Home Q&A Wednesday Q&A Wednesday: The Stretch Mark Question… Again

Q&A Wednesday: The Stretch Mark Question… Again

by Erika Nicole Kendall

One of the most contentious comment spaces on my blog is the one where I talk about how I feel about my stretch marks, and what I plan to do about them. My response was “I don’t care,” and “nothing,” albeit expressed in a pretty defensive fashion.

This doesn’t go over particularly well in the comments, collected over the years. I mean, one woman even goes so far as calling me a bitch for thinking about them the way that I do, and, I mean… okay. But that doesn’t change the way I feel, and only solidifies the way I feel now: that stretch marks are served up as another way to encourage women to feel badly about their bodies and if you, as a woman, reject that idea, women will go out of their way to do what they can to try to make you feel bad. Because calling me a “bitch” was supposed to hurt.

I’m a PTA mom. I’ve been called worse, LOL.

However, I received a comment a few days ago that I needed to sit on a little bit.

I understand the irritation from the stretch mark question but, frankly, I think the article is a bit insensitive. I am 27 with no children. During and after college I gained a lot of weight from my bad eating habits and not realizing how inactive I’d become as an adult. Now that I’m losing the weight I want to be able to do some of the things I never thought to do when I had the body. For example, I’ve never worn a bikini. Ever! And I kind of feel like I never will. My stretch marks aren’t a beautiful testament of giving life, it’s a testament to my past laziness. I wish more than anything that my body didn’t punish me for life for my bad decisions. Its embarrassing to be relatively young but not get to look amazing in swimsuits like my friends. Yes, we get stretch marks and it’s a part of life but at a point I just want to live the carefree, no baby life without looking like I’ve had 3, ya know?

Over the past few months, I’ve tried to figure out what it is that people are ticked off by in this post. It’s not me trying to guide people through how to feel about their stretch marks, so much as it’s me saying—literally—that I don’t care about mine.

However, I want to add something. I understand why people feel some kind of way about their marks, and your comment elucidates that. It’s like they serve as a reminder and, because they are a reminder to you of your past…they feel like punishment. Because you were sedentary and because you didn’t know how that sedentary nature could impact your future, you feel like having these marks serve as a punishment.

Except, it’s entirely possible that you could’ve had those marks as an active, fit, lean body, too. You could’ve had stretch marks all across your shoulders, down your breasts, across your rear end, along your thighs, and – yes – all over your tummy. Stretch marks aren’t a punishment — they’re a fact of life, and because this isn’t reflected anywhere and because we don’t talk about it—unless we’re talking about how to get rid of them, women don’t trust it when they’re told that stretch marks are merely a fact of life. This isn’t enough—they still want the flawless skin, and deeply resent that they can’t have it.

But the women who sell this myth to us don’t even have that “flawless skin.”

There’s nothing that says you can’t wear a bikini *now*, other than the fact that you want to be able to wear a bikini and look the way you think you should look in it, which puts the problem squarely on your shoulders—you’d have to think about why you need to look that way altogether.

And, when I look at my post from that angle, even I have to admit that it’s insensitive. It belies the fact that there is a degree of unthinking that has to happen when you talk about stretch marks. Worse even, it implies that the reason why it’s okay for me to not care about stretch marks is because I looked the way I did in that photo. When in reality, even at my current size post-baby, I still shouldn’t care, and neither should you.

Let me talk around this for a moment.

Over the past few months, I’ve thought a lot about mortality and how people process their own. Everyone fears aging—no one wants to get old because getting old, in the popular imagination, is the closest step towards death.

So much of what we spend our days doing is about reminding ourselves that we’re not old, or trying to convince others that we’re younger than we are. We telegraph it with our makeup, with cosmetic surgery, and, yes, with our bodies. And this kind of aspirational thinking that yields towards youthful appearances is sold to us at every turn.

That’s a part of why weight loss is sold to us so hard. That’s also a part of why the ideal is the way it is—thin, wiry, awkward, prior to puberty when rapid growth in random parts of the body happens… the kind of growth that leads to stretch marks.

I don’t think it’s enough to tell people “it’s a part of life,” especially when the ideal of not having stretch marks is all about hiding how much life you’ve lived. I think of Selita Ebanks old comments a few years back:

“It’s all about creating the illusion of this amazing body on the runway,” says Selita Ebanks, who walked her first Armory show five years ago. “People don’t realize that there are about 20 layers of makeup on my butt alone.”

