Dermatillomania and self harm – twins or neighbours?

A few days ago, I walked into my therapist’s office and was diagnosed with dermatillomania. This had been a long time coming, but in my usual way I didn’t really think there was much to be concerned about. I don’t really know how I feel about it all. In one way, it’s kind of relieving to know that it’s not just me being weak, or lacking discipline because I cannot stop. There are other people doing the same weird things I do! Hooray! In another way, I feel at a loss with my brain at the moment, and the handful of confusing words I lug around to apparently describe what goes on in there. Brain, what am I going to do with you?

I don’t know if even writing this is the right thing to do. Is it a good idea to be this open with the internet world? The reason I am continuing, that I am still going with this piece, is simply because it scares me. And something that has been colossal throughout recovery so far, is that my fear doesn’t serve me. It has gotten me approximately nowhere (though probably backwards, if we wanted to get all geographical about it). So here I am. Honest and afraid and uncertain and all.

Dermatillomania a funny word. My very first thought was why it includes “mania”. I’ve been reading the information my therapist gave me, and it isn’t exactly light reading. It’s loaded with dire, long-term consequences, and professional arguments of whether or not it is part of obsessive compulsive disorder and body dysmorphia. But that stuff isn’t what I need to write about today. Today, I need to write about dermatillomania and self harm.

Purple Petaled Flower

For over a year now, I haven’t engaged in what I know as self harm, and this is a massive, rocky accomplishment for me. But as my therapist and I were talking, she felt it was important to explore if I could be self harming still, though through dermatillomania. However, from my own personal experience, they do not appear as twins to me. But I see how the two are closely related in some regards. Perhaps they are neighbours?

With self harm, it was all based upon strong emotions I didn’t know how to cope with otherwise. I needed the release, the physical sign of mental anguish. My intentions were those of pain, and of what I believed I deserved.

Yet with dermatillomania, things are very different. For me personally, I think it is more related with anxiety, and with how I view my body. It something that has more spiralled out of control. With dermatillomania, I am not actively trying to hurt myself, nor is that my intention. Sometimes that happens in the process. But I don’t mean it to, because self harm is something I am actively working to overcome.

However, similarities can be drawn between the outcomes of self harm and dermatillomania. The large impact it can have on your body is shared, as is the physical harm, and the dangers of this. Both can be a cause of shame, embarrassment and isolation. They are both often misunderstood.

I have been trying to find out more information on dermatillomania and self harm, to clear things up in my head. Some websites clearly distinguish the two, talking about how they are separate. Others label dermatillomania as a form of self harm. Maybe it’s different for everybody?

If anyone reading this experiences dermatillomania, I would love to hear from you. This is a confusing new land to have reached.

I am very new to this term and what it all means. These websites helped a lot if you are in the same boat:
http://www.skinpickingsupport.com/2013/01/09/12-dermatillomania-myths-dispelled/ and
http://www.canadianbfrb.org/2014/08/11/dermatillomania-vs-self-harm/

Saltwater & Mental Health

I am underwater. The sea pushes above me, laps next to me, scatters as I move. Here, I am me.

Being within the crashing ocean is where I feel most safe. I feel free from the overwhelming constraints of life on land. My limbs are weightless, and the ocean cushions me. Underwater, sound is a light fuzz, and everything moves slowly, purposefully, with diligence. Humans are not very well designed for swimming, we are useless in terms of breathing and mobility in the water, but we do it anyway. And I love that. Something deep pulls us towards these waves that are far stronger, far more powerful, than our little selves.

I am lucky enough to live with the Tasman Sea on one coast, and the Pacific Ocean on the other. The western side of our islands are typically wild and brash; battering beyond what is humanly possible. The eastern side is quieter, more shy. It is within these vessels that I am free, that my anxiety is at bay, that I am no longer trapped.

