Just because you manage to become a little stronger doesn’t mean you have to erase the person who might have been a little weak.
I wanted to share an article that I read a few months ago, because we talk a lot about body image here, and I think it’s a really important topic. It’s one that is thankfully getting a lot MORE attention in recent years, but when I was growing up was hard to discuss. We’ve all got issues with ourselves, or parts of our bodies, and we need to come to terms with these things, or risk becoming bankrupted, unfulfilled, frankenstein copies of Heidi Montag.
When I was 20, I had my first operation. Before then, I’d never broken a bone aside from my tailbone. Then, in my junior year of college, we found a lump. And in the long run, it turned out to be benign, but it had to be removed due to its location: growing between two of my ribs. Now, there’s an entirely separate post that has to come on the topic of ‘funny shit GM says once the anaesthesia starts to kick in but before she’s out’, but that will come later. What I want to talk about now is the aftermath of this (and later) surgeries, and what it has meant for and to me.
So I was 20, in college, sexually active, and I’d had a lump removed from my left breast. Never had a scar, all the boys (and some of the girls, too) chased me, and I put a lot of stock at that time in my looks. I didn’t think I was amazing, but I knew what other people thought, and sometimes that’s enough. The only scarring I’d been exposed to prior to this was some minor surgery stuff my dad could easily hide on his own body, and the issues my sister had dealt with. But never my own scars, never my own bodily pain, save for the first tattoo in ’01.
Needless to say, I was really, really scared of the scar that remained. I was afraid to look at it. So afraid, in fact, that I called my best friend crying to come over on the day I had to change the bandage. I stood topless in front of her in my bathroom, my head turned as far to the right as possible, with my back to the mirror to make sure I didn’t ‘accidentally see’ anything, trying not to cry hysterically. I can’t even tell you what I was afraid of, but I was afraid.
What followed was worse, and I wasn’t any closer to dealing with my issues surrounding the new scar… Less than a year after the lump removal, I had an emergency surgery in the middle of senior year’s finals in which I lost my left ovary and fallopian tube, and gained a new scar that looked like I’d had a c-section. It came with the same recovery time. As they had to cut through my abdominal muscles to get the dead parts out, I was laid up for a month plus, unable to hold myself up or sit up. If I had to use the bathroom, it was a complicated process of rolling out of bed, crawling to the toilet, pulling myself up onto it, and then repeating to get back into bed. TV downstairs, toilet upstairs, it was a disaster of a month that I couldn’t wait to get out of.
I was then faced with a dilemma: that of dealing with my scars. And eventually letting other people see them. I’d had boyfriends through this, and they were very supportive and didn’t care about them, but I cared. I cared so much, in fact, that I threw all of my plans away and made a full-sized photo of my scarred (and now emaciated body, thanks to liquid recovery diets and really great painkillers) my senior thesis project, because I was finally starting to realize I needed to address how I was feeling about my scars, and about the health problems of a supposedly healthy 21-year old (who would turn out to not be so healthy in a few years’ time, as we all know). So I showed it to everyone in the school and their parents and friends, and started to have some discussions with people about their scars.
The first thing that came was the suggestion from a friend: she said ‘you need to find a way to love your scars’. We discussed my general work as a landscape photographer, and she said I should try to make them as beautiful as my landscapes. It was only a thought at the time, but it sent me on a very long journey.
I started to experiment. I started trying to take photos of myself. That proved to be difficult, so I put out a call to my friends: show me your scars. What came was nothing short of a landslide. I got friends showing me removed moles. Showing me the scar on their knee from when they fell off the balance beam at age 5. Breast reductions, thyroid problems, burns. Accidental cuts from a knife in the kitchen while slicing tomatoes. Cuts that were not accidental. And everyone came with a similar thing to say: I wasn’t sure if I should show them to you, because I don’t show them to many people.
It turned out that the longer ago it had happened, the more ok my friends were with their scar/s. But an odd process showed itself once in a while: the people with the smallest, practically invisible scars seemed to be the most afraid to show them. And this turned into something I’ve begun to deal with lately… telling people who DON’T have scars how wonderful a scar really is. Or a mole. Or a freckle. It seems that sometimes, the fewer physical imperfections we have, the less willing we are to see or accept them in others. Having scars is like being a part of a special club.
I’ve come to call it the Survivors’ Club. If you don’t have one, chances are you might never have been close to dying. If you don’t have one, chances are you don’t realize your own mortality. If you don’t have one, you might not understand how precious life is, and how inconsequential a scar really is.
This isn’t to say that people without scars haven’t lived, or been close to dying, or any of the above. But I’ve come across a lot of people since creating the photos, people without scars, who have said ‘ew, gross!’, and said my work was disgusting.
I wish those people could have been in the room with us, when I photographed a person and they told me about what had happened. Any of the stories. They all ended the same way: ‘Yeah, well, I’m alive, and if people don’t want to see my scars, then I don’t need to see them, either’. Granted, not everyone is that indignant. Not everyone has reached that point. Not everyone cares. Not everyone has a scar the world can see. But it’s been the overwhelming sentiment after the fact.
I’m writing all of this for you now, to tell you that I love my scars. They’ve shown me the best and worst in OTHER people, as well as in myself. I saw how superficial I had been as I dealt with my scars and grew out of it. I learned how little they matter to the people who love you. I learned that they are a sign for others: they’re a sign that we faced death, or something close to it, and came out alive.
We’re all allowed to have weak moments when we’re not at our best. We’re allowed to be stronger now than we were then. We’re allowed to have moments of doubt when we have to show ourselves to another person. Doubts in ourselves. Doubts in their character. A fear. It’s allowed, it’s natural, and it will always be there when we care about the other person.
But what we are not allowed to do is think less of ourselves because of our imperfections.
YOU are not allowed to feel badly because someone else can’t accept you exactly as you are. Because if a person can’t accept a part of you, then they can’t accept any of you, plain and simple.
And that’s fine. There are billions of people in the world, and not all of them deserve you.
I love your scars, and I’m glad you’re here to have them. I’m glad you’re ok. That’s an excellent thing, and not to be taken lightly.
Read the article I read HERE
If you’d like to see the full series of photos I took, called Survival, go HERE
And a lovely song from Garbage. Because really, you should see my scars.