Being plus size, I have always thought of body positivity as something that had to do with loving my body — its shape, size, and the like. But I've come to realize that embracing skin conditions and scars is just as much a part of cultivating self-love as learning to appreciate your size.
I have spent the past two years trying to manage the skin condition folliculitis, which is an inflammation of hair follicles. The doctor I first saw told me that losing weight was my only solution — so I felt left to deal with it on my own as best I could. I mostly kept to myself about it all, but the situation left me feeling pretty powerless. In a way, I was too scared to be my own advocate.
After recently developing a pretty serious skin infection that landed me in the hospital, I decided to share my story. When I started talking to other people about it, I realized just how common this condition was — and among folks of all sizes. Talking about it not only made me feel less alone, but allowed me to learn about the ways that other people manage their treatment.
So I set out to tell the stories of those who have embraced their skin conditions and scars. I asked my friends and followers on social media and received stories from women of all sizes. In the process, I heard some extremely brave and powerful words from these 11 incredible humans.
Her caption read, "Images of young women in bikinis flood our Instagram feeds daily. Sexual, near naked, provocative pictures that get a lot of attention and make other women who don't look the same feel inadequate. Well here's a different kind of provocative image for your feed. An image that says, my body is stretched, sagging, and uneven but I'm still attractive. You don't stop looking good in a bikini once you have kids, you just look like a different kind of good. When your body no longer looks like the Instagram bikini model and you have a mom bod, be proud! Put on your bikini and belly chain, do your best Kylie Jenner in the pool pose, and be proud that your child thinks you're the most beautiful person in the world. That's all that matters anyway."
I have known Jamie Flick nearly my whole life. When she volunteered to share her story, I knew that it would be a powerful one.
Jamie tells me, "I was born with a pre-existing condition called Tetralogy Of Fallot. In 1994, I had my first open heart surgery. The doctor had to close a hole in my heart that stopped good and bad blood (no Taylor Swift pun intended) from mixing in. In 2012, I had a right pulmonary valve replacement. My current doctor was so glad I had it done when I did. This is a lifelong condition. It will never go away. So, I thought, why not? Show off those scars. Embrace the true woman you are. Be selfish about it. Don't be afraid to tell someone your story [...] More people have [skin conditions] than you think!”
She tells me, "In 2015, a few days before my trip to Vegas, I 'grew' an abscess. An abscess is a confined pocket of pus that collects in tissues, organs, or spaces inside the body. I have had some surgically removed and many of them drained. Clú, as we call them in Haiti, are some of the worst things to deal with. When I went to the doctor to have it drained she said, 'If you lost weight, you wouldn't have these. They would go away. Now you can't go to Vegas and wear the one-piece you probably wanted to wear.' I knew this was BS because my friend has them and she's 120 pounds. So after my mini draining procedure, I went home, tried on a bathing suit, and felt so confident! In my skin, in my scars, and in my non high-waisted bikini! You can actually see the bandage packaging in the picture."
"When I was a child it was always adorable to adults that I had 'rosy cheeks,'" plus blogger Terr Cacilia shares with me. "As I got older, these 'rosy cheeks' began to spread, and become more pigmented with small pimple-like bumps, and small visible blood vessels on my face. This is rosacea. At first it really was something that troubled me, but it has helped me to better understand what’s going on inside my body, and has allowed me to learn more advanced skincare/makeup techniques!"
"Do you know, I am legitimately more freaked out to make this pic public than a pic of me in a bikini?" plus size babe Ali Thompson shares with me via Facebook. "I have had a long term eczema flare-up on my feet for the past few years and this is it actually looking better than it has in FOREVER."
"When I posted this, I thought I had eczema. Turns out it's psoriasis," shares plus blogger Amanda Apparel. "When it flares, it LOVES to take over my face. It's not always this bad, but I'm SO grateful for the power of moisturizers and the magic of makeup. I know I'm beautiful whether my psoriasis is on display or not, but it's nice being able to conceal it when I'd like to."