Lakes, rivers, the ocean, they are all called blue spaces, bodies of water that research is discovering are good for our mental health. We have instinctively known this for centuries, as explorers were drawn to the sea by its promise of bountiful opportunities, and healers proclaimed the healing properties of saltwater. However, we are slowly now getting a scientific explanation for what our ancestors have known all along. Those that live near blue spaces, or spend more time in them, are generally more content and healthier.

It’s not surprising we feel a special connection to the sea. We share common ancestors with our water-dwelling friends, fish. Life as we know it began in the water, and through evolution, life moved terrestrially, into the land and trees. Although there are millions of years between us today, and the prehistoric fish that crawled from the sea onto the shores, I swear there are still parts of us that remember our roots; where we came from.

There is mystery surrounding why these blue spaces help us so much. Some researchers argue that since humans have become detached from nature only in relatively recent years (geologically of course), we still share a special bond with it. It has helped to create who we are. Therefore, returning to our natural state helps us immensely.

Another idea is the effect that the ocean has on our bodies physically. The sound of waves is great for making the brain more relaxed, and floating, rather than standing upright, helps to bring blood from our lower limbs and into the heart. This supplies the brain with more oxygen, helping to make us feel more alert.

What strikes me most about water, however, is the flow. It leaves and returns, it takes and it gives. This balance that is apparent throughout nature, is exemplified outstandingly in the ocean. I reckon we could all learn a thing or two from these extraordinary, blue spaces.

Information on the research between the links of blue spaces and mental health is from:
https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/impact-sea-lakes-rivers-peoples-health
https://www.express.co.uk/life-style/property/665761/Revealed-mental-health-benefits-living-seaside-house-sea-life

Not all that we lose is a loss.

We lose daily. We lose moments, we lose hours, we lose pegs. We lose so that there is room to gain.

I am a strong believer in the “realm of possibility” (thanks to David Levithan); in the infinite world of potential. Each moment is a door, each interaction is an opportunity. Within the realm, nothing is fixed, and all is possible. While some outcomes are more probable than others, this does not lessen or reduce the boundaries of potential. They are ever expanding by our movements and exploration. I believe in moments, and I believe in today over tomorrow.

adult, beach, blue water

Something that strikes us hard, and that we could think differently about, is loss. I’m not meaning the grief of loved ones that have passed, because that is really hard and and can feel unbearable. Rather, I’m interested in what happens when we believe we lose friends, or opportunities, or parts of who we are.

While our realm of possibility is broader and richer in depth than our doubts can let us see, our more humanly faucets do have limitations. We have a set amount of time in each day, a fixed quantity of energy that we can expend; a boundary of our humanness that can halt and turn us. Our personality, our experiences, our life situation determines the diameter of fencing around us, and in which direction it extends.

These such “limitations” can result in relationships changing, opportunities that we had hoped were right for us, not granted, and mental illnesses. All experiences that are often viewed as a loss.

adult, back view, beach

And while this could be taken as we are our own worst enemies, restricting ourselves through our very being, it may actually be a good thing. Without our nature of being human, nothing would happen because there would be no pressure influencing circumstances and situations towards a certain way. We would be boundaryless, unfixed, floating away from all that is good, into the stratosphere.

The very nature of being human includes our limitations on time, on energy, and this is good. When something doesn’t go as we had hoped or planned, and thus is lost, this reduces the pressure on our time and energy. This allows space to open, to become vacant, for new experiences that we otherwise would have not had room for. The realm of possibility seeps in, allowing for expansions of our lives that otherwise would have never had the space to happen. And this is perfect, exciting, limitless and creative.

action, adult, beach

When we lose, we inevitably gain. Sometimes friends or relationships drift away, and this is painful. However, ultimately space within our time and energy fixtures becomes free, free for possibility and potential, and this is everything to gain. Mental illnesses, while they can be viewed as losing part of ourselves to a monster in the shadows, also give rise to new opportunities for connections to others, for learning and for growth. It is through these experiences that we gain, that we are dynamic and change who we are. We are forever becoming more of ourselves.

