“You should wear with pride the scars on your skin / They’re a map of the adventures and the places you’ve been.” – Poi Dog Pondering, song “U Li La Lu”
When I first heard those lyrics, I thought rather wistfully that it was lovely idea but not one that applied to me. After all, it’s not as if my scars were from anything noble, like injuries incurred while saving someone’s life, or particularly adventurous, like an accident or incident that made a good story. No, my scars were mostly either inane, such as from slipping on ice when in a hurry, or from something that made me ashamed – namely, my weight.
I refer to my stretch marks, the constant evidence and reminder of how heavy I once was. How could I consider these a map of “adventures” when they seemed more a map of failures, each thin, silvery line evidence of eating too much candy, cake, brownies, ice cream, potato chips, cookies, pies, pastries, or whatever else I could get my hands on?
The irony is that they didn’t bother me that much when I was overweight, largely because I was so generally upset about my size that something so specific wasn’t even on my radar. Besides which, I had a certain image in my head of what I would look like post weight loss, and it didn’t include those marks; somehow, it never clicked in my mind that they were permanent.
Achieving my goal weight, then, was a rude awakening, with not only the reality of the scars but of loose skin. I felt like an odd sort of imposter, as if I was deceiving people by looking “normal” so long as my torso, thighs, and upper arms were covered, only to reveal the hidden and ugly truth should I dare emerge in a one-piece bathing suit (anything less wasn’t even conceivable).
This is not something I remember hearing about with any diets, which is perhaps why it caught me so off guard. I always assumed that positive body image and normal weight went hand in hand, but I was wrong. They don’t seem to have anything to do with each other, at least for me.
What did directly relate to my body image were my thoughts. I considered my map of scars and loose skin as something shameful, and it made me all the more self-conscious of them and unable to truly accept myself, even after everything I’d accomplished with weight loss and other areas of my life.
But what if, somehow, I could follow that song’s advice? What if I could claim and even be proud of my body?
That’s when I realized that clinging to the habits of shame and secrecy that went with overeating lingered on as long as I held onto the idea of what I had expected or felt I should look like. And that would carry over into my relations with others, who could likely sense that I wasn’t quite whole, no matter how I might appear.
And so I let go of that fantasy, that I could one day look at myself and not see any evidence of my history with weight. It was freeing in a way I hadn’t expected, but also deeply healing. It meant I was no longer rejecting the person I had been, acting as if I wished she had never existed. I had struggled so long to keep her hidden, but when I could embrace her and all of my past, I remembered that my days of being overweight had much good in them as well as much pain, and that I would not be who I am today without both those sorrows and joys.
And so now, looking at myself, I no longer shy away, nor do I fear what others might think. If they judge me, that is their concern, not mine; I no longer judge myself, and that is what matters. This is me, all of me, my past and present and someday future. It certainly has been an adventure, and I hope one that will continue for years yet, with this map of scars reminding me to be proud and accepting of it all.