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Personal Essay: Finding the power in your stretch marks

Our society is only comfortable with one kind of womanhood, the kind that is perfectly polished. The womanhood where you’re always perfectly put together in perfectly pressed clothes with perfectly coiffed hair, and you express your perfectly minded thoughts and opinions with perfectly mild-mannered words, through a perfect smile.

This narrow ideal of womanhood has always seemed like a farce to me. It ignores the fact that women are people who are not perfect, and who have thoughts and opinions that are strong and sometimes harsh. We have bodies that are not perfectly maintained and that do not always cooperate with us. And one of the ways our bodies consistently fail to live up to this fetishized image of womanhood is with stretch marks. Stretch marks aren’t failures; they are a very natural occurrence that usually appear for the first time in women (and men too) during puberty. They’re a sign that our bodies are maturing and growing and that we’ve reached a new stage in this life.

My first stretch marks came in when I was 12. My breasts grew from nothing to a DD cup in six months. That’s a substantial amount of tissue growth and the skin is bound to have a difficult time keeping up. My next set came when I was 13 or 14 as my hips developed. I can still see and feel these marks on my body. The tiny white lines look to me a bit like fireworks celebrating my journey into womanhood.

I know that not every woman loves her stretch marks. I love the Love Your Lines Instagram account because it shows actual humans sharing their stretch marks and their stories. Stretch marks can come from weight gain, pregnancy, and other bodily changes and stretch marks can change with the onset of loose skin from weight loss and with the natural bodily change of cellulite.

No matter how or where your stretch marks came from, they tell a story about you. They are a physical documentation of your life, your journey. They can be a physical reminder of a time in your life where you endured and came through a challenge, they can tell the story of a big change you made with your body and/or with your life. Embracing them is a way to radically embrace your story and who you are as much as it is a way to show love to your body. It’s also a great way to embrace your humanity and know that this is a universal human body experience.

Stretch marks are one of those things that everyone, every woman, will experience. It’s a basic part of womanhood, and of being a human person. The negative messaging around stretch marks is incredibly pervasive.

Even with something that is universal for women, if it isn’t perfectly polished then our society is ready to call it out for the “imperfection” that it is and make women feel ashamed of their perceived imperfection. The next step, obviously, is to convince them that they need to take action to address their shameful imperfection so they can once again be restored to the status of a socially acceptable woman.

I don’t want to engage in performative “acceptable” perfectly polished womanhood. I don’t want to hide the areas and parts of my body that are natural and beautiful because they don’t meet someone else’s standard that I never agreed to be measured against.

I want to love my body. I want to embrace my stretch marks. I want to proudly display the white stripes that celebrate my life, my journey, my story. And I want to do so loudly, empowered by a raw and lived-experience-informed kind of womanhood.

Your stretch marks are powerful. They are the physical documentation of your story on your body. They are not “imperfections” but rather beautiful natural occurrences like rainbows and mountains. Embracing your stretch marks can make you feel more powerful, and can connect you to a more raw (and less performative) kind of womanhood. All that from the red and white lines that blossomed in your skin while you were going through a physical change, possibly spurred by an emotional one. The human body is a marvel, and a woman’s stretch marks are simply marvelous.

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Bubble Bordeaux is a body positive advocate, writer, and burlesque performer on a mission to help people discover the vibrant beauty in their bodies and themselves. When she isn’t focused on body pos and fat acceptance she’s advocating for feminism, polyamory, and bisexual people. She recently became a Brand Ambassador for Livi Rae Lingerie, a body positive lingerie boutique in Atlanta committed to helping every woman find her own sexy.

Photo Credit: @bebeautifulla, photo by @dannyhiatus model: @_onyekaxo

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