I have stretch marks. They are very prominent on my stomach, so there's really no hiding them unless I choose to never show said stomach. Given my love of bikinis and crop tops, that's just not an option. People of all shapes and sizes are learning how to embrace stretch marks in unique ways, though, proving there's no one way to love your body. And that goes for your stretch marks, too.
There's much discussion in body positivity circles about who can participate in the conversation and how much space certain voices can take up. IMO, this discussion is absolutely valid and necessary. There's privilege that comes with being a certain size or shape, of course. But while all those factors are still in play when it comes to stretch marks, they are something that people of all sizes have and are told are imperfections.
One search for #stretchmarks on social media will show that there's an entire business selling this idea that stretch marks are something we need to hide, rather than celebrate. From creams to laser treatments to Photoshopped images, stretch marks are deemed undesirable and downright taboo.
But there's really nothing so harmful about stretch marks. They are a form of scarring, and scars come from life experience. Changing your view on stretch marks is all about learning to reframe the way you see them. Here are nine ways to do just that.
1. Recognize That People Of All Sizes Have Stretch Marks
When I started looking for images of people embracing their stretch marks, I expected to see mostly fellow plus size individuals. But what I saw was a lot of straight size folks loving their lines too. Some dictionary definitions of stretch marks read "streaks or stripes on the skin, especially on the abdomen, caused by distension of the skin from obesity or during pregnancy," but the reality is that thin people have them as well.
As with most things health and wellness related, there's arguably a built-in element of vanity and beauty at play. If stretch marks are associated with obesity, then stretch marks are "bad," even if your body isn't actually fat. But people of all sizes have stretch marks for any number of reasons and there's nothing wrong with them no matter what those reasons are.
2. Give Them Cutesy Names
Chrissy Teigen first shared this Instagram photo over six months ago and referred to her stretch marks as "stretchies." I think there's something powerful about a celebrity (and one who also happens to be a model) showing that it's not-so-scary to have these lines. The #stretchies hashtag on Instagram has nearly 4,000 tags, which means Teigen was definitely onto something.
3. Or Don't Name Them At All
The name #stretchies may work for Chrissy Teigan, but I am not really one for cutesy names. And that's OK, because the name "stretch marks" isn't actually a dirty term. When you are reclaiming something that you've been taught to hate about yourself, it's important to remember that your own journey to love and acceptance may look different than someone else's.
4. Pretend They Are Tiger Stripes
Referring to stretch marks as tiger stripes is another empowering way that people embrace their lines. Tigers are strong, fierce, and striking. Who wouldn't want to be compared to one? On Oct. 22, plus size model Robyn Lawley shared a #tigerstripes photo on her Instagram and on Facebook, using the image as a way to discuss a hurtful headline from a gossip publication that read, "Robyn considers abortion to avoid stretch marks."
In the post, Lawley wrote, "We put an unbelievable amount of ridiculous time consuming pressure on women to care so much about their flaws they forget how truly beautiful they (you) are today."
5. Be Proud That You Earned Them
Ever heard the phrase "earned your stripes?" That's exactly the sentiment that some people use to reclaim stretch marks as earned life experiences rather than "flaws." Just like the scar I have on my arm from dropping a piece of sheet metal on myself, stretch marks are scars too. They aren't something you're born with; they're something you gain along the way. It's truly futile to beat yourself up over how you got them, so instead try being proud that you earned them in the first place.
6. Don't Hide Them
We are taught to hide our flaws. We are told that if we aren't striving to fit an ideal beauty standard, we are "less than." But something that has always been very empowering for me is letting my stretch marks show. If we don't conceal them, we don't allow them to determine our worth.
7. Embrace Them Outside Of Your Tummy
My body and its stretch marks have changed over time. I remember the first time I was asked, "What's that?" in regards to my darkest stretch marks on my upper arms. It was a few years ago by my partner at the time, and I was slightly hesitant to admit that they were stretch marks.
I had never been pregnant, which is the one acceptable reason our society seems to give us for having stretch marks, and these ones were nowhere near my tummy. When I told him that they were stretch marks, his response was a simple, "Oh, OK." After that, I never felt a need to explain or justify why I have stretch marks in this spot or anywhere else.
8. Join the #LoveYourLines Movement
#LoveYourLines is a body positive movement that is flourishing on social media with 150,000+ followers on Instagram and growing. The bio says it's run by two moms, and all of the photos shared are black and white, giving them an artsy and powerful feel.
One of the biggest ways that we can change the way we feel about our bodies is by seeing other bodies that look like ours. Visibility is crucial to body positivity because it's the perfect counter to the Photoshopped images of stretch mark-free models that we are being sold through mainstream advertising.
9. Don't Think About Your Stretch Marks At All
When I first saw this image of myself two years ago, I didn't like it. I told a friend about it and he challenged me to think about why I didn't like it. I considered whose standards I was judging myself by, and the more I saw it, the more I learned to see the beauty. I had to learn to drown out all of those voices in my head from years of being told how I am supposed to look. I had to re-train my mind to make my own voice the loudest and the only one that matters.
When people ask me how to be more body positive, this is always what I tell them. Learn to listen to your own voice. It's a journey, yeah, but eventually you won't really have to think about loving your body so much. It just becomes the natural reaction. Today, I look at this image and it's one of my favorites. I don't even notice my stretch marks. In fact, I don't really think about my stretch marks anymore at all.
Want more body positivity? Check out the video below, and be sure to subscribe to Bustle’s YouTube page for more inspo!
Images: Alysse Dalessandro