Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Taboo: Stretch Marks

“What’s that?” His finger resembled a knife as it tickled my thigh – because pointing wasn’t enough, a poke was needed to confirm the lines were not just a figment of his imagination.

“Stretch marks.”

“What?” His tone was one of combined casualness and curiosity: the marks appeared to be coloured with crayon or chalk, but he recognised a permanence that couldn’t be erased.

“Stretch marks,” a repetition uttered through my teeth.

“What are those?”

As if the name wasn’t self-explanatory.

A wave of embarrassment surged, the lingering remains of an insecure young girl surfaced. My mind flashed back to the neon crop tops other girls paraded – those I’d never dare to don.

I can’t blame the boy - I myself spent hours pondering the marks’ existence, wondering why the burden was mine. For before acceptance comes denial: trousers long enough to mask my upper legs, bikinis a forbidden item in my closet.

And after denial comes anger. My fire eyes burned through the marks I saw as scars, where swords had scratched – weapons that belonged to a battle I hadn’t volunteered to fight. Except swords would have drawn blood, and blood would have meant release. But there was none of that, and there wouldn’t be. They were tattoos that lasers refused to remove – permanent.

As nature has it, all waves subside. The embarrassment ebbed and gratitude grew. For these matters merit upbringing – blazes of controversy that shouldn’t be extinguished. Maybe if there wasn’t such a taboo around the issue, maybe if young adults were taught to take pride in their skin and every mark on it, their fingers wouldn’t be rubbed red, sore from attempting to erase that which they cannot.

When I asked my nine-year-old sister what she thought of stretch marks, she shrugged as if I’d asked her about tree bark or orange peel.

“Do you think they’re normal?”

She nodded with a certainty of which only children are capable. It might be time to bottle this positivity and sprinkle it over pubescent adolescents.

The first result of a Google search on stretch marks concerns their treatment. The second, their prevention. And the worst part is that these results cease to surprise me. For it is typical of our society to conceal that which makes us undeniably human. From the foundation caked onto our cheeks to plastic nails we glue over real ones, the entire premise of the cosmetics industry is to convince us that we need fixing. But you’re not broken. No matter how far you were stretched, you didn’t shatter. You, and your skin, made it.

For when one’s skin stretches, it must be a sign that they had more to give. More love inside them perhaps, dreams that were wider, goals that couldn’t shrink themselves to the restrictions of their body. They wanted to take up a little more space in this world, and the world allowed them to do so.

In primary school assemblies we sang about fruit: “beetroot purple and onions white,” praising the colours of inanimate objects. Maybe it’s time to value the shades of our own bodies: whether purple, pink, red, white, or grey.  

Stretch marks are strikes of lightning. Because you are a thunderstorm, not a drizzle, downpour that makes everyone wish they’d brought their umbrella. They are the lines that join puzzle pieces, to prove that you are not just a fragment in God’s game, but an entire jigsaw he put together. When chocolate chip cookies bake, their surfaces are jagged, not smooth, as if the oven refuses to produce perfection. Maybe it knows there is no such thing. Stretch marks are the creases in the corners of a paperback, those that signify the book is worth reading. Your body is a novel layered with complex sentences and three-dimensional characters. Inside are themes that matter. You are art: a carved sculpture, an oil painting. You deserve to be displayed in museums, unveiled in galleries for the world to see.

Let those marks kiss you, let them lick your thighs and your stomach, let them caress your breasts and hips and your upper arms. Embrace them like tattoos designed for you, those you might not have chosen, but those that don’t deserve removal.

The next time someone asks about my stretch marks, I’ll smile, widen my lips to reveal the gap between my two front teeth, and say “they’re a prize.”

“For what?”

“For making it.”

The universe didn’t give up on you, so you shouldn’t either.