Here’s what I know about the realm of possibility— it is always expanding, it is never what you think it is. Everything around us was once deemed impossible. From the airplane overhead to the phones in our pockets to the choir girl putting her arm around the metalhead. As hard as it is for us to see sometimes, we all exist within the realm of possibility. Most of the limits are of our own world’s devising. And yet, every day we each do so many things that were once impossible to us.

David Levithan, The Realm of Possibility.

 

Labels and you; who is who?

Having labels can be both really detrimental, and really helpful. To label a collection of symptoms, it becomes defined and certain. It is steadfast within the limits of the diagnosis.

In the mental illness world, having the right diagnoses enables you to get the right treatment and support. However, beyond this healing work, labels can also work in a very different way.

They can make you feel confined within the limits of the word. Your symptoms become a cage, and you, the prisoner. You may feel that the line between the mental illness, and yourself, becomes blurry. Who is in control here?

Silhouette of Woman Leaning on Metal Railings With Background of Body of Water by the Shoreline

They can also make you feel stuck and hopeless. The stereotypes attached to mental illnesses only serve to be detrimental; they are not constructive for healing. If there is a common, societal idea that self harm solely belongs to “attention seeking teenagers”, then it is difficult to exist beyond these limits of this stereotype.

They can make you feel inferior, and unworthy of treatment, especially if you are undiagnosed. With particular mental illnesses, such as eating disorders, comparison can play a large role. Knowing the stereotypes for this conditions, and blinded by the lies of the illness to placate you, can lead to the message of “I am not sick enough, and therefore I don’t deserve treatment.”

art, backlit, dark

Although, please don’t get me wrong, I am thankful for the way that diagnoses allow for access to the right treatment. I am also thankful that they allow me to think in the way of “my brain is doing this thing in particular, and it is not who I am.” Finally, I am thankful because they provide closure in one way. They provide some answers to years of confusion, and enable moving to the next step.

However, sometimes I feel as though I am depression, I am anxiety, I am all these different words found in the DSM-5. I am overwhelmed by “what” I am, “what” I might be, and where I fit in. I hear all the words spoken in therapy, and know which ones are being delved into further, and quite frankly it scares me. Sometimes I wonder who I really am without it all.

Summer & bodies; not “summer bodies”. 

Summer. It’s my favourite season of the year. There’s something about the constant hum of cicadas clicking, saltwater in your hair, and the thick layers of sunblock to protect against the ozone hole. Here in New Zealand, summer means Christmas, a beautiful phenomenon that seems just as magical as a snowy Christmas. The majority of us grow up swimming in the sea, as our islands are long and thin, making the coastlines generally easily accessible.

Summer as children was carefree and wild. You throw on your togs without a second thought, and head straight for the sand and ocean. But once we grow up, and our insecurities and fears grow up alongside us, summer isn’t as simple as it once was. Although we still love the beach and frockling in the sea, we become clouded by fear.

I can’t remember the last time I wore togs to go swimming. I am usually far too conscious and ashamed of my body to be seen in less that shorts and a tank top. Even then, I feel so ashamed and disgusted with myself.

Silhouette Photography of People Swimming on the Beach during Golden Hour

However, this is changing. Therapy and recovery has given me the courage and confidence to tackle this head on. I am now determined that my insecurities about my body cannot stop me from living life anymore. I cannot keep putting life off until I feel completely safe in my own skin. Because I will only feel confident through faking it till I make it.

I am afraid of wearing togs because I believe my body is too big or too fat or too flawed. However, I am learning that these thoughts are distortions, and that they do not serve me. As my husband and I were discussing when we were leaving the beach yesterday, when I was in the depths of the eating disorder and very sick, by my standards I was far closer to a body that was deemed “good enough”. However, in retrospect that body looked terrible; frail and poorly. That body didn’t have the time or energy for anything beyond the eating disorder, let alone swimming, and wouldn’t have been able to cope with the ocean’s drop in temperature anyway. At the time, I was still absolutely convinced I was grossly huge and unworthy, and couldn’t see reality.

