The first time I noticed stretch marks crawling up the top of my hips, I couldn’t have been more than 12. I remember staring at them in the mirror, angry and red, running my fingers over the raised lines. I had already started my period at that point, and I was already wearing a bra—so I’d kind of assumed I was already as woman as a woman could be. I hadn’t read about these.
When I turned to my beacons of hope—Seventeen, back-issues of CosmoGirl!, and my mom’s Glamour subscription—I didn’t see anything about them. I combed through my cherished copy of The Care and Keeping of You and came up short. When I finally found the precious intel via my desktop Gateway computer (shoutout to 2007), all I saw was info on how to prevent them when it came to pregnancy. I remember feeling ashamed and embarrassed of those red marks, and wondering if they would ever go away.
As high school and college came and went, stretch marks grew up and all over the place. I had them on the top of my breasts, the curve of my hips, and the inside of my thighs. Then, when I gained the Freshman 30, a few of them sprouted up across my stomach and on my bicep. I was horrified. I ordered coffee scrub, slathered myself with BioOil, and found myself obsessing over them. When I looked at myself in the mirror, they were truly all I saw. The internet showed me self-love articles about finding peace with your so-called “tiger stripes,” constantly raving about how wonderful it was that you raised a baby. Well, I didn’t raise a baby. I had a lot of mac & cheese. And, mac & cheese aside, I had simply… grown up.
I remember feeling ashamed and embarrassed of those red marks, and wondering if they would ever go away.
And those articles? They didn’t make me feel empowered. They made me feel even more embarrassed than before, and I remember legitimately convincing myself that no one would ever find me attractive with marks up and down my body. I hadn’t carried a baby, so there wasn’t an excuse for me to have stretch marks. They weren’t “tiger stripes” that I was proud of—they were unsightly, and I would have scrubbed them off if it would have worked.
The thing was, I’d never really felt particularly lacking in the self-confidence department. I’d had the things I didn’t love, just like any teenager, but I was never the girl who picked herself apart to the brink of tears. Frizzy hair was just part of my life, the gap in my tooth eventually grew in, and I was OK not being the tiny one of my friends.
But, those stretch marks. They GOT me. Any time I had the chance, I found myself on Google, searching things like “are stretch marks unattractive” and “do boys hate stretch marks” and “how to fade stretch marks fast.” I would look at myself in complete dismay, wondering how long it would take them to go away.
About a year ago—and I’m 25 now, way more seasoned than the 12-year-old girl who had spotted the red lines in her bathroom mirror—I caught a white flash out of the corner of my eye. Those stretch marks? I had eventually forgotten about them, and those little red tears on my skin had changed to a silvery-white. They caught me off guard as I got ready for work, and I took a second, staring at myself in the mirror like I hadn’t since I was in college.
As my eyes traveled upward, I saw thin white stripes on my stomach that came from an unhappy freshman year of college, complete with divorcing parents and a lot of food from the convenience store in my dorm. That girl was better now. I saw ridges on my hips that showed me I’d changed a lot since the days of gymnastics and hopscotch. That girl was grown up now. I saw marks on the top of my breasts that showed that good ole’ genetic lottery of having really big boobs. That girl was a woman now. The ones on my arms that had upset me so much were barely even noticeable, but they were the same arms that knew how to lift weights and do push-ups. That girl was strong now.
I haven’t had a baby quite yet, and sometimes I still cringe when I hear things like Kim Kardashian saying stretch marks are “like my biggest fear of life.” There are days even now where I wish the stretch marks weren’t there, but the spiral of doom around them is long gone. The way I see it, no one who cares about the stretch marks on my body has any business seeing me naked, anyways.
The way I see it, no one who cares about the stretch marks on my body has any business seeing me naked, anyways.
While the “tiger stripes” of motherhood are fantastic and all, so is being alive. So is growing tall, and growing wider, and growing up. So is drinking a milkshake with your friends, wearing any bathing suit you want, and living your life without fear of a red mark on the side of your hip. If I could have told the girl crying in front of the mirror that they wouldn’t matter to her so much in such a few years, I’m not sure I would have.
The thing is, you can’t Photoshop your life. You can’t erase moments and laughter and tears. You can’t blur out puberty and heartbreak and awkward first kisses. You’re not supposed to look at yourself in the mirror at 80 and see no evidence that you’ve been alive. My stretch marks? They show that I’ve lived, and that’s enough for me.