The Natural Beauty of Our Bodies: Stretch Marks

What are stretch marks and how do they come to grace our bodies? Is it really necessary to look upon them with shame? Amaan Akhtar discusses all this and more; highlighting why we should be proud of our bodies in their entirety, instead of masking perceived flaws.

In our modern society, we are obsessed with perfection. It dominates all aspects of life as people strive to become the best versions of themselves; whether this involves attaining a successful career, establishing a large social network or just working on self-improvement. And for many of us, the idea of perfection influences the way we perceive our bodies. Our culture has become infatuated with attaining the “Hollywood physique” because it is perceived to promote a healthier, happier lifestyle. However, the grim reality is that the media’s portrayal of an ideal body has led us to body shame ourselves when we discover that our proportions do not fit the ideal requirements. And so, we endure endless months of dieting and working out, to feel validated by ourselves and others.

This is alarming not only because these superficial standards (i.e. the tanned skin, well-defined muscles and low body fat) deny our attention to self-love; but they have also made it surprisingly easy to forget what a normal body is supposed to look like. Skin does not always look perfect – it can dry out and crack, be prone to acne breakouts, and can even develop scarring as we age.

Take for example, stretch marks – striations that can appear on the skin at any point in our lives. The middle layer of skin (the dermis) tears when it undergoes stretching in response to rapid weight change. This is usually because an increase in cortisone (a stress hormone) reduces the skin’s elasticity by preventing the formation of collagen and elastin fibres - proteins which are essential for keeping the skin taut during rapid periods of growth. Therefore, this lack of supportive material causes the tearing, and produces the scarring we commonly recognise as stretch marks.

They naturally occur over time and are benign in most cases (in rare circumstances, they are symptoms of underlying adrenal gland disorders). Yet, we develop a superficial concern for them because they initially appear on our bodies as these demonic red/purplish pigments - but eventually blend into the skin as silvery-white. Regardless of colour, they make our skin feel abnormal. And strangely enough, these scars have the power to make us feel inferior to everybody else. To us, they represent a deformity, and we attempt to conceal them using various lotions, creams and loose clothing.

But why do they make us feel uncomfortable in our own skin? Should we feel ashamed about the natural processes of the human body? We have allowed the media to distort our ideas about what is considered “normal”. There is this misconceived notion that physical imperfections are not common and natural. Yet, imperfections such as stretch marks commonly reside on the breasts, back, arms, abdomen, hips, thighs, lower back and butt – several areas where fat is usually stored. Furthermore, they can naturally develop from a multitude of factors concerning our weight; either during puberty or pregnancy, yo-yo dieting, a family history of the condition, or even from rapid increase in muscle size from training.

So, if this skin condition is prevalent in majority of the population, then why is it still considered abnormal? Maybe it is because we cannot accept a simple truth about our bodies: that weight change is inevitable in life. Our body composition does not remain consistent over long periods of time – our weight will always fluctuate, depending on the circumstances we are currently dealing with in life. Therefore, we do not remain part of a distinct body-type group – in fact, we shift between the categories more often than we realise. There will be moments where we will feel fit and healthy, and other times where we carry more excess weight than we care to admit. Stretch marks are a permanent reminder that fluctuations in weight cause a myriad of factors which will inevitably affect the composition of our skin. Because the skin will not remain supple and young as our bodies grow. Eventually it wears down too. We age: physically, mentally and emotionally throughout our entire lives.

And although stretch marks are a permanent change on our bodies, our attitude towards them is not. We can choose to either let them serve as painful reminders of our insecurities; or we can embrace them with self-love as the natural imperfections that they are. Because ultimately, we all share similar imperfections on our bodies, and there is a certain beauty in that.

In fact, those who adopt a body positive perspective have felt empowered by these scars – some even describe their own stretch marks as “bad-ass tiger stripes” or even “lines of love”. I personally see them as “battle scars” which should be proudly displayed to the world - because your body is a map of all your physical experiences in life, and that is something worth celebrating.

When we realise that physical imperfections are not the same as flaws in our character; then maybe we can learn to accept and love our body just the way it is now.