In addition to body makeup, which Ebanks estimates takes well over an hour to apply, the Angels prep in hair and makeup for three to five hours before hitting the runway, with an average of five people – hair stylists, makeup artists and manicurists, working on each of the 38 models. [source]

Even the women who’ve convinced us that this is the ideal and the dream and the fantasy have to acknowledge, at the end of the day, that they too have imperfections that ruin the fantasy. Perhaps, even, a stretch mark or two.

This is the fantasy we’re sold. This is where we get our aspirations from, because we like what those aspirations could tell others about ourselves… or what these things tell us about ourselves. Right here is where the unthinking begins.

As a black woman with dark-adjacent brown skin, I can recognize that the ideal of being fair-skinned is harmful to my ability to see my own value and beauty, and reject that.

As a woman with kinky hair halfway down my back, I can recognize that the ideal of having straight hair that creates a vortex every time I spin around doesn’t accommodate me, so I can reject that.

As a woman covered in stretch marks, I can… see where I’m going with this?

With un-thinking these things, also comes un-thinking the other ways this impacts our ability to love ourselves, our ability to set realistic and healthy goals for ourselves, and the way we treat ourselves as we embark on that journey. How do you appreciate what you see in the mirror, and the progress you are making, if you see it through a lens that expects an airbrush-smooth body? Do you deny yourself the right to appreciate the fact that you are closer to your goal because of your stretch marks? Do you hate looking in the mirror to acknowledge what you’ve achieved, because you’ll never look the way the models—according to Selita—don’t even look?

You shouldn’t.

We shouldn’t cling to beliefs and mentalities that steal our joy or our ability to achieve joy. As a brown-skinned woman, trying to adhere to a standard of beauty that prioritizes fair-skinned women over me and using that standard to value myself is harmful, and we can see that clearly. The same goes for adhering to a standard that says women who have accumulated stretch marks are beneath those who have not.

Don’t just take it from me—these #bgg2wlarmy members have been there, too:

I am a six foot, slim African woman who has always has stretch marks since I was 12! I have them behind my legs, my butt and a few on the side of my hip. I have never been grossly overweight. My stretch marks were caused by shooting up to my height so quickly as a young teen. I have lived with them and I am 34 years old without a child. I suffered much angst as a result and tried every cream imaginable but they simply didn’t work. I shunned short skirts and shorts as I was so ashamed of the tiger marks behind my legs. Then when I turned 30, my whole mind set changed. I started embracing my stretch marks, warts, my perceived faults and all. I stopped caring what other women thought (that’s right! WOMEN!!! They are the worst in pinpointing other women’s so called faults). I had people comment on how beautiful my legs were despite the fact that I still have stretch marks and even ask me why I never wore shorts and minis! It shocked me to be honest! I no longer care about them because they are part of me and they aren’t going any where. They aren’t a health risk so its the least of my worries. There are worse things to be worried about I say! Funny thing is that my ex boyfriend was really tall and had stretch marks all over his body too and had no issues with mine or his either!

[…]

I have been reflecting lately on what I have been through at that time. I guess I would also call my stretch marks battle scars. My past is always a testimony.

I have stretch marks and I rock them. As a mother of three, I think of them as my badge of honor. I’ve delivered three beautiful kids to this world and I am OK with that. I have workout videos that I post on the internet and I rock my shorts and bra top with my stretch marks in full view. I am not ashamed of them and by the way not all men hate stretch marks. Not mature ones anyway.

I’ve NEVER heard a man speak negatively about stretch marks, though. When you said that in your post I was shocked. I always say to myself and my friends “If I’m standing butt naked in front of my man/current lover or whoever and he sees my stretch marks and tells me to get dressed and leave then HE has a much more serious problem than I do!” #wheretheydothatat

[…]

I see harping over stretch marks and sagging skin as an acute form of self-sabotage. I’ve heard of individuals who aren’t willing to lose weight simply because their “stretch marks would look uglier,” or “loose skin is more disgusting than fat.” Both should seriously be minuscule concerns, in the grand scope of our HEALTH!

