According to Dove Research: The Real Truth About Beauty: Revisited, 80 percent of women agree that every woman has something about her that is beautiful, but does not see her own beauty. In fact, only 4 percent of women around the world consider themselves beautiful (up from 2 percent in 2004). That to me, is a travesty. Why is it that we are able to recognize the beauty in others, yet struggle to even give the slight acknowledgment to ourselves? It only took one simple, yet powerful moment for me to realize that this does not have to be the normal we live in.
In 2013, I was still riding the high of graduating from graduate school and knowing that I had done the work to finally call myself Dr. Megan Stubbs, Sexologist. Without going into too many details, let me just say that getting a graduate degree in sex is unlike any other degree path out there. Aside from the obvious learning of the sexual practices, we also did a lot of work with ourselves (no, not just masturbation!): mental work, confronting work, body image work. Waking up one morning and deciding to suddenly be in love with yourself is not easy. You have to do the work to understand where your feelings are coming from, unpack all of the messages you’ve been bombarded with from the media, family and friends. That sector of my education was ongoing.
In the spring of that year, I experienced my first Japanese onsen, or hot spring. While using the onsen, you are not allowed to wear any clothing. This is quite the liberating experience, especially when you go with family members—for me that included my sister, mother, grandmother and great aunts. Our ages spanned from 15 to 83! Obviously it is not polite to stare considering that everyone is naked, but you’re bound to look around.
“The prevalence, let alone the normalcy, of stretch marks should be known and in no way are they an indication of damaged goods.”
While I was submerged in the hot and mineral rich water, I took in the scene around me. There were over 100 women in the facility at the time and something struck me as very peculiar as I was surveying all of the bodies. Despite their lean and lithe build, I noticed almost every woman had stretch marks. Even with all the schooling and personal work I had done, it was at this moment when a particular category of self love really hit me: stretch marks can happen to anyone.
Stretch marks are a type of scarring that can happen when there is rapid growth and stretching of the skin. They often occur during puberty, pregnancy and can even happen during muscle building. The marks can appear anywhere on the body, but are usually found in areas where there are high amounts of fat stored like the abdomen, breasts, arms, thighs, hips and buttocks. Stretch marks are commonly a darker, reddish color, which later fade into a lighter hue over time. The dark color is from the dermis (the inner layer of skin) being torn and exposing the blood vessels in the skin. As the tears heal, the stretch marks return to a color similar to the surrounding skin. They pose no health risks but can often cause mixed feelings to those who have them.
Since my experience in the onsen, there has been an amazing movement from women proudly declaring they love their stretch marks and/or other scars. I, like many women, cheered and applauded the movement. Although, I began to see a common tone from many of the messages about women loving their stretch marks; it was always a story surrounding motherhood. I still cheered with them, but it made me pause. What about those of us who have not experienced pregnancy and childbirth? Are our triumphs over fighting beauty standards less valid because we don’t have a story beyond my body changed super rapidly and that’s it? I personally don’t have a child to show off proudly as the reason for my scars. I can tell you about my unyielding love of cheese, but somehow I thought that paled in comparison. Maybe your story is that puberty came on like a freight train and this is what happened. Whatever situation or circumstance happened– pregnancy, illness, puberty, weight gain, or something else–let me say to you that it is completely valid and part of your story; your unique story.
The largest sexual organ on our body is our skin, and when there are perceived flaws on it, it can be the source for many negative thoughts. The prevalence, let alone the normalcy, of stretch marks should be known and in no way are they an indication of damaged goods. Another person’s beauty is not the absence of your own.
Take the challenge and embrace yourself for all that you are. You are more than the sum of your scars and imperfections. Your newfound confidence will shine brighter than the appearance of lines on your skin!