We all have something that we don’t like about ourselves. Even the picture-perfect Instagram models and runway cats probably have flaws that only they notice. From our waistlines to our complexion and from the shape of our nose to even which way our hair falls down, we’ll always find something to pick at. For some people, it’s on the outside. For others, it’s not that easily seen. Historically, there were clear definitions for what made someone beautiful. In Victorian England, a plump white woman was the epitome of beauty and status. In the American 1950s, the ideal woman had a thin figure with a pinched waist and red lips. What about now?
Today, those lines are fuzzy, but there’s still what I like to call “Tumblr-esque” beauty standards that we hold men and women to. I’ve noticed that women shoot for winged eyeliner that's sharp enough to kill a man, a plump pout, and “booty for days.” If you’re a guy who's under 5’3, have acne, or don’t work out, then may the Tinder gods have mercy on your soul. The idea of it all sucks, but we still cling to it. Despite all this nonsense, there’s been a surge of body positivity that reassures us all that we are all beautiful in our own ways. It really is wonderful and empowering, but what does it take to truly believe any of it?
For me, I had to figure it out myself. Puberty didn’t turn me into a rose like some of the friends who I grew up with. Instead, it did just the opposite.
In the summer between middle school and high school, I was a recently-discovered girly-girl. I had just started wearing dresses and skirts of my own will after growing up as a hard-headed tomboy. I was completely clueless when it came to a fashion sense and makeup was completely foreign to me until my first year of college. I just wanted to be pretty.
As expected, my body changed just as much as my personality did. Unfortunately, my breasts didn’t grow much. Instead, I began developing hypertrophic keloid scars on my chest. This kind of scarring leaves red, raised scars on the skin that are very sensitive to touch. Even being lightly brushed on my scars can be a painful feeling. To put it simply, they suck. At first, they weren’t a big deal to me. I was sure that they would go away at some point, so why sweat it?
I was wrong. Over time, keloid scars can continue to grow and grow. They don’t stop. They even grew on my shoulders and my back and they continue to do so today. My scars itch constantly, so I had to get into the habit of putting on Vitamin E oil throughout the day to keep from scratching myself until I bleed.
I felt like my skin was eating away at me and I had to sit with my hands tied and watch it all happen. We don't even know what caused it. It's not like I was burned or involved in a freak accident. I felt like I was being punished for something that I didn't even do. As a teenager who was finally figuring out who she was, what was I supposed to do with these things growing on me? How was I supposed to tell myself that I was pretty?
I didn’t realize how much it actually bothered me until my first summer with them. I was supposed to have a beach day with my friends, but I ended up spending it at home, crying in the dark. I couldn’t stop crying because I had looked in the mirror and didn’t like what I saw.
As I got older, my self esteem took a toll. I felt like I was less than what a young woman should be. My breasts are sensitive to touch and I have red, fleshy splotches all over my chest. That’s not cute or sexy at all, so what was I supposed to do? Skin care ads flaunt models with smooth and touchable skin, but there I was with skin that hurt me every time I put on a shirt. Not only do they hurt, but they’re also ugly. I felt ashamed of them and of myself for not looking like other girls. I tried covering them up using patches, makeup, and extra-modest clothing.
It didn’t take very long for me to realize that I was hiding myself, not just the scars. I didn’t understand why I felt worse than before. I was doing what everyone wanted. I hid them and I made it appear as if I had normal skin like everyone else. That’s what I wanted, wasn’t it? I was doing what I was told looked beautiful, but, as a result, I ended up feeling even worse about myself. It didn’t make any sense!
After doing more research on my condition, I found that there is no “cure” and that, even with injections and surgery, my skin will never look normal ever again. They're not going away any time soon, so what's the point in hiding?
By my senior year of high school, I wore that sh*t like a badge and I’ve done so ever since. Now, I wear bikinis and tank tops and just deal with the stares. I even began including it in my photography and sharing it online without batting an eye. It was a complete 180, but that didn’t happen overnight. Over time, I came to terms with my scars and I realized that they were a part of who I was. I like to think that I’m cute. My scars are part of what makes me who I am, so they were cute, too. I find it ironic that my scars, the very things that ripped my self esteem to shreds, were also the same things that helped me to piece it back together and define confidence as my own beauty standard.
I’m still a girl. I’m still worried about how I look when my crush is around. I just look a little different and that’s OK. As long as I know that I’m beautiful, then it really doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks.