One day I was trying on my favourite bikini to check if it still fit for my holiday. It did. Like a glove. To be honest, I thought I looked great. I’d been working really hard in the gym and actually remembering to feed myself at regular intervals throughout the day (instead of you know, eating nothing all day then eating my entire house and the complete cast of Newsies when it got to 8pm). So yeah, overall I was feeling pretty hot. And then I saw them. These long white stripes across my bum cheeks. I have stretch marks.
I always thought stretch marks were something unhealthy, overweight people who don’t look after their skin got, but I was healthy, and I regularly exfoliated and moisturised. I hate to admit it, but that discovery of those stretch marks ruined my day; I genuinely cried. Then I felt guilty because people have actual problems and here I was crying over a bit of broken skin on an area only the luckiest of people get to see anyway. But it wasn’t just the stretch marks. It was the fact that I believed they were something only unhealthy people got, and I didn’t think I was unhealthy. I had been working so hard to be healthy and happy with myself and yet, I have stretch marks. I was infuriated.
So I took to Instagram in that sadistic, self deprecating way people do and scrolled and scrolled and scrolled. What started as “Why do I have stretch marks?” became “My acne is terrible” and “I really wish my boobs were smaller.” And then all these exterior “problems” internalised. Within minutes, I was crying because not only was everyone on Instagram more attractive than me, but I must also be an awful person for caring so much about being attractive. Do I value myself based on my looks? Do other people value me based on my looks? Would people still like me if they knew how self-obsessed and insecure I am? This wasn’t the first time this sort of self analysing had happened. Normally, this sort of event would go on for hours: just scrolling and scrolling with my thoughts, going round and round until I was convinced nobody liked me. I was hideous, and I literally couldn’t look at myself. I’d cry because I was the worst, most self obsessed, vain but hideous person on the planet.
I know that seems like a really extreme reaction to something so small. It seems like that because it is extreme and not the least bit logical. But in the heat of the moment, it’s hard to remember that and it all seems to make perfect sense. Logically, I know this is because our entire lives are lived out on social media through pictures these days. As such, how we look becomes who are, more so than ever. Logically, I can remember that what’s more important is how I treat people, and how I allow myself to be treated. I can remember that being compassionate, fun and able to hold a conversation means much more to a relationship or friendship than the stretch marks on my bum. But I’m not always logical.
And for these times, I have to remember to stop. I have to remember that I am the only one that I know, with absolute certainty, is thinking these horrible things about myself. Has anyone ever called me self-obsessed, vain, or a terrible person? No. People might have commented on my acne, but my acne didn’t make me a terrible person. It’s just something I have on my skin and one day I won’t. People have noticed my stretch marks but they’ve never equated them to me being a complete bitch. I might be a complete bitch, but if I am, it isn’t because of the stretch marks.
The long and short of it is, sometimes we have to put Instagram away, turn Love Island off and consider things with a bit of perspective.
Photoshop and airbrushing is not a myth or a conspiracy theory. People use them and we’re made to believe they don’t. Most people have stretch marks, pimples, cellulite, and unchiselled cheek bones and these things are rarely a sign of (on a slightly superficial level) attractiveness, unhealthy weight, or what kind of person you are.
Every single person walking around has something they like and don’t like about themselves. Most of them are worrying too much about what they don’t like about themselves to even consider what they don’t like about you.
All the social media likes in the world mean absolutely nothing if you don’t like yourself.
This was basically a really rambley and long winded way of saying your body is fine as it is and is in no way a marker of who you are and what you can be. If what you like about yourself is based entirely on your appearance, you’re selling yourself short. Yes, I don’t like my stretch marks, but I do like plenty of other things about myself. I may not have my ideal bum and I may be a neurotic Monica Geller, but I have my own dorky sense of humour and I make a banging cup of tea. I live in Britain. We all know tea-making skills get you much further over here anyway.
So me and my stretch marks are tucking ourselves into bed, knowing we make a damn good brew and the way we treat ourselves and other people speaks way louder than how we look in a bikini.
Written by Laura Cowen