I remember the first time I noticed I had stretch marks. I was maybe seven or eight. At the time, my mother and my sisters lived in a house in the Tesano neighborhood of Accra. I remember that house clearly because it was the last few years where my older sister, Afua and I still shared a room. A sign in itself that we were quickly maturing.
The moment it happened, was very private and personal. I had just come out of the shower and was sitting on the bed to wipe the water off myself. (a very weird habit that I still have). It was the same routine, sit down, wipe my toes, cross my leg over the other and then slowly wipe the water away with a towel.
On this day, I remember looking as I wiped my thighs and discovering something new. There were intricate purple like veins crawling up my inner thighs. They looked like they should hurt, but a gentle touch actually felt like nothing. To be honest they literally just felt like my skin.
For days, they were my little secret, but I still didn’t know what they were. I would steal glances at my sisters as they got dressed, hoping to see the same marks on them. I looked in my mother’s Hello magazine to see if any of the women in there had them, but I saw nothing. I would keep my mother company during her evening bath, and as I scrubbed her back I would search for them too, but found nothing. Bear in mind this wasn’t the age of google, and if even it was, I wouldn’t know what to even start searching. My stretch marks felt like my little secret. It was a scary little secret but I felt special, until I finally discovered what they were.
Weeks later, I was shopping with my mother at the local pharmacy where we would often buy special soaps and creams for my sensitive skin. At that age, I was confidently curious and would spend time reading labels and smelling lotions as my mother would catch up with local neighbors. I always admired packaging designs and the clever language that was spralled on the products that were imported from America.
This day was no different. I scanned different color bottles, paying close attention to the colors and designs. But something caught my attention, I saw a photo of a woman who's skin was just like my new skin. Her marks weren't deep purple but the pattern was familiar and I felt a huge relief. With that level of excitement came an unwelcome reality.
Palmers Cocoa Butter – helps get rid of stretch marks.
That moment was a large defining moment in my understanding of my body and my acceptance of what I saw in the mirror. As I write this, that moment feels so so real again. I remember feeling unworthy and scared and confused. I honestly knew there was something wrong with me. I finally understood what the lines were. They were stretch marks, as clearly pictured on a pregnant woman. The clever language on the bottle also taught me that these marks weren’t supposed to be there, after all, a big American brand had created a special cream to help you get rid of them.
I felt a sense of panic knowing that something was wrong with me, but I couldn’t tell my mother, or anyone. I felt like I was in trouble and these marks were a sign that I had been naughty. As my mother called for me to leave, I quickly glanced at the price 30,000 cedis ( $3-$5), and began devising a plan for how I would save most of my lunch money to allow me to secretly come back during the week and buy this special cream to get rid of my stretch marks. I knew I needed to get rid of them before anyone discovered them.
I was eight.years.old.
Let that sink in.
I am 28. And it took a lot of soul searching to go back to the childhood innocence of seeing my stretch marks as a part of my skin. This didn’t happen overnight, it simply happened because I could not get rid of them. And after twenty years of trying…I kind of forget they are there. Honestly.
The kind of good news about them is that I now see lots more women with them. Skinny women, pregnant women, big women…and even men.
But a weird thing keeps happening to me and it drives me nuts. To be honest, I have started to become more and more self aware that I have stretch marks again, simply because people keep acknowledging them through applause. It feels like every time I post a photo showing my tummy or my arms, or even my back…so many different types of women send me messages saying they are proud of me, and they admire my bravery. IT. DRIVES. ME. NUTS.
I don’t know why I feel this way, actually I do. When you have fought so hard to understand that what you see in the mirror is truly who you are. That what you see in the mirror is a refelction of God’s unique creativity. That what you see in the mirror actually makes you….you. I need no applause for being me, and for not noticing the flaws that the world may continue to see in me.
I don’t have stretch marks, I have skin. My skin is multicolored. It is smooth in some places, and it is rippled in others. It has personality and it has stories woven through scars, and dents and dips. It is my skin and that is all I see.
I simply never need to be applauded for having the audacity to reveal the real me.
I don't need you to agree with me. But I need us to have a conversation about why we applaud women for being themselves. When I was eight, confused and stretch marked...all I needed to understand was that women had them just like me. I didn't need to feel different. I just needed to know that they were normal.
SO when you see someone with stretch marks, and they are showing them. Admire her confidence from afar and absorb it as inspiration. Do not remind her that she has them, because they aren't unusual. 80% of women have them. They are beautiful in their own way.
To my darling women who have stretch marks, I am a visual representation of the fact that you are not different, and they shouldn't make you feel any different. If you choose to work hard to get rid of them, I will not judge you or challenge you. If you choose to accept them and embrace them, you join an army of women who are uniquely themselves. We welcome you with the silent applause that is inclusive but not overly demeaning.
I have stretch marks on my thighs, my back, my chest and my arms. I have them wrapped all around my tummy. Sometimes I trace them with my fingers, a playful way of following their journey. They are a part of me and I absolutely love me.
I cannot end this post without acknowledging a brand that truly celebrated being your real self. One of the beautiful challenges of shooting this look was boldly embracing the fact that I would show skin.
When I decided to work with Aerie a few weeks ago, the decision was based on the fact that they as a brand create an amazing community for women to be comfortable enough to reveal their true skin. As I shopped their New Real Me collection, I saw women with stretch marks and cellulite and simply real bodies. They looked free, and that is how I wanted to feel.
They are making waves in the world of representation and I could not be more proud to be affiliated with them!!!
In the photos above, I am wearing the new bralettes from the Real Me Collection. There are days when I don't want to wear a full bra and these come in super handy. They are as soft as marshmallow and give me enough support to wear them at home or out of the house.
Size Notes - I am wearing a size XL in the photos above. Please note that these do indeed have stretch in them. It is my hope that in the near future, Aerie expands the sizing so many more of you can experience the AMAZING comfort of them! You can check them out below.
This post was proudly written in collaboration with Aerie. All opinions are unapologetically mine.
Body Positive fashion and lifestyle blogger.