When I was around 10, back in the days before marketers had divided every three years of life into a targeted market category (I’m looking at you, “tweens”), I blew the fuck up.

I’d been a skinny kid, so skinny my mom was always pushing food on me. For her, food is love. It wasn’t kosher being thin with a mom who could never quite trust the “anemic, rail-thin” Oprah and who breathed a sigh of relief when Ms. O returned to her pleasantly plump self.

For the most part, though I didn’t like being fat, it didn’t get in my way too much. I was active. I rode my bike a lot, enjoyed hiking, and I later became a marching band nerd. And y’all, being in a high school marching band in Texas is damn near as strenuous as being on the football team.

But the rapid weight gain wreaked havoc on my skin. Stretch marks inched their way across my body just like that black alien goop oozed its way across Tobey Maguire and (spoiler alert) Topher Grace in that uber-bloated Spiderman III flick. Because I had amassed weight so quickly, by age 12 the stretch marks were visible on my hips, across my belly, my thighs, and my blossoming boobs.

But the worst, most frightening, and most visible were the ones on my arms. Their deep lines crisscrossed into a road map, one that etched into my skin from the tops of my shoulders, traveled south toward my ashy elbows and pointed their way to the middle of my forearms.

And like diamonds, stretch marks are forever.

Deeply ashamed of these lines that most women would never have to grapple with until their first pregnancies, I hid my arms. I never wore halter tops or spaghetti straps. Regular short sleeves had to be long enough to reach my elbows or they’d remain languishing in my closet. Afraid that my sleeves might fall back and reveal the crosshatches that marred and scarred my limbs, I avoided raising my hand in class. Even getting shots at the doctor’s office was an embarrassment, as nurses struggled to find a vein underneath the ragged marks that trailed the inside of my arms.

The hatred of this part of my physical self didn’t abate during times that I felt more confident about my body as a whole, because no matter how my body might change or tone up when I was more consistent about exercise, the stretch marks would never go away. Subsequently, I neglected my arms — triceps atrophied, underarms flapped in the wind like those of someone’s recently nursing-homed great grandma.

When I met my first husband and shared the shame of my arms, he kindly referred to the marks as tiger stripes. It was one of the few times he said anything that actually alleviated rather than increased the shame I associated with my body.  And unfortunately, he felt plenty other parts of my body deserved his criticism instead.

Last year, I turned 40. And with that milestone came a shit-ton of self-reflection. These arms of mine, with their road-weary streaks striped across my flesh, comfort my child after scary dreams and lead to my hands that caress my lovers’ cheek, and fingers that type these words to you and help me make a living for myself and my son. The stretch marks that have tagged my arms like a vandal ain’t going anywhere -– they are a part of me: my history, my present, my future.

So, I decided to try to make peace with them.

Last July 4, I made my first attempt. I bought a new swimsuit, in slimming black, and headed to the beach, or the close approximation that is Galveston. I stepped out of the car and onto the sand, sans cover-up, upper arms and shoulders fully exposed to sunlight for the first time in many, many years. It felt good. I let my arms bake, soaking up the rays they’d missed for decades, my vitamin D deficiency being vanquished with each minute under nature’s UV lamp.

I frolicked in the water with my son, my boyfriend and his friends and felt free and happy. It was the best day of the summer.

Then the next day, his friend posted pictures of us and my arms — to Facebook. Then. She. Tagged. Me!

 

image

Yvonne and her arms at the beach.

It was like having the white sheets declaring the taking of your maidenhood on your wedding night hung out on the window ledge for all to see. Remarked one person, “I see you working that tan. The beach looks inviting, though.” Quipped another, “Thanks for posting this. Good memories.”

I couldn’t take the scrutiny anymore. I commented, “I would really like to be cropped out of this one.”

Then came the incredulous response: “Yvonne, why?????? I removed the tag.”

The friend then emailed me privately and asked if I wanted the picture taken down. I realized my panic would seem a bit ridiculous to anyone but me. I scanned the photo carefully, trying to see it the way someone who hadn’t lived inside my body, with these arms, for 41 years might. The only thing more hideous, awful, and cringe-inducing than my flabby stretch-marked arms was the fact that I’d taken my laptop to the friggin’ beach.

