I vividly remember looking in the mirror when I was in 7th grade and being so confused and frustrated when I first noticed stretch marks, or my “stripes” as I began to call them. They were these reddish brown squiggles that hugged my curves in the most unflattering areas. I thought to myself, How did this happen? Why don’t my girlfriends have these too? What’s wrong with me?
These were the days before the Internet, so there was no quick answer to my awkward teenage questions. But I mustered up the courage to ask my mom what those scary stripes were.
“Welcome to the fabulous world of stretch marks!” My mom said, and she immediately went to look for some Vaseline to put on them, hoping this would calm me. I tried every salve, cream, and remedy I could think of to get rid of those horrid things.
Yet, they remained.
A Dark Time
I couldn’t make my stretch marks go away. So I decided to fight against my perceived flaws in other ways. I convinced myself that I was fat; and that the only way I would ever be worthy or accepted (or even noticed by a boy) would be to mimic the thin girls in my school. Because that’s why they were popular, right? I decided to just stop eating in general, and began exercising.
This led to my first real affliction with my body. I wish I could go back in time and tell teenager me, “STOP, you are beautiful just the way you are. You don’t have to starve yourself into a size two to get the approval of other people.” But unfortunately, I continued down this destructive path of guilt and shame. It was a dark time in my life.
Earning My “Stripes”
Fast-forward to my twenties. My “tiger stripes” (as I began to call them) eventually faded, as did the years of severe body issues and struggling with my self-image. I started exercising and finding healthier alternatives to achieve the ideal body I wanted so badly. And eventually I met my husband; someone who loved me for me, stretch marks and all.
I remember being pregnant with our first child and constantly fighting the inner fear that my stripes were going to come back. I was so afraid it would just rip the metaphorical bandage off of all those bring on the emotions I had worked so hard to overcome. So, I cocoa buttered myself like it was my job. I practically carried it in my purse!
On December 17, 2015, after what seemed like the world’s longest birthing experience, Taj came into this world. I remember a week later, when I finally got my first “normal” shower. I looked down and there they were, my pals were back. But this time was different. It didn’t evoke the same frustration it once did. Because this time I had EARNED them. My body had created life, and for once I appreciated those stripes instead of going down the slippery slope of negativity.
Making Peace with My Body
I am so grateful to share that this body created two tiny humans. This mama still has some fierce tiger stripes, but I’m proud of them. My stretch marks are a part of me and I don’t view them as imperfections, but part of my story.
Unfortunately, the psychology of body shaming never really went away for me. However, I have learned to cope with it. For me, finding accountability through fitness has empowered me to love myself again. Some of my curves have gotten curvier, some parts of me have gotten leaner; but it is an ongoing journey that I have dedicated myself to. I guess you could say I am learning to love my tiger stripes, one day at time.
So some words of advice: be kind to yourself always, and allow yourself grace, because you deserve nothing less.