On my journey to self-actualized body positivity, one of the things that took me the longest (and the most brain-work) was learning to love my stretch marks. Yep. More difficult to embrace than my jiggly tummy or cellulite-y derriere were the lines decorating my love handles and inner thighs.
In retrospect, I don't know why I hated them so much. Perhaps it's because even on the fat women I saw making their way into the limelight, stretch marks never seemed to be a "thing." I didn't stop to think that this could be because of airbrushing or Photoshop. Somewhere along the way, I just internalized this awful notion that fat could be beautiful... as long as it was totally smooth. It was likely my own version of the "good fatty complex," before I really understood that there is no such thing as a right or wrong way to exist in a fat body (or any body).
These days, I don't look at my lines and think, "O.M.G. my body is being so tainted by all the evidence of my stretched dermis." I look at 'em and think simply, "Ooh, hello cuties," (or some derivative of that). Let me assure you: No matter what your media intake or body shaming parent or the magazines on your doctor's book shelves say, there are many reasons to love those little lines of yours. Amongst them are these.
1. They're Markers Of A Life Lived
It blows my mind that we're so often encouraged to feel like crap about the natural things our bodies do. From farting to queefing to aging to developing stretch marks, we're told to "fight" and "beat" and "fix" and "preen." Can I let you in on a little secret, though?
Your stretch marks aren't cause for running into your local supermarket for an over-the-counter miracle (read: bullshit) cream. They're a sign that you've been living your life. You've been out there having experiences. You've been changing (aesthetically or otherwise). You've been growing older and developing and, yes, probably eating. And those are all good things.
2. Basically Everyone Has Them
Whether you're tall or short, fat or thin, male, female, or anything in between, athletic or non-athletic, young or old, chances are you'll develop a stretch mark or two. This is because all bodies stretch — and that's all that stretch marks are! Considering changes in weight and shape are universal parts of being a human, you'll likely find that you are not alone in having lines. The solidarity is endless.
3. Gaining Weight Isn't Anything To Be Ashamed About
Contrary to popular belief, weight gain isn't an inherently shitty thing. There are plenty of reasons it happens, from pregnancy to aging to changes in hormones to changes in fitness to the desire to gain weight. And while not all stretch marks are caused by an observable change in weight gain, many are.
I'm personally willing to bet that we wouldn't hate our stetchies nearly as much if we weren't so afraid of fatness, but here's the thing: Weight gain doesn't have to be a negative unless you allow it to be one. My suggestion is that we use all the emotional investment we sometimes put into hating a part of our bodies into learning to see the beauty in those bodies — all kinds of bodies, with all kinds of marks.
4. Puberty Is A Weird Enough Time As It Is
Most medical professionals will tell you that stretch marks are a completely normal part of puberty. It's an incredibly turbulent time for everyone, during which bodies undergo more changes than anyone ever really prepares us for.
Instead of adding an additional layer to teenagers' discomfort during pubescent woes, try to remind the young adolescents of your life that there's nothing wrong or weird or bad about developing these lines. No one needs to deal with additional beauty standard bullshit when they're already dealing with periods and voice changes and sexual curiosity and a whole heap of other stuff that comes with leaving childhood behind.
5. The Natural Changes A Body Goes Through During Pregnancy Should Be Celebrated
There's a reason childbirth is so often called "a miracle of life," right? While I've never personally done it, I've seen it happen. And that shit is intense. And messy. And beautiful. And totally life-changing for everyone involved, but I'm willing to bet especially for the individual doing the actual child-carrying and delivering.
Yet we put so much emphasis on "fixing" the post-pregnancy body — its stretch marks sometimes at the forefront of that — instead of realizing that your body is not supposed to look the same. I mean, you literally just pushed a human being out of you. Personally, I think being able to go through all that pain and joy and living is cause for a big party, not a run to the aforementioned miracle creams that'll cost you the same as a box of Godiva (the latter being a much better use of your hard-earned dollars, IMO).
6. They Look Like A Lot Of Beautiful Stuff
As Bustle's own Jen Schildgen pointed out, stretch marks look like a lot of beautiful stuff. From tiger stripes to cotton candy to baked goods to tropical fish, there are a lot of similes to be drawn here. You'd never call cotton candy "ugly," surely (unless you were The Grinch incarnate), so please start treating your stretchies with the same kinda love.