Orange and White Koi Fish Near Yellow Koi Fish

Therefore, we are working on the facts to tackle these distortions. My body is now a healthy one. I see it differently to how it actually is. I am allowed and good enough to wear togs to go swimming. I deserve to have self confidence to build myself up, rather than tear everything down.

As mentioned, we were at the beach yesterday, and the day was truly magical. We went for a friend’s birthday, and we played soccer, danced, and waded in the cool water. It was an incredible day, with some of the most beautiful people I know. And guess what? They also happen to be a group of body confident, beautiful souls, whose hard work on creating a positive body image is rubbing off on those around them.

As we waded into the water, I admired their absolutely gorgeous and stunning bodies. I admired the differences between us all. I admired how this made humans interesting and beautiful. Most of all, I admired that they could just do that; that they could do something as simple as wearing togs. This is because as women, it is drilled into us from every angle, that to be good enough, our bodies must be perfect. It sounds stupid writing it out, and in fact it is. That to wear togs at the beach, your body must be perfect. And the reality is, nobody’s is. The perfect beach body doesn’t exist. This is what I loved and admired most about them in this moment. That they were far too full, of confidence and love, regardless of it’s faked till it’s made or not, to be held back by something as petty and ridiculous as an impossible beauty standard.

Recovery is healing me. The beautiful, wise people around me, and their confidence, is healing me. I will no longer be held back by something destructive, limiting, and ultimately false. One of my goals for this summer is to wear a bikini at the beach. I can do it.

(The images of animals in this piece are inspired by remingtonandmargot.tumblr.com. If you check out their blog, Remington and Margot are two Golden Retrievers who love the beach, and also who obviously don’t care what their fur looks like or how their tails wag in the process. Let’s take a leaf out of Remington and Margot’s book, let’s enjoy summer and the beach for the fun and magic that it is, and celebrate our bodies for enabling us to enjoy it.)

Avoidance, therapy homework & vulnerability.

As most children are, I too was quite dedicated in the avoidance of practising my extra-curricular activities. Although I loved the pool, I couldn’t bring myself to swim laps outside of lessons, unless it was just for fun. And while I enjoyed dance during studio time, beyond that, could my parents please just sign the sheet to say that I had rehearsed each day?

When it came to homework, however, this is a completely different cup of tea. I was meticulous from the get-go, finding it easy to finish all my homework on time, driven by the knowledge that this was something I could actually do and achieve. I think homework is blanketing, somehow, in this way. It can smother all the vulnerability and fear of not being good enough at other activities, because I was lucky enough to generally have a pretty cruisey time at school. With schoolwork, I am not constantly focused on my inadequacies to do with my body, how inferior I am socially, and how much I feel I overall lack as a person. Essays came naturally to me, and I feel safe burying myself within them. However, anything else, like practicing my clarinet or sports, things that would expose my vulnerability and fear of not being good enough to the world, were put in the too hard basket, and I avoided at all costs.

The saying “practice makes perfect” is voluminous in truth. The more time and energy that is poured into a certain sphere, makes the sphere grow in size. Therefore, as we practice skills we naturally gain more knowledge about them, consequently becoming better at performing them.

Therefore, it’s understandable why homework is such a key element of therapy today. Therapy homework allows clients to put the skills and ideas they are learning within sessions into practice; into our day-to-day lives where it actually matters. Therapy homework also lets us practice how to respond and cope differently as situations arise, and can help to destruct harmful thinking patterns.

There is a specific piece of homework that I have been avoiding for weeks. I feel embarrassed even writing about it, because it seems so simplistic and silly. I was originally tasked with making a list of things I have accomplished this year, relating both to my mental health and otherwise. However, due to my large avoidance of the topic, I now need to come up with only three achievements.

dark, night, person

Three! Three. This is a struggle for me because if I try and think of something, my brain tells me that it wasn’t good enough, and therefore isn’t something to be proud of. I also feel bad and guilty doing this, because I feel as though I don’t deserve to feel good about anything worthwhile that I might do. Thirdly, I worry that both thinking and writing these things down will come across as boastful or selfish. Logically I know that this isn’t the case, as I don’t feel that way about other people doing the same task.

