By Louisa Grenham
Scars represent memories. Scars are the physical representation of an event that may have caused us pain, our body’s symbol for a certain time in our lives. But what happens if that scar represents a moment in our lives we wished we could forget? That reminder we can’t get rid of may open up those healed wounds.
Self harm was something I found consistently popping up amongst young people when I was growing up. In high school, it felt like everyone knew about self harm but no one was talking about it. I grappled with my own problems and struggles with self harm alone, wore long sleeves and hid my arms so no one found out about the dirty secret only the weird, depressed students had. Mental illness wasn’t in my vocabulary. Instead of looking for help, I stayed isolated and took the anger and pain out on myself. Never did I consider what it would mean to be an adult with scars–how I could never look at certain parts of my body the same way. I thought with time it would all heal and I would be able to move on.
My scars thought otherwise.
I’m lucky enough that my scars are extremely hard to see for anyone else but me. They’re faint enough to hide in plain sight and I successfully avoid any questions about how they got there. But they still haunt me. I can squeeze some of my skin and see them still there, I can run a hand by my thighs and feel them, a lingering memory of the darkest point in my life. Part of me feels stupid. I’ve never seen adults with self-harm scars. I never knew they even existed. What does it mean for me to wear my painful memories? And what the hell would I do if anyone asked about them?
These are the kinds of scars that force you into isolation. There are often resources out there to tell you how to stop, who to call, mechanisms to cope, but nothing really prepares you for the physical reminder they hold. What happens when it’s your own body that ends up triggering you?
Many suffers of self-harm are young girls, young LGBTQ+ people , and people of color. This shouldn’t come as a surprise. Growing up in a culture that criticizes and suppresses every aspect of your existence is pretty soul crushing. Even from a young age I knew queerness was unacceptable. I desperately tried to bury it. I started to dress more femme and wore make up. I strived to be the most feminine, beautiful, idea of a perfect girl I had learned from all around me, and fell short. I hated myself for not being straight, for not being skinny, for being too loud, for being too masculine. I had no idea I could exist outside what I’d been taught, no understanding of what it meant to be queer.
In revisiting my scars recently, as I am older and much queerer than when they were inflicted, I have learned a thing or two about self-love. The idea of self-love, self-care is more than buying a fancy bath product. It means to love yourself in a way that sustains you enough to make change or even just to live another day. At times looking at my scars felt like my capacity for self love was gone, that the idea came far too late. What I’ve learned is that self-love is not a switch to turn on, not a day saying good things into the mirror. It’s something that can be learned and practiced. And it is slow. So, so slow. Steps toward self love can be done everyday, and every step is important in its own way. Allowing yourself to have lows and being damn proud of the highs; This is all necessary for healing, for building up that self love where it may have lacked before.
The first step to healing the pain of your scars is to realize your scars can’t hurt you anymore. You’ve already done it. The physical wounds have healed, your body has made it, you’re here, you’re alive, and that’s pretty fucking amazing. Healing the emotional part, the inner hurt that springs up every now and then, is a much longer project. But seeing the scar as a way you possess the capacity to heal, and the strength to continue, can be freeing.
Healing takes place in all different forms. Some choose to cover scars with tattoos, make something beautiful to represent a new way of seeing their body.
The conversation about scars is often about how to make them go away. Whether self inflicted, caused by a surgery, an accident, or any wear of tear of life is supposed to be eradicated from your body, never to be seen. It’s easy for me to think that the best way to deal with my scars is to get rid of them, forget they were ever there. The thought of a reset button, an air brush on that part of my life is deeply appealing. But who would I be without these scars? How could a version of myself without this experience exist? A body without scars is not mine. I would prefer to live in this imperfect skin than entertain the idea of a body I know nothing about.
Loving our bodies should mean even loving the bumpy, jagged, uncomfortable parts of them. Maybe the secret to scars isn’t what creams will make them go away, but rather how we can see our bodies change and develop and love them through that. This method can be done in a number of ways. Some choose to cover scars with tattoos, make something beautiful to represent a new way of seeing their body. Others, like myself, chose to live in those scars, allow them to see light, and know that I am now in control of them. I love my body of stretch marks, scars, bruises from clumsiness, pimples from stress, burns from the stove, all the things that show I’ve been alive and kicking ass no matter how scrappy it’s been. Living in this world isn’t perfect, it isn’t simple, and a lot of times it isn’t even pretty. Why does my body have to be polished and pretty when my life isn’t? I have no knowledge of what a polished life is like. I’d like to keep it that way.