From keloided piercings to regrettable tattoos, I’ve always joked that these are the scars you choose. Over time, some fade and close up, but they’re almost always there as reminders of an impulsive youth or bad breakup.
But what about the scars that we don’t decide to inflict upon this one-shot-as-far-as-we-know body of ours? The ones that form from skin slowly tearing to make room for the new you that dares take up more space in this world. The stripes that wrap themselves around your post-baby belly. Or surround your boobs after you’ve gone down a cup or two. What about those?
Recently I landed on a rerun of The Wendy Williams Show. The guest was Top Chef host Padma Lakshmi. Padma looked stunning as usual in a sleeveless black number, the large scar along her right arm glistening under the studio lights. I had seen the mark a million times (Padma’s had it since she was 14 from a car accident), but my ears perked up when the “hot topic” of the hour turned into the scar.
“Do you have glitter on it? You’re highlighting it?!” Wendy asks laughing and in disbelief.
“I do. I like to think of it as shimmer powder,” Padma shares smiling.
Wendy then instructs the cameraperson to give Padma the “scar camera” (a reference to the “shoe cam” the guests all get to showcase their shoe game) and Padma playfully flexes her arm and her beautiful scar. The audience cheers and she thanks them.
I grew up in the Caribbean where every night mosquitoes feasted on my chunky arms and legs (I was lovingly called “Fat Dumpling” for a reason). My blood was sweet and my skin easy to scar. To top it all off, I was allergic to the bites. Before my fingers could reach to scratch them and relish in the sweet, smoothing pain, they would quadruple in size and turn bright red. Days later, they’d turn dark brown then into a large, black blemish. I looked like I wore brown polka dot tights all year round.
When I hit puberty, acne took over my face, arms, and chest and left scars that almost matched my legs. I literally only wore three-quarter sleeved shirts, capris and jeans.
“Why don’t you, like, ever wear shorts?” I remember one brunette at boarding school asking before lacrosse practice.
Like, why don’t you mind your business, I wanted to say. But I shrugged, giggled, then scoffed and walked away.
When I battled maintaining a weight I was happy and healthy with, my breasts and ass were a warzone. They were the first places I’d packed on the pounds -- and the first to shrink when I started a new diet. It felt like there were more stretch marks than actual skin.
So I learned to hide my scars masterfully.
It wasn’t until my junior year in high school (and after years of using cocoa butter to treat my blemishes) that I dared to wear a skirt without coverage. Even now, you can see a few spots, along with a moon-shaped gash I got when I was five. I lovingly embrace each as a reminder of my childhood on the islands.
But it took more than time and fade remedies to embrace all the marks on my body.
I had an older cousin that I looked up to growing up. She was flawless in my eyes. Beautiful. Graceful. She was everything I wanted to be. One Thanksgiving dinner, my extended family came over to my mom’s to eat turkey alongside traditional Trinidadian dishes like callaloo and stew chicken. My cousin rocked a revealing shirt that showed off the stretch marks on her chest. Despite trying desperately to avert my eyes from her boobs, I couldn’t help but look.
That Black Friday, when I raided clothing stores for countless sales, I purchased my first V-neck.
I recently attended a comedy show and donned a grey romper with a plunging neckline. In true Padma Lakshmi style, I dusted some bronzer on my boobs. Then I double-coated my legs with lotion, making sure those childhood scars glistened more than usual.
For years, I'd used makeup to soften the visibility of my stretch marks but it was progress. It was hard to have confidence when I was constantly trying to make sure a part of me went undetected. But these scars are my battle wounds. If I didn’t ditch the concealer and cover-ups, how else would I rock my badges of honor?
When I finally learned to not only accept those insecurities but accentuate them, there were no lingering thoughts of “I wonder if they can see my…” Everyone could see them and I was totally fine with that.