Brains, huh! They are tricky things. In order to get better, I have to work on getting better, and to be able to work on getting better, I have to be at a certain stage of better already. It’s a tough cycle to navigate.

And this is why we practice the things we are trying to get better at. By faking feeling good about something I have achieved, with much perseverance, I will apparently be challenging my negative self-worth. This will work on building up something good instead. The practice of vulnerability within therapy homework makes these tasks so integral and key to recovery. And perhaps that is also why we avoid them. They dig deep, and mend what is most difficult to get right.

It is easy to do and practice what makes us feel safe; what protects us from vulnerability. This week, I’m determined to get my therapy homework done. For this is where the real work lies.

Perfectionism and it’s shadow.

Perfectionism is something that is sought within, an ever-increasing height that we strive to leap over. It is impossible to reach, but the attempt is forever. Perfectionism is cruel, unhealthy; a dark shadow that clouds.

Everything I find most beautiful in nature, isn’t perfect. In fact, it’s wonderfully flawed. Each element is different and intricate and vast. I adore rugged landscapes, coastlines carved by the sea and the rich spectrum of species that each ecosystem is uniquely blessed with. It is within these environments that I feel most free, and most safe to be myself.

afterglow, avian, backlit

The people around me, like nature, are also not held to my impossible, perfectionistic standards either. I don’t criticise their grades; I feel proud of them. I don’t measure their bodies against the ideal; I treasure how real and how human the flow of their home is. They each have their flaws. This is what makes them, them. And I love them dearly for it.

But when it comes to me, my brain switches from relishing these differences between us, to the fear of never being good enough. I am suddenly exempt from from this freedom to appreciate what makes everyone, and everything else, special and unique. The pressure to be this impossibly perfect person that has been conjured up in the darkest corner of my anxiety, is terrifying, because I can never be that person. I feel as though this fear of failure restrains me from living at all. With every task I have to strive higher and higher each time, and each accomplishment is never good enough. I find it hard to complete things unless I know that they are absolutely the best I can do, otherwise I struggle to do them at all. And even then, the apparent flaws become ever large, clouding out anything worthy that is actually there.

My eating disorder grew on the constant, inner, bombardment of never being good enough, and fed on my striving for perfection. Although it manifested initially in my physical self, the perfectionism is not limited to just my body. It criticised my every social interaction, my grades and exactly who I was at all times. I would (and sometimes still do) lay in bed at night, trying to sleep, with my brain obsessing for hours over my tone in an earlier conversation, or if I possibly hadn’t come across exactly how I had intended. I could feel okay getting an A grade, but this little voice still pipes up with “it isn’t as good as it could be though.” Even writing this piece, I feel like a fraud, because how could I be a perfectionist when there is so much wrong with my writing?

art, back view, backlit

In saying this, I have gotten better with my perfectionism over the years. To be honest, failing all of my exams at my worst (an academic perfectionist’s most horrific nightmare) actually did wonders for challenging my perfectionism. When I failed all of my exams, and became the exact opposite to my perfectionist self, my brain was a war zone. However, beyond my own head? The sky didn’t fall in, my friends and family still loved me, and I learnt I was no less of a person. Life moved on. It kept going. Experiencing a complete failure of who perfectionism told me I had to be, was life changing. I survived without it. I grew beyond it.

