When I was a teenager, I was very much aware that I was one of the first girls in my PE class to have stretch marks. As I grew, my hips widened and I developed numerous purple stripes, that slowly faded to pink, and then to a golden brown colour. That was the only place, at that point, that I had them, and as I saw my peers growing with no sign of 'stripes', I was left feeling self-conscious and losing the puberty game. Not to mention that at the time, as far as I was concerned, the only people who had stretch marks were pregnant women, and the only other time you got them was if you'd rapidly gained weight. Already convinced that I was the fattest girl in my social circle, in my class, in my year group - and at some low points, in my entire school - these purpley-pink stripes were just adding to the negative thoughts I felt towards my body.
As I got older, I accepted them, along with the stretch marks that gradually made an appearance on my boobs, my arms, and my legs. They all turned a golden brown colour, and even though they stood out on my skin, I kinda dug 'em. Fast forward near enough a decade and we're in the present day, where body positivity is a large part of my life, and I find stretch marks on bodies to offer some of the most unique - not to mention beautiful - features on people's skin. So why, when at the end of last year I developed a few of those stripes on my stomach, did it become such a big deal to me?
I'm very privileged in the way that my body, despite being larger than most of the people that have been in and out of my life, for the most part maintained an hourglass pear shape. Whilst that privilege never stopped me from being bullied at school, being taunted at work, or losing out on opportunities because of my size, my thick thighs have always been teamed with my considerably flat stomach. I loved my body and couldn't imagine trying one more crash diet to try and shrink it. That was until about 18 months ago, when my lungs collapsed. After I ended up bed bound, pumped with steroids, and unable to exercise (because breathing was kind of out the window at this point), weight gain crept up on me.
The weight gain didn't bother me, because I understood that my lungs were more important than some extra jiggle. That was until one day, I stepped out of the shower, walking into my spare room, stood in front of the floor-to-ceiling mirror, and dropped the towel. I wasn't uncomfortable with my body, and looking at myself served as a powerful exercise for me to appreciate how my body looked and everything it could do. Until that day. Out of nowhere there were a series of dark purple lines going from just below my tummy and working their way up to my belly button. I could lie and say that, because I'm the editor of a body positive platform, I rejoiced and immediately loved my body even more. How had I not seen them before? Why did I let myself get to this point where even my stomach had got THAT big? God Terri, there's no getting rid of them now... A bikini will never look the same. I'd love to say that they were the only negative thoughts I had about those new little stripes, but it continued for hours, the hours rolled into weeks, and the weeks into months.
My response to the new stretch marks shocked me, because of how much I love seeing constellations of stretch marks on bodies, and how I've always taken them with a pinch of salt since my teens. Luckily, it didn't take long for me to recognise my own toxic behaviour, and I took myself in front of the mirror again and stood there, just like I did when I discovered them. I'd avoided doing it since then, out of shame, and quite frankly, disgust. But I began again, feeling kind of like I was starting from scratch. I finally came to terms with the fact that I needed to make peace with how my body was now, just as I would encourage anyone else who had to deal with a change to their body, whether that be weight gain, a scar, a skin condition, or any other visible difference, big or small.
The reason that I'm telling you all this is because it happens to the best of us, even those of us who appear to be the most comfortable and most loving of our bodies. Our bodies will grow, shrink, age — change — as we go through life, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Now, I think the new additions to my skin look cute, and I'm looking forward to seeing how great they'll look in a bikini come summer. As much as sometimes it requires a mental adjustment, we're no less deserving of the love that we give ourselves, or the love that we receive from others because of how our body looks. Physical changes don't affect the amount of worth you have as a person, and our bodies deserve respect regardless of how they appear. It's important that our own love and respect for our bodies change as our bodies change. Not as in less or more, but they must develop new levels of body acceptance. Otherwise, dwelling on our bodies past damages our own personal growth, and it makes the journey to self love even harder.
I guess the lesson to take away from all this is that your body will change. Whether you like it or not, it's a fact. But the more welcoming you are of those changes, especially those that are out of your control, the easier it'll be to make peace with them, love your body in the now, and move on.