Where You See Stretch Marks, I See A Lifelong War To Love My Body Just As It Is

Photo: rebecca jane stokes
learning to love yourself
Love, Self

But I'm winning.

I took off my shirt and my confidence plummeted. 

I was at home, staring at my naked stomach in the mirror, but I felt like I'd just been punched in the gut. 

On either side of my belly, 3 inches (give or take) of new stretch marks sat like heavy quotation marks. 

My stomach itself sat between them, a synonym for "fat." 

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I scrambled to my bedside table, grabbed the lotion I keep for scars, and started rubbing it into the stretch marks. 

I didn't know if it would help, but anything I could do to banish the livid, bright welts from my stomach seemed like the only way to get my confidence back.

Learning to love yourself: it can feel like a fucking fool's errand at times.

I remember my first stretch marks. I was 9.

The covered my inner thighs, angry purple cobwebs.

I didn't know what they were so I asked my mom and she explained. I am sure she said some nice things. I am sure she tried to reassure me and to tell me that when you're entering puberty, it's a totally normal thing.

I am sure she told me something about how it didn't matter what size you were: Every woman had stretch marks, even thin women, and that it shouldn't affect your self-esteem. 

Tragically, the only thing I remember her saying is "Well, you know what you need to do to keep them from growing." 

She meant continuing with the routine that at the age of 9 had been in my life for about six months: counting my calories and getting up early before school to go jog. 

Over time, I formed other stretch marks, mostly on my belly. 

And, over time, they faded into white whispers, a necessary byproduct of the rapid-fire hormonal process that had made me a busty hourglass-shaped girl seemingly overnight. 

Learning to love yourself isn't a battle, it's a war.

There might be times when you win a fight, have a breakthrough, look in the mirror and love what you see. But that doesn't mean the war is over. 

I spend so much of time espousing a message of self-acceptance and self-love, but when I stopped and saw those new stretch marks in the mirror, I was 9 years old again and frantic. 

This doesn't mean I don't think I am beautiful.

This doesn't mean I've resolved to lose a bunch of weight or change my life in order to "pass" as conventionally pretty or conventionally thin. 

It means that I am still fighting that war of loving myself every single day. 

Some days I succeed. I feel confident and happy and proud of who I am.

Other days, I am that kid again, panicked and ugly and desperate to escape from this skin that seems to insist on making me an unhappy outsider. 

I often talk about learning to love yourself, and I worry that I do it from this place that makes it sound like a hard, uphill battle that I already completed. Like I'm saying, "I got a trophy. I'm finished. I love myself now!"  

But it doesn't work that way.

Insecurity can swoop in and knock you back down that hill. 

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After my heart stopped racing and the oil had melted into my skin, I pulled my shirt back down and instead of Googling. "how to get rid of stretch marks," I said to myself "They will fade," and while I didn't feel immediately awesome, refusing to think about it anymore that day was the best I could do.

It was the kindest thing I could do. 

Learning to love yourself is a war you will fight your entire life. The most you can hope for in the process is that you will learn to be kind to yourself when the monster of self-loathing rears its ugly head, or at the very least, learn not to fall victim to friendly fire