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  • Niamh

I've Embraced My Stretch Marks... And My Body

How you feel about your body at different points in your life is a strange thing.

When I was young it was my height that bothered me…

I’m tall and have always been tall for my age. I used to hate it when we’d run into a friend of my mums say in the supermarket and they’d look at me and say, ‘oh look she’s gotten so tall.’ I didn’t want to be tall… I wanted to be one of the petite girls in my kindergarten class who always seemed to get more attention because they were smaller and thus deemed ‘cuter.’ I was the tall one and therefore more grown up looking and less endearing.

As I made my way through my childhood and into the early tweens, my height was still an issue for me.

How’s the air up there?

You look like the jolly green giant!

Oi lanky!

The tallest girl must be the dumbest in the class.

You get the idea… My height made me stand out. I was always taller than every other girl in my class or peer group. I tended to gravitate to older children or even grownups because I didn’t feel out of place. Of course when it came to boys I was always taller than them. I was already very shy and my height just made me feel awkward and completely out of place. As if I wasn’t in control of my limbs…

As a consequence, for a long time, I didn’t like being tall. I’d hunch my shoulders, look down and make myself smaller to try and fit in.

But then, hormones kicked in and I was a fully-fledged teenager. All of a sudden, I’d learned to embrace my differences; by height, my longer legs. It gave me a distinct advantage in sports which I loved. I started to take ownership of my height. I put my shoulders back, instead of hunching. I wore the big heels I wanted to wear, the miniskirts (when my mother’s back was turned!) I towered over most people, boys included and for the first time in my life, I liked it being tall.

This was me. I’m tall. Deal with it.

From them on, my height has never bothered me and I found a great sense of freedom in that.

Once I got over that though, and towards the end of my teenage years, it was my weight that bothered me… In fact I’ve been on some kind of diet for most of my life. I’ve tried them all, whether I needed to or not. I’ve never once looked at my body shape and said yes I’m happy with it. Not when I fitted in size 16 jeans, or when I fitted in size 10 jeans.

Never. I was never happy with my body shape.

But fast forward to today and my body is unrecognisable to what it was in my 20s. Now I’ve a mum tum. Now I look back at pictures of me when I was 20 and think wowza! I looked amazing, only I couldn’t let myself see that.

22 year old me

22 year old me

Now when I get in the shower and look down at my body, I’ve got this weird de-elasticated midriff that looks like the underside of a 90 year olds bicep. It’s weird and wobbly as fuck. And when I grab the skin it doesn’t have any spring left. I’m also peppered with silvery stretch marks that will never go away.

And oddly I don’t want them too… If someone were to come to me and say ‘hey we’re going to give you a complete The Swan-style makeover, (yes that awful American TV show where they basically gave the contestants plastic surgery and teeth caps to make them a ‘beautiful’ swan) I’d probably say ‘you know what I think I’ll keep the stretch marks thanks’.

It’s bizarre.

Sometimes I look down at my midriff and think, Jesus is that really me? The skin seems so alien on first glance and yet it doesn’t.

Society tends to look upon stretch marks as unwanted blemishes that need to be airbrushed away and in the first couple of weeks after I gave birth I can remember trying desperately to get them to disappear. I doused myself in a myriad of stretch mark oils/creams and wore a ridiculously tight tummy binder in order to try and get myself back to pre-baby me.

It was madness.

I look at the skin there now, battle-scarred and different and I like it. They are my badge of honour. An everlasting reminder that I did something extraordinary. That for nine (and something!) amazing months, I held a life inside of me. I felt him kicking, moving, jiving, jumping, getting the hiccups, even dancing on my bladder. I even gave birth to him

I look at those scars and it reminds me that I’m capable of more than I give myself credit for.

In fact, my body tells the story of my life. My scar where I had my metal plate put in my ankle after I broke it reminds me of the time I played rugby. The scar from catching my arm on the metal of a stable door, makes me think of my first pony Robin. My laughter lines, remind me how much I love to laugh. My gammy toes that look deformed because I broke them so many times from horse’s standing on them as a kid. Even my acne scars tell a story. All of it’s a map of my life and my stretch marks fit right in there too.

They may look unsightly to the world, but to me they tell the story of my baby boy and the immense change he has brought my life. I look at them and not only see the story of my pregnancy, but I see the story of my fight with Post-Natal Depression.

I may not look in the mirror and think damn I look as great as I did when I was 20, but I can say that when I look in the mirror now, I fully accept my body and myself for the first time in my life.

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