Recovery from the eating disorder, and generalised anxiety disorder, have allowed me to challenge this suffocating voice in my head. Anxiety and perfectionism are strongly linked, and perfectionism is a risk factor for many mental illnesses. The typical low self esteem and high levels of self critique that perfectionism supports, are kerosene for igniting many unhealthy thinking patterns and behaviours. Throughout my recovery, I have gotten far better at challenging the notion of never being good enough. Little things, like continuing to write or run when it’s messy and not going how I had envisioned, have gone a long way. Just simply starting, or trying things out, have helped me to become more comfortable with not being good at things, and instead just enjoying them for what they really are.

backlit, beach, beautiful

Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft. I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it.

Anne Lamott’s wise words acknowledge the alternative to perfectionism – not necessarily failure, but rather fun, play and joy.  Experiencing life as it is meant to be lived; messily and with the curiosity of a child.

Have you heard that quote about comparison being the thief of joy? It’s safe to say that this thief has a partner in crime. Perfectionism. Robbing you of joy since yesterday.

Choosing your path. Or walking around.

As the end of high school approached, it was drilled into each of us that we must have a plan. We were given pages upon pages of post-school propaganda, detailing everything from entering the armed forces, to university, to joining the sisterhood. There were countless career fairs and talks by people “from the industry”, which were always those who had a very victorious job. The sort of job that is clean cut, and that you will stay in for life.

Not having a set career for post-school life wasn’t merely frowned upon; it was unheard of. By the time we walked out the gates for the last time in our final year, we had to have chosen our path, our ingrained footsteps towards a pleasant future. When I completed school, similar to my peers, we had each decided what we wanted to do with ourselves amongst simmering pressure. Pressure to decide, at 17 and 18, what we would be doing to pay the bills for the rest of our lives. University was heavily pushed, far more so than trades or heading straight into work, with the unspoken message of university being a better and more respected option than the rest.

fashion, footwear, grass

For some reason I still don’t quite understand, I decided to study psychology at the university all my friends were going to. I don’t really know why, but I was interested in the mental health field. From the attitude of the school I went to, the ambitions of clinical psychology and even more so psychiatry, were hailed as the sole, successful paths in this field. And so I began university with already failing mental health, and proceeded to drop out 18 months later at rock bottom.

At this stage, I was completely and utterly lost. This was partially due to the illnesses I was experiencing, but also because without university and my set career path ahead of me, it was easy to start to question who you are without it all. And I didn’t like what I found.

It was terrifying at first, not complying with what I had been taught my whole life. Not consistently making progress towards that set career we decided upon while we were still children. I felt as though I had failed myself, my education, my family and my school. Within our plans in our final year, there was no room for mistakes. You pick something that is deemed “good enough”, like medicine or law, and then you head out and do it. Massive shifts in mindset and personal circumstances changing weren’t part of the ideal equation.

adventure, backpack, beach

As time went on, I slowly began to recover, and I was left with exactly what I had been taught to fear. Not being in the prestigious and ambitious game. Not complying with the decisions I had made while still in school. At the time, I was working full time in a job that I didn’t exactly hate, but it was boring, and wasn’t what I wanted to spend the rest of my life doing.

At this point, I was living exactly what school had taught me was wrong. Not excelling. Not being perfect. Not following the “good” path or the “right” path. I was 20, and this is when I learnt that not following the path that is set ahead for you is okay.

The break from constantly striving for success in something I wasn’t even sure I liked, gifted me the time and energy for other realms of life. I was healing from years of mental illnesses, I was working on my relationship with my now husband, I was rekindling the fire and reigniting long hidden passion for life itself. These endeavors are not what we were taught you should be doing after you leave school. However, I discovered that they were far more important and meaningful than where I should have been instead.

adult, agriculture, alone

With time to think and breathe beyond the suffocating pressure, I came across something that truly intrigued me. It was a geospatial science course at a local university, an institute that is viewed as less prestigious, and thus not as good, as the one I had previously attended. I began, and I have never looked back. And things have worked out better than I ever could have envisioned in my final year of school.

I am now 22, and am two thirds of my way through my bachelor’s degree, studying what I wasn’t meant to study, and having made more mistakes than I can ever count. And guess what? I am so happy. I truly enjoy my field, and I am thankful for the experiences that made me deviate from where I was “supposed” to be.