“I developed a mole on my chest shortly after I was born... no big deal, about the size of a nickel," shares Becky Smith along with this image of her scar on her wedding day.
"Doctors said it was fine, nothing to worry about. As I got older and developed DDD's the mole got bigger as well, about two inches in diameter. I hated it. I thought it was ugly and I never wanted anyone to see it or ask about it. In my early 20s, I started to notice it changing. Darker spots and 'elevation' changes had me making a trip to the dermatologist. They told me that if this thing I've had all my life didn't get cut off me soon I'd have some serious problems. Those changes I noticed were precancerous cells developing. So off it came in a several step process that included stretching my skin with a balloon to make sure there was enough to stitch together after they cut the mole out. I love my scar, I have no problem with the world seeing it [...] I didn't survive anything or wage a huge battle in getting this scar. But it definitely went from something I hated to something I loved."
"About a year ago, I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia," Bianca Lightfoot tells me. "It's a condition that I've learned to deal with. One of the symptoms that I started facing about five months ago was skin problems. I get extremely itchy all over my body, even my scalp. The scratching I've been doing has left me with many scars all over my body and as you can see, it's spread to my chest and neck area. It's become something that I've learned to deal with and not allow to shit on my confidence."
"[It's] not the biggest, but I have a facial scar after a clumsy accident at 16," says photographer and blogger Kitty Wood. "I had stitches in my face and was offered plastic surgery [...] But I LOVE my scar. I love the way it goes all wrinkly when I smile, it gets darker when I'm tired, and it has a silly story about why I shouldn't wear super flared jeans to accompany it! It's part of what makes me me, and honestly, I'm sad it's faded over the last 12 or so years. [Scars] tell stories."
"I never had a problem with my stretch marks until someone said something about it," shares makeup artist Gabby D. "And it was people closest to me. After a few years, I've learned to love them, although I have my days where I hate them and wish they'd go away. [For the most part] I embrace them, and I even have stretch marks on my breasts [that] I no longer hide. If people see them, they see them."
"I've had eczema on and off since I was very little," blogger Lottie L'Amour shares with me via Twitter. "It calmed down for a good few years, but over the past couple, it's gotten worse. When it's bad, my hands will weep, then crack and bleed. It's been so bad that I've missed days of work [...] The past year, it's been the worst, but it's also been the year that I decided to stop caring about it. Where before I would dread someone noticing it, now I discuss it openly. And in doing so, I've found lots of other people that suffer, too. We've swapped stories and coping mechanisms and now I'm getting it back under control and I won't let it stop me from enjoying my life. Speak up about skin conditions. You'll be so surprised [about] who else is affected and what support you can get!"
"Last year I got hit by a car," wrote Jessie May Reed in her Instagram caption. "I had to get surgery on my leg in four places. Post surgery, I ended up developing an ulcer/wound on my leg, I needed a womb vac to help close it. After [several] surgeries, I am left with multiple scars on my left leg, and it's also a little bit swollen still. Sometimes I feel so self-conscious about showing off my legs because I fear people staring [...] I am reminded every day about what I went through. But I love myself enough to embrace all my scars because [they are] a reminder that I'm still here.”
"I was diagnosed with third stage Melanoma," writes blogger Slade Vegas. "The only fault my doctors and surgical team credited was the fact that I'm so fair complected. The scars are all over my body now, but my back [has] the biggest scar and it's been the largest struggle in accepting my body as it changes and battles against my diagnosis. I was beautiful before, I'm beautiful while recovering, and I'll be beautiful after with new appreciation for how my body can mold and grow."
These stories and the women who shared them demonstrate that speaking about your struggles can help remove some of the stigma of having "imperfect" skin while also building community with others. That old cliche that learning to love yourself is "more than skip deep" is certainly based in truth, but I think it's important to show that skin — and skin of all kinds — is also a pretty beautiful thing on its own.
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Image: dammitslade/Instagram; Courtesy Interviewees