Also, I don’t think people give the miraculous healing capabilities of our bodies (coupled with the time component) enough credit. Yeah, I have some residual stretch marks, I’ve dealt with (still am) loose skin issues in the midst of weight loss – but I know, it’s not necessarily going to be the final outcome.

And if a mark here or there is permanent, that’s okay too. It’ll serve as a nice reminder of my progress in this journey!

I think that final comment is the entire jig in a nutshell. It’s hard to come out of the cycle of self-hatred and self-shame—be it our hair, our skin, our beauty. This is a form of self-sabotage. It’s not just sabotage for your weight loss goals, but sabotaging yourself from being a whole person who believes you are deserving of love and happiness. To let this go is to break the cycle, and to break the cycle is to finally be free.

I want to ask you about your experiences with your stretch marks, and how your thinking has evolved if it has done so. I’ve shared mine. What’s yours?

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13 comments

Kaycee January 28, 2016 - 12:05 AM

I get it. And I understand every single word you’ve written. I even agree with you. I’m a thinker, you know that. I get paid to critically analyze everything that crosses my path.But for some reason I am still very much emotionally connected to these marks. I still want them gone. Like the sister you quoted, My stretch marks have been around since I was 12 as a result of a summer growth spurt. I don’t have a beautiful child or 3 to show for them. I can’t even wax eloquently about an amazing weight loss journey on which to blame them. I was just tall. And I still want them gone.

milaxx January 28, 2016 - 12:31 AM

Of all the body issues I have had,(being too short, wearing glasses, being fat) Stretch marks was never one of them. By the time I was 30 I was comfortable and okay being plus sized. it never stopped me from meeting guys or doing anything else. In fact I think it was liking & loving myself that even prompted me to seek better health and weight loss.

Denise January 28, 2016 - 6:02 AM

Stretch marks are just a sign that at some point your body had to stretch. I had my children at 16 and 19, so I had stretch marks to accommodate them. I eventually went to 250, and got stretch marks to accommodate that. I’ve gained and lost weigh through various ailments, and I have stretch marks on my stomach, my arms and my legs. I’ve always said that between surgical scars and stretch marks, I don’t know what my original color is. I have more important things to focus on, like having a good relationship with God, staying healthy and walking again, loving my family and friends. If I wore bikinis, then so be it. You don’t like it, don’t look – you’ll only suffer for the second it takes to look away. I’m sorry for people who are so concerned about such things, and I’m especially sorry for people who feel inclined to be rude about it. That’s all I got. When you’re surrounded by love, the physical isn’t important to you or them.

Racquel January 30, 2016 - 12:58 AM

I have never seen the big deal about stretch marks. Is it just me? I had stretch marks long before my body was capable of carrying a pregnancy or birthing babies. I had them on muscular thighs that kept growing. I had them on biceps that I wanted to be as big as Serena Williams. I would see those stretch marks, flex my arms, and oh how I smiled!

During my pregnancy they made themselves at home on my belly and hips. I loved them! I still love them. Each and every one of them says, “hello, your body went through a change and it didn’t destroy you. You’re here!” My body is not weaker or stronger for having these marks. It isn’t more or less beautiful. It just is, and it’s mine. Even if I couldn’t appreciate the way they look, I can certainly appreciate that it’s a part of my body, proof of the journey I’ve taken, and certainly nothing to be ashamed of.

I still rock a bikini and crop tops. Yes, stretch marks, 15 extra pounds and all.

Jenn January 31, 2016 - 8:46 AM

I am shocked at the number of women who earned their stretch marks at a young age and without going through pregnancy.

As a 10-year old, I had a lot of shame around my angry red stretch marks on my arms, stomach and legs. Not a single person my age had them! Consequently, I took great care to hide them as much as I could. Have you ever tried finding long shirt sleeves in the summer?

Once I lost 100 pounds, my marks faded to silver. Then I had two children. It never occurred to me that I could try creams and other treatments to make my marks fade. Now, I have no interest.

I still don’t like exposing my marks, and avoid tank tops. However, my goal in losing weight was never to show off as much surface area of my body as possible. I didn’t lose that weight for anyone but myself.

Stretch marks are a testament to my struggle, and a reminder that no one is perfect.