Please don’t get me wrong, I believe it is good that school tries to prepare students for the world beyond. However, acknowledging that it is okay not to know, and that it is okay to change, is also necessary. I am also a strong advocate for taking time to experience life outside of school, before committing to a particular course or field of work. Work in a boring job for a while. See where your mind wanders, feel what pulls you in. Find out who you actually are without the overwhelming pressure to decide exactly who you are at 18.

autumn leaves, canine, cocker spaniel

Not one of my friends that I left school with have stuck exactly with what they initially decided upon leaving. Many have changed majors, some have changed universities, and others have changed careers. And it’s brilliant. We are creating who we are. We are not static creatures.

Go out and be changing, be dynamic, and don’t be afraid of how you will grow in the process. Most of us don’t know what we are doingAnd that, that is truly okay.

 

 

Tigers & Lightning: Stretch Marks & Shame.

At fifteen, I sobbed in the changing room at the sight of purple indents curling their way across my newfound curves. This cry echoes across the world. Just traipse the internet, magazines, conversations and strategic swimwear. The bounty of insecurity and shame is immense.

All these years later, I still see these silly little lines on my skin every day, and they still make me feel ashamed. And ugly, and unworthy. I think of them as a flaw that must be hidden.

My stretch marks began during puberty, but increased significantly throughout my experience with an eating disorder. The rapid weight loss and gain took it’s toll on my body; these etched slivers remain to this day.

They dictate what I wear, how I sit, and how uncomfortable I feel in particular situations.

But what is actually going on with our skin? Stretch marks are harmless, and arise when your skin cannot stretch enough to keep up with growth. The dermis tears, and skin scars as a result. There is no known treatment that is actually effective, although many products jump at the opportunity to claim to be.

Puberty, rapid weight loss or gain, pregnancy and traumatic injuries can all lead to stretch marks. Given how common these experiences are, it is unsurprising that the majority of people share these scars.

I’m not going to proclaim that “all stretch marks are beautiful and I love them,” simply because this is not my reality. When I look in the mirror and I see the silvery lines snaking across my hips, and rippling through my thighs, I don’t feel beautiful. I feel flawed and ashamed.

To those who genuinely do appreciate and love their stretch marks; I admire you. Not because I believe stretch marks are inherently unworthy of love, (for the record, I don’t), but because we are taught from every side that they should be.

And the thing is, we don’t have to feel beautiful in our stretch marks if we aren’t ready to just yet. But we can try and just let them be, both for what they are, and for what they are not.

While researching for this piece, I was hard-pressed to find information that didn’t conclude with “stretch marks are beautiful and okay! But here are ten top products that will get rid of them . . .”

And my question now is, why? Why are they viewed as bad, as disgusting, as something to hide, when your skin is merely just working to accommodate your changing body. And why are they viewed as a flaw unique to insecure women, when most humans experience them. They are a harmless, human experience, yet we are taught that to have them is to bear shame.

This is because from a young age, we are we are bombarded with the message that to have stretch marks is to not be good enough. That we did something wrong. That they are a flaw that is shameful to have. That we gained too much weight, or lost too much weight, or didn’t have the perfect pregnancy body. This is why there are so many products, all competing to make money from our learnt idea that we should not have stretch marks.

In reality, stretch marks are neither good nor bad. And they don’t have to be either. They just simply are. To love them is a mighty feat, not because they are unlovable, but because this is a blatant rebellion to what we are taught. Stretch marks are part of you. They are not ugly, nor defining of character. They are not worthy of hate.

We don’t necessarily have to think stretch marks are beautiful, or of ourselves as fierce tigers who have earned our stripes. But we can learn to accept them, and to remember that being good and worthy doesn’t mean being perfect.

Let’s end with this. Go out and be a force of nature. If thinking about them this way helps, then as Jordan Molineux says, you have the lightning strikes to prove it.