For decades, media companies have been altering photos to get rid of every blemish and imperfection, and stretch marks are usually the first to go. Stretch marks are often seen as negative; society thinks that if you have stretch marks you are no longer beautiful. This is not true. Stretch marks are a natural part of the human body. They can appear on every body type, on any gender, so why should stretch marks be airbrushed away in the media?
Everyone knows what a stretch mark looks like but few people know what they are. They occur when a person’s skin is stretched quickly by an increase in weight or height, oftentimes during puberty or pregnancy. When we grow or gain weight slowly our skin has time to stretch with us, but if someone goes through a growth sprout, as teenagers are known to do, their skin cannot handle the sudden stretch. When skin is pulled too tight or too quick its production of collagen is interrupted. Collagen is important in maintaining the structural integrity of much of our body, including our skin. Disruption of collagen leaves a mark, which is what a stretch mark is (Hyde, June 2014, 2). A new stretch mark is normally red or purple but it fades to match a person’s skin color with time. Stretch marks are a normal part of being human, so why have they come to be seen as a horrible mark? The answer is shockingly simple: perfection.
Our world has had an obsession with perfection for decades. This obsession has led to people trying to make themselves appear flawless, often going to the extremes to do so. From acne to weight, stretch marks are the latest victims of the quest for perfection. Magazines and influencers heavily edit their photos so that every freckle, every acne scar, and every stretch mark is gone. Their audience sees the edits and thinks these marks are bad because they have been removed. The media rarely thinks about what effect their actions will have on their viewers. There has been an increase in the amount of “remedies” to stretch marks and people will try anything to get rid of them. I’ve seen people use aloe vera, vitamin A oils, and even granulated sugar. Instead of trying to get rid of stretch marks, we should be trying to change societal perceptions of them.
Ever since photo editing became big in magazines and the media, stretch marks have been removed from images. Even in 2020 most companies retouch their models and get rid of any blemishes. However, some big names have made the commitment to stop digitally editing their photos. ASOS, Missguided, and Boohoo are all brands that have stopped removing stretch marks, and model Ashley Graham has been an active proponent of keeping stretch marks in media. When I was doing my research I was surprised that more companies have not done the same. I thought our society had progressed beyond the need to make everything perfect, but clearly, I was wrong. Maybe someday soon we will see more stretch marks, more so-called blemishes shown and openly accepted.
For as long as I can remember I have had stretch marks. I thought they were normal, beautiful even. I called them my scales because they were a pretty shade of purple and I was going through a mermaid phase at the time. One day I went to school in a shirt that had my upper arms, where my stretch marks were, exposed. Some kid asked why I would have “those ugly marks” on display. I went home crying. Since then I have been self-conscious about my stretch marks, which have now appeared on my hips and stomach as well as my arms. Over the years I have grown to love them again. I have taken to drawing on them, making them vines that sprout flowers, or sometimes I paint them gold. I treat them like the Japanese art of Kintsugi, which is the practice of fixing broken pottery with gold. This art highlights the flaws and shows that having an imperfection doesn’t make something ugly, but even more beautiful.
It is hard to unlearn what we have been taught by society. We grow up with toxic ideals surrounding us and removing those ideals from our brains can be next to impossible. Standing in front of a mirror and saying “you are beautiful” is usually not enough to make you believe it. It takes baby steps to accept yourself. Start off by finding positive influences: people who do not edit their pictures and show their natural self. Surrounding yourself with people who think stretch marks are beautiful shows you that there are people out there who have grown beyond what they have been taught. That it is possible to love yourself for who you are. Seeing that it is possible often makes a goal seem more tangible. Another step you can take may be a bit outside of most people’s comfort zones. Start wearing clothes or doing things that do not hide what you think are flaws but highlight them instead. Wear tank tops if you have stretch marks on your arms or a shirt that shows a little bit of your stomach if you are self-conscious about it. It’s a form of exposure therapy, doing things that make you uncomfortable until you get used to it and start to gain confidence. Never push yourself to the point where you cannot go outside in the clothes you picked; take baby steps. And if not flaunting your stretch marks makes you confident, wear clothes that cover them. What is important is that you are wearing outfits for yourself, not for others.
I hope you enjoyed reading this article, have an amazing day! Sydney