Still, I instructed her to leave it up.

Then I went into my email and pulled up a picture that my boyfriend had taken of me that day, away from the maddening crowds. He promised he wouldn’t post it anywhere. It would remain safe, just between us. But now it’s at the top of this post. And you know what, I think my arms and I look positively radiant.

This post originally appeared on XOJane. Republished with permission. Click here for more Yvonne on XOJane! 

 

  • Kimberly

    I’ve also struggled (and still am struggling) with something similar. I had acne as a teenager and still breakout occasionally, but it wasn’t the occasional pimples on my face–i got them on my shoulders and back and even buttocks and I have the acne scars to prove it. I still have flares up at that time of the month. Oh, and I have horrible stretchmarks on my butt–and i’m dark skinned, so i really look like a zebra there. I used to hate the summer—break out the tank tops and the bikinis, and the strapless dresses–i wouldn’t wear anything that showed my shoulders and backs and i sure as hell was not going to wear a bikini with my stretch marks all out there for the world to gawk. Then, I don’t know what happened. I got tired. You know that saying “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired” by Fannie Lou Hamer? yeah–that’s what happened. I just got tired of hiding and not being comfortable with who I am and I slowly let it go. I got tired of turning down invitations to events because i felt I had nothing to wear that didn’t show my scars. I still am conscious of thm–if i’m in a publc place and weating a tank top i wonder what the person behind me is thinking. I still tend to put on a boy shorts to go to the beach—lol..but at least it’s a two-piece showing my back–baby steps! :)

    I was never really conscious of my stretch marks until an ex said something to me about it. he just stated matter of factly – you have a lot of stretch marks on your a**. After that, it was always at the front of my mind. Any intimacy required lights out or under the sheets etc. I remember having relations with an ex in the day time and i couldnt have a good time–i just kept thinking–is he disgusted right now? and was never brave enough to ask.

    Some time ago I read a Q&A where a guy called in and said his GF was so beautiful with clothes on, but when she took them off she had stretch marks etc and he was turned off and wanted to know what to do about it. I was so paranoid and in a state of self loathing I really thought the person who wrote the Q&A was someone I was dating. I was convinced!
    Now, i’m slowly building up my confidence and not letting it control me. It’s a work in progress. It’s never going away, so I may as well get used to it—my tiger marks and all.

    Thanks for this piece. it let’s me know other women struggle too and we’re all in this together :)

  • LN

    Kimberly,

    I can sympathize with everything you just said. I also have those same marks and nothing removes them. After I realized I would always have my buttmarks, I learned to live happily with them and my husband loves me and those stretchmarks. I don’t know when and where they came from. I just remember looking at my butt one day and had a wtf moment. I think for darker complexion women like myself it may just be more obvious. I also had a cambodian friend who was less than a size zero who had the same thing, so that made me feel better. I realized some women will just have stretch-marks. I have friends who are heavyset with absolutely no stretch-marks , just the smoothest skin all over. When I was pregnant, I knew for sure I was going to get stretch-marks all over and I was ready for it. Boy was I surprised when I went through the whole pregnancy with absolutely no stretch marks…another wtf moment for me. Stretch marks are on the bottom list of things women should be worried about. The person who thinks you are truly sexy will not have issues with stretch marks. After all, both men and women get stretch marks. I was surprised to see men with back, arm, butt, and chest stretch marks as well. It is not that serious when looking at the big picture. Love yourself and continue to be your best self. There is too much much life to live and worrying about stretchy marks shouldn’t be on the agenda. “don’t nobody got time for that”!

  • jessib

    Great story about coming into your own and embracing you “tiger stripes!” I too have stretch marks but have made peace with them. It’s a battle, especially when you see the media putting out picture perfect bodies in everything. I’ve tried shea butter, coconut oil, lemon juice, sugar scrubs and probably a ton of other things I cannot remember all of which did absolutely nothing. Proud of you for being so brave to put this out there!

  • http://gravatar.com/jamesfrmphilly jamesfrmphilly

    fruits, nuts, grains and vegetables…….

