Symmetrical Stretch Marks
I grew up with a mother who, although classically beautiful and slim, would often times criticize her extremely unflawed appearance. Very young, very beautiful, and very unaware of the damage she was doing to herself and her eagle-eyed daughter, my mother existed in a world of ‘less than’ instead of ‘more of.’
Enter childbirth (me!). For the past 19 years, my mother has never worn anything in public that displays her midriff for fear of anyone seeing those hard earned baby badges: stretch marks. Rather than be proud, my mother — courtesy of our society — felt shame. Her confidence became dependent upon those silly marks. So what did this teach her daughter (me!)? That what seemed natural and common was unflattering and to be hidden. I would soon learn that my mother was not alone in her defeated perspective, and it wasn’t just about stretch marks.
Hitting puberty, I experienced many fluctuations in my weight as well as my emotional state. While not always connected, as with any teenage girl in our society, one definitely aggravated the other with a little help from media’s dominant narrative of what’s “beautiful.” Magazines, billboards and movies telling me what is beautiful? That I could manage and, on good days, ignore. But when it is internalized by your mother and quite literally brought to your bedroom door? Well, that is a whole other mess.
Imagine being 15-years-old and walking past your mother in a sports bra feeling confident enough to, well, walk around in a sports bra and she stops you, pointing at your stomach. What is she pointing at? A faint lightning-shaped line. For what seems like an eternity, she is silent, staring you dead in the eye. The kind of stare you usually get when you bring home a bad grade or if you went too far with the sass. In this moment, you understand that this little line that made Harry Potter a legend was not OK for you. Your mother begins to speak very sternly:
“You need to moisturize more to get rid of this and prevent this from happening”
“You’re too young to have stretch marks”
“That’s it we are going to go exercise everyday”
“Do you think this is cute? Do you think boys want to see that?”
In mere minutes, your heart is broken along with your spirit. End scene.
Now, I don’t blame my mother for things that our society and probably her mother laid down as law. But those words sent me on a mission to hide, erase and deny the natural state of my body. Expensive creams and excessive exercising were no help. In fact, that just aggravated the situation as my body navigated the treacherous waters of puberty. Boobs…boom! Thighs and hips…hello! Nothing was stopping this party from getting started. I was powerless as my body decided to become adult size while my skin seemed stuck in 8th grade. All I kept thinking was, “Whoa! Chill out boobs, my skin doesn’t have enough elasticity for this. Check back with me in two years, s’il vous plaît!” “No dice,” said my skin.
The older I got, the more I was exposed to other woman who, like my mother, had similar views on stretch marks. They even have an unspoken stretch mark hierarchy of shame. It goes like this: If you had children and find yourself rocking some stripes, eh, not great but at least there is a reason. And, added bonus, it isn’t your fault. But if you haven’t carried a person around for 9 months, what the hell is your excuse (me!)? So, let’s recap: Stretch marks = bad. Stretch marks due to childbirth = bad but understandable. Stretch marks due to, well, you = Yikes!
Adults, this is what you and your various systems are teaching girls. And then, you conveniently sell us products and procedures to fix the things that YOU decided need fixing. Wha???? So, today, I say it is time to stop the madness! Or, to quote one of my favorite movies (yes, teens watch more than Hunger Games and The Kardashians): “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!” No more high school halls filled with girls furiously tapping their iPhones reading Yelp reviews for lip injections. No more lunchroom whispers about hair removal and juice fasting. No more sugar-free, gluten-free, dairy-free birthday cakes when your only issue is a little baby fat. No more breakfasts, lunches and dinners where you get a silent high-five for eating the least. No. More.
And here is how we start to stop: Wear a crop top. That’s right, do what I did one year ago and grab that three-year old, never-been-worn crop top and rock it. Don’t wait for your parents, brothers, sisters and society to change, BE THE CHANGE YOU WANT TO SEE. Crop it! Sounds crazy but listen up: A few days before Christmas, I decided to take the leap. I was so nervous to confront my fear that people would find me disgusting, repulsive, unattractive, and unusually distasteful. But, luckily, I was either too stubborn or too tired to give a damn. Sure, I wished that my stomach was flat and my skin was Beyoncé smooth ( or so we are told;) ). But I couldn’t be that girl. I couldn’t be the girl that my mom wanted me to be when she pointed at my Harry Potter mark three years earlier. Nope, I couldn’t be one of those girls, but I sure could join them with their midriffs and belly buttons defiantly on display. So crop top went on, insecurity, self-consciousness and shame fell away. I felt brave for the first time in my life. Something so meaningless in the grand scheme of the universe meant everything in my little world.
Now, what did my mother say, you ask? Pretty much what you would expect. Upon seeing the dreaded crop, she stopped me and looked at those marks proudly on display. While I began to question my decision, grabbing a coat in case my mother was correct and the villagers were going to chase me through the streets with fire, I soldiered on. Out the door and into the unforgiving sun of Los Angeles I went. Hands nervously tugged at my top as I felt totally exposed. Were people staring? Did that woman just snicker? Is that group of girls whispering about this vulgar girl so brazenly putting her “flaws” on display? Turns out these people were just going about their day, most likely worrying if I was looking at them! And that, my friends, was the beginning of a wonderful friendship between me and my body, stretch marks and all.
So, do the crop top challenge and take back the power. Because with it comes freedom. Freedom to be you and to grow every day (no pun intended). Freedom to push into the future and guarantee that no girl or woman is ashamed, embarrassed or apologetic for who she is. It is up to us to stop the madness one crop top at a time. Viva la bellybutton!