There are things on my body that are not typically seen as beautiful. Scars, stretch marks, places that reveal all that has gone wrong in my life. I am self-conscious. I am conflicted. I don’t want to forget, but some days I wish my skin were the smooth expanse that it was years ago before I had these memories of self-hatred emblazoned on me.
I have been told that I am beautiful by people who see these scars. A friend drunkenly told me “I think you’re beautiful and your scars are beautiful too!” I was confused but felt a swelling of love that she accepted me with all the nasty bits and pieces that are my life. Skin tells stories and stories make us beautiful. I am beautiful because. Because of scars and the skin that has expanded and stretched and folded to fit my ever changing hips and the way that my hands shake when I forget to eat a meal. I am the stories I tell about myself and these are stories that are slowly wending their way towards triumph. They are memories of change.
Last night, someone tenderly held me as I whispered “I wish they were gone”. He squeezed me and reminded me “You’re beautiful anyway. You can wish something were different while also being wonderful the way you are.” Holding the dialectic is hard. When I’m yearning for wholeness, I forget that there is a body beneath the scars, a self that may in fact be loved. There is an ugliness and a hatred to scars left by your own hand. But no matter how much I want to change the past, I continue. I survive. I am beautiful despite. Despite the tears and the snot and the puke, despite the desperation and the hurt and the vulnerability, despite the ways that I have told myself over and over in the ugliest fashion possible “You are wrong. You are not deserving. You are bad.” But under all of these grotesqueries there is something beautiful, someone who may just be strong enough to move on and forget what it felt like to hold the razor to the skin. I want my body back from the memories.
Am I beautiful because or beautiful despite? Is beauty the depth of character that comes from knowing the worst thoughts that could exist in your mind and learning to smile regardless? Is beauty the push/pull of ruination and strength? Or is beauty tainted by the presence of darkness, hatred, violence? Who can look at a body marred by its own hand? Unnatural.
There is no peace with scars like these, no coming to terms with it by moving on or moving forward. There is no overcoming what happened because I am what happened and the mind that watched me bleed with a smile is always lurking just under the surface of things. I am the reason that bad things happened to me.
Of course the answer can always be both. Despite the moments of my life when I was full of hatred and disgust, I am beautiful. And because I was strong enough to live through those moments and at least try to turn my mind towards better things, I am beautiful. Beauty is a hard enough concept without physical markers of pain and difficulty. It’s hard to untrain our brains from the narratives and scripts of whiteness and thinness and youth and teach them narratives of diversity and ingenuity and strength and creativity. I don’t know if I can see any of those things on my body, especially when I look at the place I wrote the word “fat” in blood on my leg. I am the cruel individual who did that. But I am also the vulnerable and fragile person who was tortured with a razor blade and empty stomach. It is hard to feel whole with such disparate pieces.
Maybe someday I will write beauty on myself instead, over and around and through the scars so that I know I can be beautiful despite them and be beautiful because of them. Maybe someday I will be cohesive.