  • Treece

    …..don’t cure STRETCH MARKS

  • http://www.beyondblackwhite.com Christelyn Russell-Karazin

    I’m curious, why was his comment dissed? Oh I know why–he’s implying that all (black women) who have stretch marks must be fat. Hate to break it to you, James, but I’m a size four, rabid fruit and nut eater, and kale muncher, and I STILL have stretch marks on the sides of my ass. So does my size 2, 14 year old daughter, Maxi Me (not her real name). Most stretch mark occur because of a rapid change in weight or height, you know, like when you have a growth spurt. Fret not, James, I get what you’re *trying* to say, though. I think overall, black women need to embrace healthier lifestyles that include eating clean and regular exercise. But this isn’t what this post is about, so it just makes you come off looking arsehole-y.

  • The Comment

    James…..you need to sit this one all the way out. Like…for real.

  • Treece

    I can soooo relate to this story! For years after a pretty substantial weight gain in my early teens I developed defined stretch marks on my back, arms, and stomach. Due to some health problems I had to go on a high dose of a prescribed steroid. It caused significant weight gain. Even after I lost most of that weight, the stretch marks remained. I wore a large t-shirt over my swimsuit up through my mid-twenties. I have recently come to the conclusion that if people don’t like how my arms look, they can just turn away. I’m not going to suffer on the beach in a cover-up out of shame any more. I still wear clothing that covers them up for the most part on a daily basis (a short sleeve or 3/4 length sleeve in summer) when not on the beach. But when vacationing on the beach, I definitely ditch the cover-ups now. Life is too short to live in shame. Took a long time for me to get that, and I’m still learning.

  • http://purpleskyyys.blogspot.com Inna Leigh

    This is awesome. Thank you all SO MUCH for posting this story. I too have stretchmarks and it took me years to accept them. From when I first got them in grade school… All the way up to college…. Then I realized the less attention I gave them and the more I loved myself, the less they bothered me. And so many women deal with this. I remember hiding my arms in grade school, trying to avoid people even taking a peak at them. I was even convinced that when I got of age I would get some kind of surgery that would erase them so I could wear revealing clothes like “everyone else”…

    But thank God for time and self-acceptance. I also have them on other areas of my body and I must say it feels good to know that other women around the world are dealing with this….. From thick women to even skinny women.

    We must embrace or marks, as they are reminders and symbols of where we have been and what we have gone through to now being able to love them.

    Love yall!

  • JaeBee

    Ditto. I’m a size 0 and have had stretch marks since the age of 12. I’m now 31. I have NEVER been fat a day in my life. I’ve always been small and petite. Although I’m not as active now, back when I started developing stretch marks I was actively involved in sports. I truly believe it’s genetic. My mother has always had stretch marks and my skin probably took after her–being more sensitive and easily prone to loss of collagen.

  • cb

    @james, you make me laugh!

  • http://gravatar.com/jamesfrmphilly jamesfrmphilly

    it is amazing to me the amount of hate you get for merely suggesting that sisters eat right and exercise……

  • Pseudonym

    Yep. Size 0, 104lbs. Never weighed over 120 and was skinny even at that weight. When I was 10, I remember being a beanpole, looking down at my butt one day, and having these stretch marks that seemed to appear overnight.

  • Jessica

    You are so beautiful. Thanks for sharing your story. If you are looking for a great cream, Apothederm http://www.apothederm.com has a wonderful stretch mark cream.

  • carinarg

    same here, got tons of stretch marks, i think I have more SM than normal skin. All over my tummy, my sides, hips, legs, arms, shoulders, boobs, armpits, calves. Can’t wear dresses or shorts or skirts, No bathing suits EVER, no beach or pools for 20 years. I am even afraid of showing them to doctors. But the worse is, no dating, no nothing. I am really terrified of showing them to a man, what do I do? do I tell them beforehand? Do I just pretend they dont exist and see what they do when they first see them?? I see you have a husband and son, good for you!!! But my problems is: how to go from dating somebody to having sex and showing the SM to them?? I really don’t think I could handle rejection, I am really depressed because of the SM and how they affected my life and I have no idea how I would take it.

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