Mia H January 31, 2016 - 9:56 AM

My beautiful, healthy and active 15 year old daughter has stretch marks on her butt and thighs. I have talked with her often about the illusion and facade of the perfect body created by photo shop, airbrush, plastic surgery, botox injections etc. She is beautiful, intelligent and powerful. My hope is for her to remain confident even when societal conditioning and peer pressure attempt to convince her otherwise.

I love the how to wear a bikini memes. Put a bikini on your body. It’s really that simple. I’m in my 40s and starting to truly grasp the idea that I don’t need to give a damn what other people think. Do what makes you happy and fulfilled because at the very end that is all that will have mattered.

Jorien January 31, 2016 - 2:52 PM

Great post! Hubby and I are both tall and both have stretch marks. It is what it is. I can still be healthy, beautiful, and fit with stretch marks.

Julie January 31, 2016 - 5:33 PM

I’ve had stretch marks on my body since aged 16 due to filling out finally. Strangely I’ve never gained any more from my large weight gains over the years. My major horror were the copious amount of black spider veins all over my skinny legs (they started at 18) that kept me from enjoying my otherwise ok body (I am white).

Elsa January 31, 2016 - 11:56 PM

The other day I heard that saying “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” and for the first time in my life its’ meaning finally sank in: that it isn’t one thing, a single ideal but simply what is viewed by the viewer as pleasing, and I felt incredibly uplifted by that release from achieving an imaginary goal.

I have plenty of stretch marks from puberty and then having kids, gaining weight… & often have felt ashamed of them, but reading this return post today helped me put my shame in its place.

Thanks for such an inspirational, insightful post. Love the blog & how you kindly, generously encourage readers to go out & seek better health but simultaneously encourage us all to let go of harmful ideas we carry from the media & culture. ❤️

Shira February 1, 2016 - 7:16 PM

I’ve had stretch marks on my hips and thighs since I was a pre-teen jut simply from growing. As a teen, they started to appear as my breast grew. I was a skinny child who grew into a skinny adult. .I admit I didn’t particularly like them but there wasn’t anything I could do about them so I dismissed them from my thoughts. Yes, I wore short shorts (when my mom wasn’t looking). I also wore swimsuits with some stretch marks in full view but I didn’t like bikinis because they don’t cover the body appropriately (hello,modesty). The issue of stretch marks arose again in my late twenties while I was pregnant with my son. I followed all the advice I received about keeping the skin moisturized but it didn’t work. I learned that they are simply a part of life for some people. So, they don’t even make the list of things to worry about. Focus on your health and well being. Oh by the way, I haven’t been skinny since my son was born 25 years ago. But guess what, I love me some me and I look good doing it! Love yourself, and to H–L with the comments of others. MUAH!

Tabitha Talon February 2, 2016 - 12:58 PM

Ok so I will admit that I do not wear tank tops anymore. even when I do, I wear a cover anyway. Though yes I deal with being self conscious about my body, I also feel for me its rude to dress the way other women dress and you body is not really built to dress like that. Example being, I would never wear a tank top outside of my house knowing the issues I have with my arms and underarms. Another example, I do not feel comfortable wear any dresses at my knees. So for me, I feel its rude to people looking and even younger ladies to wear clothes not fit for big women

Erika Nicole Kendall February 4, 2016 - 2:23 PM

Rude to WHO? Provided you aren’t breaking the law, you owe no one anything else when it comes to your body. Your body is your own.

If you are unhappy with your arms or underarms, that is well within your choices and rights, but putting that on what you believe other people are thinking is wrong. Own it: this is your self-consciousness coming out through and through. And, if you choose to be more modest, that’s okay! But it isn’t your place to decide what is for someone else’s body, no more than it is anyone else’s place to tell you what is or is not for your body. Women need to draw hard boundaries around this kind of thinking. I don’t know that I believe it to be emotionally healthy.

Lora March 8, 2016 - 1:26 AM

Well said. I’ve had stretch marks since my growth spurt at 14. I was thin as a rail, but I grew quickly. I remember my “friends” trying to tease me about them, but I never really cared. They are just part of my body, a body that had to gain five inches in a few months.

Now, of course, as a mother of 3, I have more stretch marks and a c-section scar as well. I don’t love the scar, but I don’t hate it, and I just can’t bother to care about the stretch marks. I understand why other people disagree, but they are just marks, like freckles, like gray hairs. They aren’t a punishment.

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