7. They're Like Accessories
Who needs to spend money on jewelry when your body produces natural accessories for you? Stretch marks feel, to me, like nature reminding us that we're capable of a lot of cool shit. Rather than correlating your tiger stripes to imperfections or flaws or your body rebelling against you, try to think of them as your body giving you a little gift.
8. And They Break Up A Body's Monotony
Stretch marks are super interesting, y'all. Like human beings, they come in all shapes and sizes and shades and depths. This essentially means that they're like artwork on your body — little drawings that you can analyze as you would a painting or the layers of a tiramisu.
Don't get me wrong: Bodies are very rarely boring things. There's so much variety, and they're endlessly changing. But if ever things are getting a little mundane, just turn to your stretch marks. I'm sure they'll serve as a reminder that your body is a fucking canvas.
9. They Come In Pretty Colors
There are plenty of reasons why the color pink can be empowering, and stretch marks just so happen to come in a myriad of shades (but mainly pinks, reds, and purples). Personally, I love pretty things. And that includes pretty colors in pretty shapes. I enjoy the fact that some of my stretch marks are red, while others are the color of Barbie's car (well, just about). It's probably because of that whole "your body is a canvas" thing.
10. You're Probably Not Going To Get Rid Of Them Anyway
No matter how many miracle creams you buy or laser treatments you invest in, it's very, very difficult to get rid of stretch marks (not unlike their cousin, cellulite). I don't care how many promises that tube of gel makes, or how smooth the skin of the lady on the TV looks. It's likely just not gonna happen.
I spent a huge chunk of time (and cash) between the ages of 16 and 20 on all these products. I think I amassed a collection of "treatment" masks and serums that could rival any pharmacy's. And did one stretch mark ever disappear? No. Did one stretch mark ever even lighten? Nope. Some things just aren't meant to be fixed. But more importantly, some things just don't need to be.
11. You Can Use Them To Play Games
You're probably getting tired of the whole "your body is a canvas" trope by this point. But, guys, it really, really is. Get yourself some body-friendly markers or paint and turn your lines into artwork!
What shapes can you draw? Can you make little people out of them? How about cute furry animals? The only limits are the ones of your imagination.
12. You Probably Only Hate Them Because #BeautyStandards
To put it bluntly: Beauty standards and ideals just are not based in fact. It shouldn't matter what the tabloid in the grocery line tells you or the infomercial on one of those home shopping channels. The only beauty standards one should abide by are the ones we set for ourselves, based on our individual preferences and unique interpretations of beauty. It's nothing short of a damn shame that we've been taught otherwise, but we can break the system.
All we have to do is learn to stop the body hate. I know, I know. Easier said than done. But once you make a conscious decision to treat yourself with a little more respect — to treat yourself as you would a friend — it sort of starts to happen naturally.
13. And Fighting Beauty Standards Is Important
The beautiful thing about beauty standards (because they're completely made up) is that we don't have to listen. More than just not listening, however, there is fighting. When we learn to love our lines, we learn to say no. We say no to damaged self esteem. We say no to being made to feel less than worthy. We say no to the perpetuation of aspirational beauty. We say no to it all.
That, my friends, is as noble a cause as any.
14. They'll Always Surprise You
15. There's Nothing Sexier Than Embracing Your Bod
Since consciously deciding to love myself a little more — my stretch marks included — things have changed. Hell, they've changed a ton.
I no longer find myself concerned about wearing a bathing suit in public. I don't worry about bending down in case a co-worker spots the lines on my back and sides. I don't live in fear that people will find my line-covered rolls repulsive. Because if they do, it's their problem and not mine. I don't worry about being perceived as a lard ass, either. Instead, I embrace the label.
The thing is, loving yourself is hard work. The world makes sure of that. It's scary to fight against the norm. It's scary to admit to finding yourself beautiful, when you know you might be deemed vain, narcissistic, or selfish. But your stretchies? They're pretty innocent in all this. They aren't really responsible for your woes or body hate. No, that's a little thing called society. But showing them a little love will mean you're showing yourself a little love.
Plus, why wouldn't you want to be decked out like a peppermint candy? So precious.
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Images: Kenny Suleimanagich/Bustle (1); Marie Southard Ospina (1)