the body. This includes men.
I wish this post ended with me saying how much I love my “tiger stripes” and “battle scars,” but I don’t. They can be painful when touched and appear in the most random places, but I have learned to embrace them and will never cover them up.
They might fade over time and they might not. I may even get more as my body changes through adulthood/pregnancy and that’s alright because I know that they will never, ever define me or determine my worth as a woman.
All it takes is for you to search “stretch marks” on Twitter and you’ll come across hundreds of pictures of women and girls boldly displaying their stretchmarks. They look like mine and mine look like theirs. I’m glad I unlearned the lie magazines, “society,” and internet culture tried to sell before it did me any more harm, both physically and mentally.
Comments from trolls about weight, looks, and body shape are there but are ignored because this is a movement to showcase the fact that we are all the same. Men get them, slim women get them, models, celebs and athletes get them too and it’s nothing to be embarrassed about.
I accept my lines. Every birth mark, every mole. Every scar that imprints my skin. Every stretch mark and wrinkle. Every bold vein and pimple.They all tell stories of my growth into womanhood. And I have earned each and every one of them.
Written by Joelle Owusu