“A hospital chaplain says that the dying have a lot to teach us on how to live our lives better while we still can. One of the most frequent yet surprising regrets she’s found, especially from female patients, is the fact that they hated their bodies for so many years. Only now, when that body is truly failing, do they realize they should have celebrated it.”
A couple of weeks ago, while recovering from surgery to remove a tumor on my thyroid, I spent the night and day on the South Saskatchewan river. I’d been told that I should avoid the sun to lessen the severity of my scar, but I knew that there was nothing that could be more healing for me than the sun on my body, sand in my hair and the river under me.
When I got back home I noticed how the browning of my skin made the stretch marks on my body show up even more. Like my body’s own kind of intricate artwork I couldn’t help but think how interesting and beautiful they were to look at. This was remarkable considering that only 4 years previously, at my first nude Bodysex workshop, the part of my body that I was most terrified of the other women seeing were my stretch marks.
Even though I’ve spent the past few years getting used to and learning to really enjoy being naked, I won’t pretend that I have no more body shame. I believe shame comes in layers, and each time I expose myself and peel back a layer, I get closer to the root of what my shame is really about. My scars and stretch marks may be illustrations of the stories of my life, but the actual story is in what the illustrations signify to me. That’s the part that’s the most difficult to come to terms with and what I think we are really afraid that others will see when looking at us.
On the outside my c-section scar tells the story of me having surgery to deliver my babies.
On the inside the scar tells a story of me failing at what I wanted most in the world.
On the outside my stretch marks tell a story of a girl growing and changing through puberty, pregnancy and the normal ups and downs of life.
On the inside the stretch marks tell a story of me feeling abnormal and ugly.
On the outside, the most recent scar on my neck tells a story of removing cancerous cells so that I can live.
On the inside the scar tells a story that I’ve done something wrong for this to happen to me.
Thankfully my first two stories are no longer relevant to me or my life. I am still sad that I didn’t give birth naturally but I haven’t failed at motherhood. And when I’m not noticing the beauty of my stretch marks, I usually forget I even have them.
I know that it’ll take time for me to come to terms with my new scar, and the layers of stories that lay beneath it. But when I was lying naked in the sand along the river, I didn’t feel like I’d done anything wrong to deserve it. I felt more competent, loved, supported, beautiful and alive than I’ve ever felt in my life. Whether my scar fades or stays the same, I hope that this is the story behind the illustration that I will celebrate.