By: Rose Arscott
A few weeks ago I lay on the couch in a real self-hatred hole. This is the note I left for myself in my phone:
A party for my stretch mark.
In making the decision to let go of dieting and focus on and cultivating a positive experience for my body, I had to give myself over to the possibility of weight gain. I have been dieting for over a decade (a relatively small amount of time compared to many women) and I have leaned over into all sorts of body types; note for the curious: I was miserable in all of them. I’ve nibbled on nothing but broccoli for weeks and I’ve blindly eaten my way through months of bread and sadness. Looking back it makes sense now, I wasn’t unhappy because of my body, I was just unhappy, and my body was easy to blame.
There was a span of time where I was resistant to the idea of loving myself because I was afraid if I did, I would have to love a bigger self too. After a considerable amount of mulling, I decided that getting on board with self-love was far more important than my fear. I had to make a deal with myself that whatever happened I was going to have to love the bigger me, smaller me, healthful me, sick me, happy me, sad me—I would just have to learn on the job.
Previously, here at FEAST, I’ve alluded to the continuing struggles of loving and respecting one’s own body. No one wakes up one day and is fixed. There are days, weeks, months, years where we are faced with bigger demons. They rear up in front of us, challenging the strength we’ve built in coming as far as we have. I’d like to talk about one of those challenges: the humble, and seemingly innocuous, stretch mark.
At age 13, my body exploded into womanhood overnight. I went to bed with a bad back and woke up to find that I couldn’t stuff my chest into my favorite sports bra. I was not forewarned of this impending expansion, other than the ominous backache. The lithe figure modeled by my mother gave no me indication of what I might be in for. It was a surprise for my skin too. The stretching that had to take place to accommodate my extra stuff was immense and left my breasts looking like a drawing of the sun by a hyperactive 5-year-old. These little rips in my skin are everywhere, head-to-toe. I will often catch myself running my hands over the ridges that cover my hips like an enormous fingerprint across my body.
As you can see I’m familiar with the physical phenomenon (and I would hedge a guess that you are too, most of us have them!) and I was expecting to swell slightly in stepping away from trying to be smaller. However, a month ago, I was faced with a stretch mark so deep, wide and red it felt like it was taunting me. I had arrived in my new body, the one I had feared, and this gash from navel to crotch was the welcome party. I wanted to take this moment of discovery in stride but this stretch mark wasn’t easy to love. It felt like some weird punishment for going public with the work I have been doing on loving myself.
Of course the arrival of the stretch mark cued the following, “Was this what you wanted Rose, an uncontrollable body? When will it end? You need start watching what you eat! One million crunches NOW!!!”
I felt like one big walking stretch mark. It was all I could think about. In moments like this, when I feel myself falling into old patterns of self-hatred, I like to take to the safe, body positive, corners of the internet. There is immense power in listening to someone else talk about their experience of something you are trying to make sense of in your own life.
In an episode of Bustle’s body positivity podcast, the Bodcast, Marie Southard Ospina, the host, asks guest, Plump Princess, about the pleasure she experiences from gaining weight. I was excited to hear a woman talk about her enjoyment of growing in size, of reveling in the experience of fatness. Many people talk about the joys and pleasures of becoming smaller or simply dealing with their size, but rarely do we get to hear about enjoying growth. Part of the cultural expectation of women is that we are to take up very little space, so the simple idea of loving to take up more space is a radical one. I wanted to get on board!
Is it too much to believe that this stretch mark is more than a tear in my dermis? After all, I have been growing, physically and mentally, my skin is making room for the louder, larger version of me in a loud and large way.
These little challenges, and the big ones, are all part of radical self-love, that’s what makes it radical: you don’t let them stop you. I want to share these things because while I know I can’t force anyone to feel good about themselves, I can share how I got to the party for my stretch mark and invite everyone to throw one for their own.
Some of things I’ve been reading/watching: