Marks of growth

Stretch marks.

Most days I don’t notice them.

I wake up in the morning, rock out of bed, and pad to the bathroom to start through the barrage of questions involved in getting ready for the day: To wash my hair or not? Down and loose, low ponytail, or high librarian bun? Should I bother putting on makeup with these pollen-puffed eyes?

Every so often, when I stand at the bathroom counter in front of the mirror and slip on a sleeveless top, there they are–

Stretch marks.

The white lightning fracturing down the soft underbelly of my arms.

Underneath my clothes, more canvas the curves of my breasts, lower belly, hips, and thighs. And still lower, those covert ones tucked around the backs of my knees. I forget about those. Out of sight, out of mind.

You see, over the years they have become as much a part of me as any other mark–scar, mole, piercing. Unlike scars, however, my stretch marks don’t come attached to stories of accidents, cool adventures, or bad timing. They just are. They exist like all the other parts I own.

You don’t think about the width of your fingers, the color of your earlobes, or how your elbows look in public. But those special, rare days when my stretch marks cross my mind, I become acutely aware of their presence. I can’t unsee them. And then I start to wonder if the eyes of other people I talk to during the day will drift to them, and if they won’t be able to unsee them too.

I’m also distinctly aware that, unlike other women who have earned their ‘tiger stripes’ by the wondrous process of birthing a new person into existence, my marks arrived by doing absolutely nothing.

Which is true…and untrue.

Wait, what?

Yes, I did something. Undeniably. I was young and utterly incapable of realizing that the foods I ate all the time–the Little Debbie snack cakes, the Chips Ahoy and Oreo cookies, the boxes of mac and cheese and double servings of rich casseroles and syrupy-sweet sodas–were directly tied to my increasing weight and general unhappiness with my body throughout my teenage years. And that’s just food. I’m not even going to delve into exercise, or the lack thereof.

This disconnect between what I was eating and how I was being–that is what I meant when I said I did absolutely nothing. I literally did nothing to change my situation. Because I felt powerless.

No, not powerless. ‘Powerless’ implies that you once felt power and lost it, or had a notion of what it means to own such a thing.

What do you call it when you never knew you possessed power to begin with?

Ignorance? Complacency? What about total dependence on others for the life you lead?

Or perhaps resigned to the idea that you were dealt this lot in life and you just have to deal with it.

I didn’t realize until now–until this very moment, scribbling these words on a lined notepad–that my stretch marks represent denying responsibility for my health. They represent the time I let myself gain pounds as I took a back seat role to my life with no one at the steering wheel.

And it makes me angry. Frustrated. Bewildered. Part of me is filled with finger-wagging righteousness that I want to unleash upon my old self.

But another part of me–the one who has evolved into a teacher of many things–wants to find that quiet introvert of a girl, sit her down, and counsel her like I have many of my closest friends and family. That part wants to explain what is happening in her body and why, ask questions, listen oh so carefully, and show her a different way of living. I want to open her eyes, but that girl is long gone.

I know I can’t undo these stretch marks. I can’t disown the knowledge tied to their rough edges.

Do I love them? In all honesty, no.

I can’t even say I like them.

But I accept them. I accept that they represent an inner journey, a map of hazy lands, peaks and valleys, uneven footing, and thrilling vistas. It may have been a weird journey, but it was mine. Sometimes acceptance, sincere and laid bare, is enough.

Featured image by Eric Kilby

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